By Aliki Haralambos
A Garden In Greece. This is the title I chose for the description of my special gardens in my birthplace. Which garden do I describe first? I feel unable to concentrate and zero in on this subject. There is so much to remember. The fragrance of jasmine and gardenias, the vibrant yellow colour of chimonanthus (Wintersweet) during the winter months, and somewhere in between this feast of nature?s abundant gifts, intertwined with traditions connected with the plants.
The first of many gardens I was introduced to was my grandfather?s. It was small but full of herbs, citrus trees, roses, and a pine tree he planted the day I was born, hoping that by the time I learned to embroider, the tree would be tall enough to give me shade to sit under and work on my masterpieces. He had a passion for grafting citrus trees so that they would produce two or three different citrus fruits and rose bushes that would grow different colours of roses. (To this day, I wonder how this is possible.) He had grapevines growing on the garden trellis. As soon as the new leaves would appear, my grandmother was there to gather the young leaves and make her wonderful tasting grapeleaf meat rolls. Sweet basil and oregano and braids of garlic and onions were hanging to dry from any available nail sticking to the trellis. There was no order or pattern in this garden. But, oh, it was the coolest spot to sit during the hot summer days and balmy evenings. All herbs and flowers would surround us with their fragrances. I remember the cool breeze and the sound of gentle movement of leaves. During the hot summer days when the leaves of fig trees were warmed by the sun, they filled the air with their own characteristic aroma. This is the fragrance that brings me back to Greece and the family garden.
Later on, we moved to the suburbs, just north of Athens, in Kifissia. Some call this area the Garden of Athens and others named it The Beautiful District of Kifissia. It does not matter what this area is called. Nature has seen to it to make Kifissia a beautiful green area. Not too long ago, when water was plentiful and streams ran along both sides of wider roads, sycamore trees were growing everywhere.
The neighborhood roads are narrow and most of the homes have a small garden. These areas are full of pots of geraniums, carnations, gardenias, climbing jasmine, and always tucked in the corner, a pot or two of small-leaf basil. Some gardens, even in the smallest areas, seem to have enough space for a few tomato plants, and almost always, a lemon tree will be growing. In other words, gardens are colorful, fragrant, and productive.
Our home was built on a two-hectare lot. We had our own well that was used to water not only our garden but also some of the surrounding gardens. The century-old pine trees were the largest on the lot, which was separated into a vegetable garden, a fruit tree garden, and a great rose and other cut flowers garden. These different gardens were separated with rows of lavender and bay leaf bushes and among all this great variety of plants, Tilia (Linden) trees were growing. (When they were blooming, my friends and I would climb a tree and collect the blossoms to dry and save them to make a wonderful tea.)
I mentioned earlier the fig tree leaves? aroma. There were eight or nine huge fig trees in our garden. There was a balcony on the side of the house and one could pick the ripe figs while sitting there and eat and eat and eat. Glorious moments! This was an afternoon activity?who can reach and eat the most figs?
The south side of the house had walnut trees that were loaded with nuts. Every night we would have our dinner on the veranda and enjoy the side show of opossums crossing the sitting area, reaching the walnut trees, and climbing them to eat the fresh nuts. These animals would march past us as if we were not there.
And, talking about walnuts; is there a better flavor than that of a fresh walnut? Once the nuts were peeled from the outer green cover and the shell broken, the white flesh within was the sweetest taste one could experience. The cost?nails and finger tips that were stained purple.
Now, fifty years later, when I go back home, I can still enjoy the view of the house and the garden from the balcony of our third floor penthouse built right next to our home. Of course, the balcony which is all around the apartment is no garden, but it is filled with camellias, jasmine, lemon verbena, miniature roses, and lemon trees, all planted in huge pots and lined up as if they were in the garden. The best time of day is when the sun goes down and the moon comes out?when the magic of the moonlight and fragrances take over and make one dream.
The flight back home to California is welcomed. I am happy to return home and to MY small garden. There is no special plan in this small area I call ?my garden,? but in looking back I can see the influence of the gardens I grew up with: the lemon tree was the first to be planted, then came a gardenia, a jasmine, miniature roses, lemon verbena, thyme, oregano, and pots of cymbidiums, and?and? A wonderful mix of greens and reds and purples?and I do greet each and every plant first thing in the morning.
Aliki Haralambos, Full Garden Docent, Conservatory Volunteer, and Docent/Volunteer Garden Organization Co-Chair for the 2006-2008 term