CULTURE

Protected view of the still unspoiled sections of Attica’s Mesogeia plain

All too often when there is plenty of space to create a garden, the temptation is to have all the land visible from the house, particularly on sloping ground. But in countryside that is being swallowed up by the city, those residents who have managed to keep established trees hiding parts of their view are fortunate indeed. On a hillside just north of Athens, a couple who built their home about 25 years ago not only kept most of the trees they found growing on the site but planted many more. In all, they planted about 3,000 square meters around the house, creating several different mini-environments, some of them enclosed, that give an impression of space as well as privacy. Their decision has proved to be a blessing, as they look out over the Mesogeia plain, once filled with vineyards and olive groves but now divided by the new Attiki Odos and, in the distance, the new international airport. A drive up to the house, lined on either side by masses of oleanders underplanted with small shrubs such as lavender and santolina, culminates in an open paved area surrounded by large variegated agaves, originally brought from Mani, backed by a tall hedge of Quercus coccifera (Kerm oak, pournaria in Greek), concealing a perimeter wall. Cypress trees create focal points, flanked by Brachychiton (commonly known as bottle trees) and a variety of acacia (gazia). Behind a large palm tree, planted years ago by the owner’s son when he was a child, is a tall cactus that produces large white flowers lasting just one day. A gate in an inner wall, shaded by a laurel and a pomegranate tree underplanted with bulbs, leads to an enclosed courtyard and the entrance to the house. Outdoor living areas The courtyard recaptures the atmosphere of the classic Greek avli. The centerpiece is an old olive tree, around which the house was designed. A lemon and an orange tree were planted, among rose bushes, Dimorphotheca (African daisies) and aloe. Geraniums and gardenias in pots continue down along the front of the house to a patio facing east, where the family eat their summer meals under a grapevine. Here a red bougainvillea and hibiscus, opposite a climbing rose with a pink and yellow-edged flower, provide a riot of color. A row of pine trees, planted before the house was completed, conceal a view of the Attiki Odos, but not of the less-developed part of the Mesogeia plain, over the tops of olive trees, also visible from the living room next to the patio, as are a stand of bitter orange (nerantzia) and lemon trees. «I wanted to have typical Greek garden trees. As for lawns, we don’t think one is appropriate here,» said the owner, whose husband, after a neighbor showed him which were the edible greens, gathers them for the family to eat. More cypress trees are planted along the lower perimeter fence, toward the northwest. All these trees were planted before work even began on the new highway and airport, and are now very well developed. Fortunately the house is not near the flight path of the aircraft, so there is no problem with noise. One of the beauties of this site is a small wood right next to the front entrance which, once entered, gives one the impression of being in the middle of a forest in the wild, miles from the city. A path winds among large pine and cypress trees mingled with almond, apple, quince, loquat and avocado trees – an unusual combination whose different forms, leaf textures and aromas blend to create an interesting atmosphere. Clumps of irises provide color on the ground in spring. The owners take great pleasure in being able to get out into the garden, but also have the help of a gardener twice a week, who does the heavier work. Watering is done by an automatic system every other day in summer, and now twice a week. Pots and smaller plants are watered by hand, the larger, established trees not at all. Initially built as a summer home, the house has been used as a permanent residence since the owners returned to Greece after some years abroad. Although the area is changing rapidly from being true countryside to one of Athens’s newest suburbs, the owners are very happy living there. In spring, the whole garden is ablaze with color; yellow and white daisies and the small mauve campanula and other wild flowers which the owner cuts for displays in the house.