Planning a botanical garden

On the Ionian island of Cephalonia, a botanical garden is in the making on a terraced hillside overlooking the Bay of Argostoli. Set on just under one hectare of abandoned olive groves, Cephalonia Botanica, established by the Focas-Cosmetatos Foundation will, when completed, serve as a rich source of information and enjoyment. The foundation wanted to set up a collection of Greek native flora species for the purpose of education and conservation. Initially it was as an extension of the foundation’s interactive education program for schoolchildren, aimed at «stimulating the mind rather than imparting knowledge,» according to the foundation’s chairman, Spyro Nicholas Cosmetatos. «As work on the garden progressed, we decided to take things further and become involved in the scientific aspect, such as setting up a seed bank,» Cosmetatos told Kathimerini English Edition this week. «We hope this will become a serious botanical garden of Mediterranean flora. We are totally committed to the project and we have the foundation prepared to support it, with the help of outside institutions,» he said. The foundation has been in contact with the Millenium Seed Bank in Britain, a sister project to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and it is hoped that the botanists there will advise on eventually setting up a small seed bank at Cephalonia Botanica. Rich in flora, Cephalonia has an endemic fir forest species – Abies cephalonica, and much of the flora typical of the Ionian Islands and elsewhere in Greece, such as: Consolida ambigua (larkspur, kapoutsinos in Greek), Ornithogalum arabicum (mavromata in Greek), Euphorbia rigida (narrow-leaved glaucous spurge, or galatsida), and the pretty Viola cephalonica, endemic to the island. During a visit this week, Clematis flammula (fragrant clematis), Spartium junceum (Spanish broom, or sparta), Convolvulus, Thymus capitatus (thyme, thymari) and Cichorium spinosum (spiny chicory) were in bloom. The garden A tour of the garden begins with a stroll past an area planted with phrygana (cushion-shaped, prickly and/or aromatic plants) such as varieties of Thymus, Lavandula, Salvia and then maquis (Mediterranean evergreen shrubs), including Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree, koumaria), Quercus coccifera (Kermes oak, pournari, Myrtus communis (myrtle, myrtia), Laurus nobilis (bay, daphni) and Pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree, skinos). Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree, ligaria), is planted by the side of a stream trickling down along the the right-hand side of the path, cooling the atmosphere and calming the senses. Behind it is an olive grove, which is to be planted with bulbs underneath. The main path continues around and up past a herb garden. Nearly all the plants here belong to the Labiatae family, aromatic plants distinguished by their «square» stems. Here one finds three varieties of Oreganum (vulgaris, majorana and heracluteum), Rosmarinus officinalis and prostratus, Salvia offinicalis, Artemisia arborescens, Lavandula angustifolia, Thymus vulgaris and Teucrium chamaedrys (wall germander) growing in profusion, enclosed by the partly reconstructed drystone walls of a ruined building. Moving on, one passes a cypress grove planted near the top of the stream. At the top of the garden, a pavilion is being built, and a little further on is a shaded retreat, backed by a ridge of Kermes oaks. This is the halfway point and a good place to sit down in the shade and enjoy the view through a line of cypress trees on an opposite hill and to the mountain range across the bay. The path then turns downhill, forking around either side of a maquis area, passing Laurus nobilis, Cotinus coggygyria (smoke tree), Medicato arborea, Cistus and a Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree, koutsoupia). A grassy area is planted with a mix of phrygana and maquis – Erica arborea (tree heath, reiki dendroides), Teucrium fruticans (tree germander, teucrio), Cistus salvifolius (sage-leaved cistus, agriothroubo) and Rhamnus alaternus (Med. buckthorn, filyki). The path continues on downward to a short flight of steps leading to the amphitheater, used in the past for performances by a local drama group, but now defunct. The foundation plans to use it for its educational program and summer concerts. It is backed by an area being planted with examples of coastal vegetation, such as Euphorbia dendroides, Ptilostemon chamaeupeuce and Ebenus creticus. Below this area will be a collection of plants found in rocky places, including Euphorbia characias, Cistus salvifolius and Ballotta acetabulosa. Choice of plants The choice of plants was dictated by a study of the site and capitalizing on the type of habitat that was there, such as phrygana, maquis, grassland and woodland, and introducing species that were missing, according to landscape architect Jennifer Gay who is working with the project. «We’re hoping to represent most of the habitats found on the island – the one that may present difficulty is the mountain flora – the garden is situated at approximately 25 meters above sea level, so growing plants from above 600 meters could present difficulties,» she said. Among the original phrygana and maquis plants found on the site were Cistus, Thymus capitatus, Phlomis fruticosa, Sarcopoterium spinosum (thorny burnet, astavia) and Spartium junceum which have all been left to flourish. Many of the species found are those that emerged after a fire that swept through the area about 15 years ago. The original olive trees, neglected for around 20 years, had to be pruned and brambles cleared. Natural pathways were identified and excavated, foundations laid and then covered with a layer of gravel. Stone terraces needed to be rebuilt and several natural features such as moss-covered rocks highlighted. Although Greece is the country with the largest variety of endemic plant species in Europe, there are only four botanical gardens, compared to 77 in Britain, a country with a lower biodiversity, so Cephalonia Botanica will be a welcome addition. The Focas-Cosmetatos Foundation, 1 P. Vallianos Street, Argostoli 28100, tel 06710.26595.