Friday, 30 October 2015

Gardening with Rocks: Paths and Walls

Gardening with Rocks: Paths and Walls

Rocky Lemnos

Rocky Lemnos

 To explain their barren, rocky landscape, the Greeks adopted the legend that the gods poured the world's soil through a sieve and created Greece from the rocks that remained.

Lemnos like so many other Greek island was formed from volcanic action. There are many evidences of this as one looks at the rock strewn fields, and rocky cliffs that rise from the shore line.

As far as gardening is concerned and the creation of rockeries, walls, and paths the abundance of rocks is a great blessing and in my Lemnos garden we have used the stones that were on the property to rebuild walls, and create edges to flower beds.


Connected: the sustainable landscape 

by Phillip Johnson

Johnson's 2013 Chelsea Garden

I’ve just been to a library talk in Australia given by Phillip Johnson, a local landscape gardener. I was particularly interested as his book promotes not only natural landscapes but also sustainable gardening. He promotes the conservation of every drop of water that falls on roofs, on driveways, often creating swales and ponds in his gardens. Together with Wes Flemming, a nursery man, he became an international household name after winning Best in Show at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower and Garden Show in 2013 – this, it is said is the equivalent of winning a gold medal at the Olympics.

His book expounds his philosophy of connecting with nature in a sustainable way and is called, Connected which focuses on his key passions of integrated sustainable water management and the creation of natural, chemical-free pools. In this manner his gardens create thriving habitats for indigenous plants and animals.

In reading through his book I was inspired by his conservation ideas. And though his style of native and rock gardening is not for me I think you could still use his recycling ideas in other styles of gardens. In fact we did use a lot of stones and wonderful heavy old paving stones in  our Lemnos garden.

My brother, John Perrett, has done something similar in many of the landscapes he created in South Australian gardens. As a landscape gardener he would know just the size and shape of stone he wanted and take his truck and crane to local farmers fields and remove stones they did not want and that he could use.

Phillip Johnson works on an even larger scale, and he often works with very large cranes. However, as an Australian landscape gardener of the 1950s wrote, this is expensive.

The Edna Walling Book of Australian Garden Design 

edited by Margaret Barrett

 Except at vast expense we can hardly hope to achieve anything so impressive as a natural outcrop, where each stone sometimes weighs many tons, but it is possible, and much better, to employ plenty of labour, and the necessary gear for lifting, to secure a few very big rocks rather than a quantity whose sixe is limited to the strength of one or two men. Without these huge boulder it is difficult to achieve a natural effect…

She finishes the chapter on rock gardens by however by saying that if we do want to make a rockery, to use only a collection of smaller rocks can look wrong.

Great restraint is needed in placing boulders in the natural rock garden, but when one is satisfied that the effect is entirely pleasing and that the plants are playing their part well, the ground they occupy will need very little attention.

Gertrude Jekyll was an early inspiration for Edna Walling and when she writes about rockeries she dwells more on the plants. She also points out that a dry stone wall is one of the best places to put some alpine rockery plants.

Wood and Garden 

by Gertrude Jekyll

One of the best and simplest ways of growing rock-plants is in a loose wall. In many gardens an abrupt change of level makes a retaining wall necessary, and when I see this built in the usual way as a solid structure of brick and mortar – unless there be any special need of the solid wall – I always regret that it is not built as a home for rock-plants.

When we came first to Lemnos there were fallend stones everywhere and walls that were left were basically dry stone walls, though in a very bad condition. However it did mean that plants found a hold there and we had a large caper plant growing there. Unfortunately most of our walls are retaining walls of a height that when rebuild required the use of cement and we lost our caper plant.

In my Emerald Garden I miss all those stones. I have to use box to edge the beds and bricks to make walls. But then this is a different kind of garden, where plants predominate. And one day I might be able to afford the luxury of a rock pool, or rock wall.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Greek Gardening Trials and Tribulations

Greek Gardening Trials and Tribulations
Greece is known to have a Mediterranean climate, but in fact to say it has ‘hot summers and cool wet winter’ is too simplistic, the situation is far more complicated than that. This is because Greece is filled with micro-climates.

Greece is a small country that covers a large area, and as it is made up of very tall mountains and deep ravines, and hundreds of islands breezes come off the sea or funnel down the mountainsides.  Thus its not just latitude that creates different climates, altitude and an island’s position in the sea makes a difference (whether it is close to one of the three surrounding continents or set apart).

Plants and Climates

I’ve grown plumbago in a number of gardens and I’m sure that if I travelled around Greece I might also find it flourishes in some places or has to be coddled in others. It is a tough plant from South America. It can cope with a large variety or soils and climates though not frost.

In one sea-side garden in Australia, where the soil was sandy and there was very little rain I had a vigorous and colourful hedge of plumbago along the driveway. In another house (this one in a forest where it got lots of rain) I planted it along the front fence but it remained leggy and had only a few flowers.

In Lemnos plumbago is sold in the nurseries so I thought I’d give it a go, but it succumbed to the frosts. Then I noticed that the islanders planted it in large terracotta pots. I’ve now done this with another plant and another I’ve place in a very sheltered spot close to a wall.


The Windy Island

In the case of my garden inLemnos, wind it the big drawback. The island is in the Northern Aegean, set out in the sea away from the continents or other islands and the winter winds (the Vorias) come sweeping down from the Black Sea. They are cold and snow bearing. However the summer winds (the Meltemi) are welcomed. They are cooling in the summer heat giving the island a temperature 4-5 degrees cooler than Thessaloniki and Athens.

But the severity of the winter wind does mean that trees have to be staked hard to survive the winter. Anestis, my helper in the garden, drives heavy posts in next to them and ties them up to prevent them blowing over. They may not blow right over but sometimes they are so shaken the roots are loosened and when summer arrives they’ll suddenly die during the heat. This happened to one of my pencil pines, and one of two cypresses I was training two as an archway. Not much of an archway was left! So I had to cut the other cypress down too. I suspect this is the reason too why my plum tree produced a huge harvest and then suddenly died. The other thing locals do is to prune trees very hard so that the wind passes through the short bare branches.


Frost and Snow

Citrus bed, against the back wall
Citrus trees are sold in the local plant nursery and I’m trying to grow lemons, oranges and cumquats as I’ve seen some in other gardens but I’ve had a lot of losses. I planted them in the shelter of a tall wall to protect them from the northern winds, but frosts and snow several times cut down the young trees. They have to be protected so I tried to cover their roots with mulch before I left but then the wind whipped that away. So in the end I covered the mulch with a net pinned over the top. Maybe I’ve succeeded, but I won’t be surprised if I go back and find they’ve been cut back yet again by a hard winter.

Pruning, Mulch and Compost

As you will see often things have to be done differently in this garden. Pruning can be a sore point between me and Anestis. One problem is that I don’t speak Greek and can’t always rely on Takis to translate what I want done. Another is that mulch and compost is not available, I use dried weeds and seaweed for mulch. And though sheep's dung is sold by the gypsies, it really is nothing more than stony topsoil so we rely on our homemade compost bins.

I can see why locals prune back very hard, but sometimes Anestis pruning will decimate a tree and it does not recover in spring. And then, though I ask him to prune the roses very hard (Copsi Megala) he only cuts them back modestly. Roses have been a surprise and joy in Lemnos. I’ve tried in other gardens to grow roses, but they did not grow in the seaside sandy garden and in my city garden the possums ate them. Here I’ve discovered roses bloom abundantly, especially in spring. Locals tend to just be satisfied with that, however I tend to keep light pruning and watering my bushes, to get a more continuous flowering.

And as to Anesis and me, we do manage and the garden between us. I tell myself it’s a good thing I don’t always get my way. He is an enthusiastic and willing gardener. (And I think he enjoys working with me more than in the house renovating with Takis!) He provides the sort of help any gardener loves, strong muscles to move rocks, carry buckets and yank out stubborn roots.

Anestis clearing pre-building the wall behind the herb garden

Making the herb garden
The finished herb garden

And though we both don’t admit it we have learnt a thing or two from each other. He now mulches (though mulch is hard to come by and we tend to just use dried weeds to prevent too much evaporation in summer), and he now is happy and proud of our compost heaps (to which I add seaweed, a real eye opener for him).

And I have learnt not to sprinkle water on the topsoil but to dig a trench beside the vegetables and pour the water in there every three days, to soak the roots deeply.


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Micro-Climates of Greece

Micro-Climates of Greece

Greece is a small country that covers a large area.

The country closest in landmass to Greece is England, with an area of 130,395 km2 as opposed to Greece's 131,957km2. Another comparison could be with the US state of Alabama. (you can fit both Greece and England into the state of Victoria, which is one of Australia’s smaller states.)

Greece is bounded by three Seas, the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean Seas, and its coastline is estimated to be 13,676 km (8,498 miles). It spreads 772 km (480 miles) from east to west and 940 km (584 miles) from north to south – with Athens roughly in the center. If you travelled from the very north of the country to the very south it would be like travelling from London to Barcelona, or if you were in Australia,  something like travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.

Thus, just because of the differences in Latitude the Greek climate does vary from north to south.

Islands and Mountains, and the Mediterranean Climate.

Greek summers are hot and dry, while winters are cool and rainy. Thus Greece generally has a temperate Mediterranean climate. The average July temperature is 27°C (80°F), with the thermometer topping 38°C (100°F) on the hottest days. And rainfall increases from south to north, ranging from 41 cm (16 inches) in Athens to about 127 cm (50 inches) on the island of Corfu.

However, because there are so many mountains (80% is mountainous) and so many island (20% is islands) this caused differences as climate is moderated by both sea and mountain breezes.

Greece is primarily a mountainous country with more than 300 larger or smaller mountains. The most significant Greek mountain axis is the Pindus Mountain range, forming the “backbone” of Mainland Greece, it extends naturally to the mountains in the Peloponnese, and to Crete. Other mountain ranges extending into the sea as peninsulas (one ends with Mount Athos), or chains of islands.

The large number of islands are estimated to be from somewhere around 1,200 to 6,000, depending on the minimum size to take into account. The number of inhabited islands is variously cited as between 166 and 227.

Variations in Climate
So, while the climate of Greece is generally Mediterranean, due to the country's unique geography it has a remarkable range of micro-climates and local variations. 

The weather at the higher elevations is colder and wetter, and mountains, and northern areas, receive snowfalls and frosts in winter. You can even get snowfalls as far south as Athens or even Crete at times.

You can find at least three main types of climate in Greece.

Folk are often surprised to find there are Alpine areas in Greece. In the north-west you might think you are in Switzerland with its chalets built on the mountain slopes.

Mild Mediterranean
Then there areas were the temperatures rarely reach the extremes, although snowfalls do occur occasionally even in Athens and Crete during the winter. But all things have to be taken into account when looking at the climate of a particular area, or island. Take Crete. It has a fairly mild temperature although being the most southernmost island with summer temperatures of 25-6 and winter temperatures around 10-12. This is because it is surrounded by seas, away from large landmasses, with many tall mountains. So Crete benefits from both sea and mountain breezes in summer, and being so far south rarely has snowfalls. 


Hot Mediterranean
And there are the areas where they have very hot dry summers, and colder damp winters.


Rhodes another southern island is much hotter and drier with summer temperatures of 29-30 and winter temperatures around 10- 15.

Lemnos – The Windy Island

Lemnos is a Northern Aegean island. It is the 8th largest Greek island, once volcanic now it has low rounded hills and indented deepwater bays. It was formed by volcanic action and it does not form as a part of a physical chain or group. However the island is frequently grouped together with other Northern Aegean islands (Lesvos, Thasos and Samothraki) for tourist or administrative purposes.

A feature of Lemnos is that it is mostly flat (hence its many sandy beaches), and it has more arable land than many other islands. Thought the northwest part is more is rough and mountainous with Mount Vigla the highest elevation (470m).

The temperature is typically 2 to 5 degrees Celsius less than in Athens, and than Thessaloniki, its nearest large town. The average high in July is 29.0, and the average low in January is 4.2.
Summertime at a Lemnian Beach
Winter Hail in our Garden
 You could say Lemnos has a mild Mediterranean climate, but because of its position it can get winter winds from Russia, and summer winds from Egypt and so winters will have frosts and occasional snowfalls. However the strongest feature of this island are its winds. These may be welcome when they come in August, but in winter they bend the trees and keep everyone indoors. Hence the nickname for Lemnos, "the wind-ridden one" (in Greek, Ανεμόεσσα).
Me in Lemnos port in January
 I’ve found its not always easy being a gardener on Lemos because those hot and dry summers, that can extend for three or even four moths, and because of the frosts and winter snowfalls. Then, in addition, there are those winds! However with trial and error I continue to garden and now love my practical and very beautiful Lemnian garden. More about those trials and errors in the next blog.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Blackbird Days

Blackbird Days

This is what I call this time of year. It lies at the end of spring, when blackbirds become very clucky. They begin warbling at about four in the morning, to brag about their nests and coming young ones, and they keep going all day, letting up only in the late evening as the sun sets


Perfect Days

It’s also time when there are some very fluctuating weather patterns here in south of Australia as the winds sweep in from the north (across the deserts of inland Australia), or south (from the Antarctic), or east (from the Pacific) or west (across the continent itself and another desert). In the Dandenongs the temperature at night still falls at times below 10 and yet it can rise to 28 in the day, and even into the 30s down in the city of Melbourne.

BUT, in between storms and winds we have these perfect spring days. The flowers love the warmth (not really hot yet) and the dampness (after the storms) and open up and gaze at the sun – and my camera.

I love walking around the garden to see what has opened up today. The other day my husband and I went to the city to have a meal with our children. It was not long after a passing thunderstorm. When we got back I was amazed to see that my peonies, that I had watched day by day as the buds swelled, had opened up and there were all these huge, astounding blooms, a few of which I had to bring indoors to admire some more.


Between Acacias and Agapanthus


I had not been in this part of the world in winter for a number of years until this year and what struck me was the number and brilliance of the Acacia blooms, lightening up the general grey-greeness of the eucalyptus forests around here. Other years we would still be in Greece in October, not returning until November. I’d return to get ready for Christmas and notice how all around our house the white and blue agapanthus were in bloom. It has made me call Christmas Agapanthus Time. I’ve enjoyed the fact that this year I’ve seen the daffodils and camellias come into bloom (though have nearly all gone now). And now I’m filled with joy to see the irises coming into flower, and of course the peonies.

 Four, Five or Six Seasons?

It’s a great feeling to be part of nature’s cycle. But here in Australia, which is a very large continent, and has various growing zones, the European 4 seasons does not really apply.

Tim Entwisle, director of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, says our spring begins in August, not September. He invites Australians to switch from four to five seasons and to rename and redate them: instead of a neat division of three months a season Entwisle says our seasons should match our climate and what's happening with our plants and animals.
Tim’s would be:

Sprinter, the early spring (August, September)
Sprummer, early summer (October, November)
Autumn (April, May)
Winter (June, July)

The Aboriginal peoples have distinct ways of dividing the year, naming and understanding the seasons differently between groups. This depends on where in Australia the group lives, and the activities that they are involved in at each part of the year..

These are the seasons, according to the Noongar (Whadjuk) People, in the South-West coast of Australia. They too aligned to their seasonal activities of fishing, hunting and collecting of plants.

Bunuru (February, March) Hot dry, easterly and north winds

Djeran (April, May) Cooling, south-west winds

Makuru (June, July) Cold rain, westerly gales

Djiba (August, September) warming

Kambarang (October, November) rain lessening

Birak (December, January) Hot dry daytime easterly breezes, later afternoon south-west sea breezes.

October in Australia

So, according to Tim Entwisle we are now in Sprummer, and according the Noongar, or Whadjuk People we are in Kambarang, when rains will lessen.

And yes, rain is precious this month and we don’t want the summer to arrive too early, as we know we have some very dry days ahead, so I’m looking at the barometer, to check for rain. But meanwhile, enjoying these precious Blackbird Days!