Thursday, 23 January 2014

Garden Traditions

 Garden Traditions

A small Lemnian courtyard

Why we Garden the way we do?

Because of the layout of a Greek town and village vegetables tend to be planted outside in the allotment, while herbs and flowers are kept on the house balcony. I have often tried to imitate the aesthetics of the Greek balcony or courtyard but I either arrange the pots too symmetrically, or place them too far apart. In my trying I have come to appreciate the Greek housewife’s skill at placing simple herbs and flowers in pots along her balcony.

There are many reasons we garden. We often garden because we want to beautify. Some turn to gardening to repair a broken spirit. In times of need, such as during wartime in Britain gardens had to be practical. The people need potatoes, tomatoes and to produce enough to get them through the winter. What they cannot eat they barter.

Generally in Europe, years ago, the garden of a peasant was practical, a garden plot where he grew his cabbages, onions, beans and garlic. On the whole the people of Lemnos take this practical approach to gardening. Are these practical gardeners more connected to the earth, because their circumstances require them to tend vegetable plots and raise laying hens, and climb the hills to gather wild herbs?

In Australia only a few grow their own vegetables but there are many very enthusiastic gardeners. These may not have occupied their plot of land in the manner of native inhabitants and while they approach gardening from the point of view of beautifying their plot they tend to connect to their plot very enthusiastically.

Learning Gardening Lore

I have wondered about the origin of planting traditions (just as I also wonder why Lemians love the colour orange, and wear bright orange at every opportunity), why our neighbours act they way they do. Some cultural origins are lost in the mists of time but as I notice the importance of the yearly calendar in Lemnos, the times of planting, ways of watering, I have gradually learnt how to garden in Greece.

Many elements of everyday culture have interesting beginnings.


There are about twenty Olea species but the Olea europaea is the common olive and the one that is the source of olive oil. Nowadays olives groves are found all over the Mediterranean but where did they come from originally. This is a question that Carol Drinkwater tried to solve in her book The Olive Route.  Did some gardener from Anatolia or Crete arrive on the island of Lemnos with a plant and information on how to grow and harvest the fruit? There are now many cultivars in Greece with different sizes and quality of fruit. One variety found all over the world is the large black Calamarta.

In myth credit for the Olive is given to Athena who was said to have placed the first tree on the Acropolis, however the olive tree’s very ancient origins can be noted from the fact of its presence in Minoan wall paintings in the palace of Knossos. There also is evidence to suggest that the ancient Phoenicians cultivated this tree.

Carol Drinkwater, The Olive Route: A Personal Journey to the Heart of the Mediterranean (Orion Publishing Co., 2007)

Oranges and Lemons 

It was the Crusaders who made the citrus fruit popular in Europe after their return home. The citrus lemon comes originally from Persia and Arabian peninsular though it is possible that they were planted in Pompeii. Probably in pots!

Childrens Game.
First published in 1744 it was a traditional game to be played at all the children’s parties I attended. We’d all file though an arch made by two children singing…

Game of Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and lemons,
 Say the bells of St. Clement's.

 You owe me five farthings,
 Say the bells of St. Martin's.

 When will you pay me? 
Say the bells of Old Bailey. 

When I grow rich,
 Say the bells of Shoreditch.

 When will that be?
 Say the bells of Stepney.

 I do not know,
 Says the great bell of Bow. 

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
 And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The challenge comes during the final lines with the addition...
Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.(Chip chop, chip chop, the last man's dead.

On the last word, the children forming the arch drop their arms to catch the pair of children currently passing through, who are then "out" and must form another arch next to the existing one. In this way, the series of arches becomes a steadily lengthening tunnel through which each set of two players have to run faster and faster to escape in time.

My Eureka and Myer Lemon and Navel Orange varieties are doing well in pots in our Australia garden as they are greedy trees and in pots I can keep feeding them and watch the amount of water they are getting.

Two lemnon trees in half-wine barrels

Grapes and Wine

Aristotle mentions Lemnian wine, which was probably the same as the modern-day Lemnió varietal, a red wine with a bouquet of oregano and thyme. If so, this makes Lemnió the oldest known varietal still in cultivation.’ Wikipedia

Dionysius the God of Wine

The wine produced in Lemnos is well known throughout Greece and is even sold overseas. It was also well known to the ancients. Homer refers to Lemnian wine twice in the Iliad. The first time is when King Agamemnon chastises his men: ‘What has happened to your boasting that we were the best,/ As you used to say once while in Lemnos – big empty words – told/ with abundance of beef from horn bearing oxen on the table in front of you/ and while drinking sweet wine in overflowing glasses...

The next time is when the poem mentions Queen Hypsipyle of Lemnos and Jason: ‘And they had wine from Lemnos carried by/ numerous ships and sent by Evino,/ King Jason’s son born to him by Queen Hypsipyle.

Today a Lemian white wine is made from Moscato Alexandrias, a variety of grape brought back by Greeks from Alexandria. This is one example of how the Alexandrian Diaspora benefited the island. (However, another plant imported from Egypt, cotton, was a disaster.) The white wine produced on the island is interestingly named after the ‘holy earth’, 'Lemian Yea' an ancient Greek-Roman medicinal earth. There’s also a red wine called Kalambaki. The more famous Greek liquor, ouzo, is also made on the island.

Farmers make it out of the skins of the grapes after the wine is taken and like most ouzo it is flavoured with aniseed.

Me opening a bottle of Ouzo 

Creating Food Traditions

In ancient times the folk in Greece had the myth of Demeter and Persephone, its images and festivals, to assist as a gardening guide. Today I’ve discovered that locals still rely on certain ancient festivals (though now named after Christian saints) to guide their planting and harvesting.

In Australian the colonialists from Europe had to make up new myths, and found new images, to live practically and to sanctify their new landscape. They learnt to celebrate Christmas with summer barbeques and Easter with autumn leaves. In autumn they came to hold solemn Anzac Day memorials, and in spring, at the Melbourne Cup races, celebrate with lively springtime revels.

Some Old Greek Traditions 


Just outside the walls of Athens gardens surrounded the house of Epicurus. This garden was so closely identified with his teachings that his school became known as The Garden. Here he advocated withdrawal from public life to live a simpler, quieter, existence even to the point of austerity. His teachings were often misrepresented that even today ‘Epicurean’ is used to describe a person devoted to an exquisite and often decadent lifestyle.

An Epicurian Garden

Greek Hospitality
Once we were invited to have coffee with a neighbour as a thank you for helping her out when she needed a truck to enter our land in order to build a new septic pit at the bottom of her garden.
First she offered us coffee and water, with preserved fruit on a plate. But this was not all as this was to be a very substantial coffee break. Next she brought out cheese pastries, chocolate biscuits, and her own apricot wine made by soaking the kernels in brandy with sugar. It was beautiful.
(She later showed us a jar she was preparing with brandy and pomegranate seeds.)

A church festival gathering

Dancing after the festivities

A Christian tradition

I was brought up in a Christian home where we always said grace. This was OK if the one appointed did not go on too long! Even when we went out to eat in a café we were still expected to still say grace - though allowed to do this silently.

I developed one or two quick graces to say when it was my turn. One was,

For every cup and plateful Dear Lord I’m truly grateful.'

Here is another short grace.

Some hae meat that canna eat
And some could eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
For which the Lord be thankit!’

Today, when we are with folk who do pray Takis and I are happy to add a grace but mostly, by ourselves, we’ll just cross ourselves in thankfulness.

(We use the Greek not the Catholic crossing, which goes from left to right. The Greek cross goes from chin to rib, from right to left. I rather like this one as your hand finishes over the heart.)

Preparing a meal with a visitor

The meal enjoyed by all

No comments:

Post a Comment