Friday, 22 August 2014

Cultivated Gardens

Cultivated Gardens

A Garden: a transient monument

A garden is a transient monument to ones gardening desires, created while waging a war against weeds that threaten to take it back. 
Our plot when we arrived, before taming!

Our now tamed plot in spring.

Our term for paradise derives from the Persian for ‘park’ implying a protected area while the words ‘garden’ in English, ‘jardin’ in French and ‘horta’ in Greek also appear to denote an enclosed space. One of the first must have been the one known today as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though it may have been built at Nineveh. It would have been stocked with exotic plants and animals gathered from far distant places. Today it is a sad empty space between warring nations.

Is Lemnos the way it is because of its market gardens? Are the people on Lemnos more connected to the earth because their circumstances require them to tend vegetable plots and raise laying hens, and as they climb the hills to gather wild herbs? Ancient Greek gardens were not ostentatious. They had their origins in sacred groves, where there might be a spring, or an old oak tree where religious rites were performed. Trees and plants in Greece were associated with particular deities; the oak was associated with Zeus, the laurel with Apollo, the myrtle with Aphrodite. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was a special protector of gardens, and her son Eros was sometimes represented as a gardener.

Green grass is restful and adds a beauty, but also requires a lot of maintenance.

Today there are some parks in Myrina. The one in our neighbourhood is next to the local school. During the war there were market gardens here. Now it is where old people sit in the shade of the mulberry and pine trees. Or young children start to learn to ride bicycles. Another park is along the sea front. This one has just had a makeover. A new watering system has been laid and new trees planted. From one end to the other it has been covered with a grass turf. Not a good time to do this perhaps, but fortunately the island is not short of water this year. 

A Public Park in Lemnos









Green Grass! I'm not sure of the wisdom of all this watering in a Med. Garden!

Conforming to Culture

However a garden will respond to the current gardener. It will change to accommodate that set of wishes, and then transform into something else when the whims of a new gardener are put into practice.

A Melbourne park in spring


Melbourne Botanic Gardens in spring
One TV gardener, Peter Valder, pointed out ‘Ornamental horticulture is an indication of the prosperity and level of sophistication that a civilization has achieved.’ He also points out the growth of civilizations has been based on the domestication of plants to provide enough food for the local population.

The Melbourne yearly Fower Show, late spring

In Lemnos our garden is slightly unusual as we have a large plot around the house. We benefit from have space to plant our vegetables and fruit trees around the house, whereas most have a small land holding further afield. The town houses in Myrina are lucky to have a small courtyard, however, when this house was built, it was not in Myrina, but outside a small satellite town, and so was ‘in the country’. Today Myrina has grown out to meet the house.

A Place where Someone Made their Mark

A place in Lemnos to sit, and for the children to play

Some are fanatic about planting ‘natives’ or what is ‘local’. In Australia there is very strong ‘only-Australian’ plant movement, but these people ignore the fact that there have been previous changes on that site, and that many former native plants have been replaced by new growth in response to land and climate changes over the centuries. However each gardener likes to make their mark, even if it is a ‘return to the natural’.

Once can imagine that the men hunted and it was the women who took up the agricultural pursuits of saving and sharing seeds and cuttings, in the same manner as it happens today. Women would have been the first gardeners. In the Middle Ages the peasant had a garden plot where she grew cabbages, onions, beans and garlic.

The size and taste of certain plants has been selected by various gardeners for instance as Michael Pollan wrote in The Botany of Desire the size and taste of certain plants has been selected by various gardeners and he suggests the potatoes we eat today, for instance, have been shaped, by ‘Incas, Irishmen and McDonald’s customers.’ So for various reasons a particular plant may be changed so that by their care and attention it will grow larger or more fruitful than normal in a particular situation.

I too wanted to make my mark on the plot that was ours

But Always an Tamed Plot
Melbourne has been called a garden city. Its parks exist where once there were swamps. In Lemnos there are public spaces with grass and seats and a children's playground where one can got to get the sea breezes and look at the sea. Councils have made and upkeep these plots, but they too have to have the detirmination and funds for upkeep. For a garden is always a place that has been tamed. It exists while the gardener works on it, but as soon as the gardener takes no care the garden becomes a wilderness. And even when the gardener is present it has a will of its own.

All too readily the weed reclaim a property

Throughout his life Charles Darwin surrounded himself with flowers. When he was 10, he wrote down each time a peony bloomed in his father’s garden. When he bought a house to raise his own family, he turned the grounds into a botanical field station where he experimented on flowers until his death. But despite his intimate familiarity with flowers, Darwin once wrote that their evolution was “an abominable mystery.”

 I wonder what he meant by that? Some think that he meant that evolution was an abomination, but I think it may be that one cannot become a ‘god’ in the garden or wave a wand. You have to work together with the garden, ‘go along with it’. What turns out in the end is never just your composition, but one that nature itself devises with you.

Gravity, rain,heat, weeds take over quickly

Where Plant Terrorists Hang-out

A Deserted Garden

Plants transferred into a garden may take advantage of a new situation, and spread outside that garden if not controlled. And if the gardener leaves old plants, weeds, once removed will come back, and though the garden may disappear these plants may linger on.

In ‘Australia’s Quarter Acre’ Peter Timms writes ‘Weeding is the perfect way to reconcile your destructive urges with a desire for order. If I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated or just need to think then a bit of casual weeding will keep me occupied without exertion, leaving my mind free to wander. And there is no better way of keeping us in touch with the condition of the soil that kneeling down and rooting about in it.’

Some grass weeds waiting for me to get on my knees!

I don’t mind weeding, even grass that most persistent of weeds. Especially after a good rain it is great to go around yanking these invaders of my dream out of my garden. How it has cultivated us humans who like to have it neatly mown in the form of lawns. Anestis tells me when we arrive that he has had to pull out wheelbarrows full from the beds and paths. He tends to put it in black plastic bags and dump it in the rubbish bins at the end of the street. I’d mulch it if I was there, but not being there, and not knowing how many other unpleasant weeds such as bindweed are mixed up in this pile, I let him continue with his program.

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