CULTURE

Garden produce for a family

Complete self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables is a dream for many people, even those with sufficient land. So many variables affect the growth of plants, including luck, but in just two years a gardener on the Mesogeia plain has established a mixed garden, including a vineyard and herb garden, that provides most of her family’s needs in fresh produce. The sloping site, on a southwest-facing hillside, was landscaped into terraces using stone from the surrounding countryside. Planting began before the house was built. Over most of the site, plants were chosen so that the garden would not clash with the landscape. Blending in At the top of the site behind the house is a «wild» area planted with species found growing outside the perimeter fence. «We looked at the forest outside our perimeter, tried to identify the basic plants and bring them forward into the garden. We tried to incorporate the hillside into the garden,» said the owner. Now, after one-and-a-half years, the results are already evident. Cypress (kyparissia) and mastic trees (skinos) grow alongside some introduced species, such as a stand of mimosa, whose bright foliage provides a pleasant contrast and which give a burst of color in spring. Sprinklers have been installed high above the perimeter fence, which spray the land on either side throughout the summer, keeping moisture levels high. «The water pressure wouldn’t be enough to extinguish a fire but would do much to suppress one,» said the owner. Some of the wild plants such as myrtle bushes (myrtia) and lime trees (flamouria) were left where they were growing and the space around them cleared. The kerm oaks (pournaria) found there have been pruned into tree shapes. «The land dictates to you what it can take,» said the owner, reflecting on those plants that they have lost. On one slope, four out of five trees planted withered because of a worm that attacked the roots. Only a laurel bush survived. As far as possible, organic principles are used. There is a compost pit and goat manure and coco shells are delivered for use as fertilizer and mulch. However, the owner admits that the «emergency brake» has been used at times. «I can’t really say we are always organic. We have used chemicals on occasion, such as when we had cabbage worm, and another time when all our cypress trees got a disease which we were advised to treat with a chemical pesticide if we wanted to save them.» The lower boundary line runs parallel to the road, where a row of cypress trees provides privacy. A driveway up to the house from the main entrance is lined on one side with oleanders and mulberry trees, which, when fully grown, will provide shade for parking space. The drive sweeps around a beautiful herb garden, laid out in a natural pattern with contrasting plantings of lavender (levanda), rosemary (dendrolivano), Artemisia, oregano (rigani), marjoram (madzourana) and Santolina (levandini), interspersed with daisies (margarites) and a mass of lemon verbena (louiza) currently in flower, which is actually three small bushes that have grown and merged into each other. They are cut back in autumn. Next to the herb garden, a weeping willow hangs over a pond that serves as a holding tank for well water and a habitat for mosquito-eating fish. Seasonal produce Behind the herb garden and along the lower level of the property is a large vegetable garden and orchard. «We only eat fruit and vegetables that are in season, apart from occasional things like bananas which the children like, so I buy those,» said the owner. Now growing are carrots, cabbages, lettuce, potatoes, pumpkins and two large areas of tall okra plants, alongside a large strawberry patch. Summer crops were tomatoes, planted with basil and marigolds to keep pests away, zucchini and aubergines, water melons and honey melons. Vegetables are planted among the trees in the orchard, which includes nectarine, plum, cherry and pear, pomegranate, pistachio, loquat and apple trees (although it is not cold enough for the latter to bear fruit), as well as lemon, orange and grapefruit trees. Artichokes grow under olive trees. Two kinds of string beans are grown, and some are left to dry for the winter fasolada (bean soup). Chickens kept in a coop outside the main fenced-in area provide the family with eggs, but not meat. Immediately below the house are the vine terraces (with both table grapes and wine varieties, mostly Cabernet and muscat). Before the family moved into the house, vandals broke into the property and pulled up all the vines already growing. These are now being replaced gradually and the vines are already producing enough for private consumption. Exotic contrast Around the house, more exotic species have been planted for contrast. Leading up to the front door is a hedge of Feojia, an attractive shrub with pink-centered white blooms. Inside the house is a small glass-enclosed atrium planted with avocado trees which one of the children grew from the stones, Japanese bamboo, a palm and a bird-of-paradise plant. In a sheltered courtyard to one side of the house, more delicate species are to be planted, leading on to an established lawn watered from the well. The owner has one person working with her daily on site and another part-time helper, while she also consults an agronomist. The effect is that of a large, pleasant garden-cum-working farm where maximum use is made of what is available and efforts are made not only to disturb the environment as little as possible, but to enhance it.