When I met M in person (and say in person cause we had spoken once more online via video chat) she came to the house with a big red vase full of peonies.
The people who know me a little, or a lot, understand quite well my love for plants, especially those that are not so easy to grow in Athen's hot and dry summers.
Well, one of those plants are Peonies.
In Greece there are some native species of this plant especially in the north of the country among the forests and surprisingly enough we have a species that grows in a few spots on the island of Lesvos but that is about it.
Many years ago I planted one at the cabin in the woods I was going often in the north of the Peloponnese but the bugger flowered when I had already moved out of that house and you can imagine how upset I was when they called me to ask what is that beautiful plant that had finally flowered in the garden there... I was livid, not only cause I missed it but because it just waited for me to leave in order to flower!
Anyway, M arrived with her goodies and of course I had to see her garden and the Peonies! So I asked her because as my friend Godfrey says, if you do not ask, you do not get.
She looked at me a bit perplexed, I guess not many people love going out and about visiting gardens, but for some crazy ones like me we really love it.
Anyway, to make a long story short a few days afterwards she called and invited us over for a private tour.
Truth is I did not know exactly what to expect. But Marc said that I would love it there and he suggested that I bring my good camera with me..
He was partially right... I mean I did not just love it but I just adored it!!
And the reason for that is M herself...
You see, usually what happens is, so many people when they build a house they care more for the inside than the outside. They spend most of their budget for the interior and do not invest the same, neither the money or time for the outside. So, in most cases, they hire a designer whose ideas you see in the garden and because of the budget most of them are not developed at their fullest. And also hardly ever do the owners of the place know what they want to begin with so they do not express their needs etc etc..
Well, this garden is not one of those. It belongs to the rare type that has been designed organically, with a lot of thought put into it by it's owners, with a ton of love and care, and after they build it, they let it grow, almost as if the garden is one more of their kids and then the garden evolves having it's own personality, echoing the voices of the owners but having a voice of it's own. And this particular garden was shouting its personality out in the world making M and D really proud and me feeling so lucky that I experienced it. And I am very anxious to meet their children one day as well as judging from the garden the "human" kids must be equally fantastic!
Some beautiful things about the garden were the mature giant trees in the entrance, connecting the garden with the nearby woods, beautiful combination of various shades of Green and not the usual "let's add flowers everywhere, cause we do not know any better".
Beautiful sitting areas, a sauna and an open shower, parts with shade connected to parts where the light comes almost vertically, pergolas and winding paths leading to unique plants.
Two of M's favourites plants were a Japanese maple and two yellow azaleas that she moved to her garden from her mother's garden when she passed away and connects her even more with her mother now. M got the love of gardening from her mother and how wonderful it is that this love will continue for many years to come and the plants will live on.
Have not heard something like that happening in Greece, either because we do not have the space for big gardens with mature plants or we still do not have those kinds of sensitivities. I sure found it wonderful though..
Funny thing is that when we finally reached the part of the garden where the Peonies are, I was not so impressed by them any more.
I am not saying that they are not beautiful as they sure are, with every colour shade imaginable between white and deep red, single of double petals, they look a bit like the big old scented roses.
To be honest though I had seen so many more interesting plants, from huge trees to the viburnums that were in bloom and a tiny springy cotoneaster with even tinier leaves and twisted branches so the peonies with their flamboyant presence were almost too much for the place.
Of course in this secret garden you can also find a vast collection of ferns, roses, a few veggies here and there, and many berries so I guess in some ways it looks like a "normal" garden but the sense that you get from it is a sense of deep privacy.
A reclusive type of privacy though, do not get me wrong.
It is a garden not so much to be shared with all but it is for the few to discover. And this is the reason that you may never read this post as before making this public I will send it to M for her to see and only if she approves of what I say I will make it public and accessible for all to see. If not, I will send her some of the pictures I took of the garden and only a few will ever see them keeping this gem a secret. M's secret garden...
I met him through a friend Mando, whose sister was a fellow student at the University with him studying Biology.
I knew that he constructed wonderful gardens, as he had completed a doctorate in botany after studying biology and was teaching also and as I had a passion for plants and gardens, I wanted to meet him. In the end we realised that we also had a passion for travelling so spent hours discussing that too. So therefore at this point I should thank Iro and Mando for meeting him.
We started a great friendship and at some point he told me about his dream. He wanted to construct a huge garden on a plot of land on which he would build a small house with access to running water and be relatively close to Athens. Those were the most important requirements but also the hard parts of finding his dream garden..because you can find beautiful spots in Greece, lakes and rivers can be found.. but all that and to be relatively close to Athens that’s not so easy…
So the dream garden of Antonis for years remained a dream.
Afterwards he found himself in Mykonos building the gardens of the rich and famous and there he met the person who was the interior designer to the rich and famous. His name was Martik..and you will read a lot about him in my blog as he is an energetic, total force of nature, talented and wonderful person.
While there when they were talking, Antonis told him about his dream to own a plot of land next to a mountain river..and Martik said to him..Great! I have just the place you are looking for.
Whatever, said Antonis, I have been looking for years and have found nothing ..are you sure?
Of course said Martik as I have a country house in a village below which run two rivers and its stunning and it’s less than 2 hours from Athens and they are selling land there.
Then Antonis said, OK let me go and take a look.. without expecting too much though…
And he got there and he saw the place and he gasped.. because Martik had been there, had cleaned up the proposed plot of land, he set up a wonderful table for Antonis and his friends, so when the people arrived they saw the place and fell in love with it. So Antonis bought the plot of land immediately..a plot of land whose two boundaries are two rivers which meet in one corner of the property and continue down to the sea.
The name of one of the rivers is Krios, and it ends up in a village by the sea called Akrata, in the Peloponnese .
Sinevro is the name of the village and it is 600 metres above sea level 18 kilometres from the beach.. and the amazing plot of Antonis is in the most magical place in the village…
When he returned to Athens he told me about it I could sense his enthusiasm ..and I said to myselfI have to see this place. And I went and I saw it and I was blown away; and I met Martik and realised what wonderful things can happen when people with dreams and vision are around. Antonis built a small stone house of 30 m2.. and started to construct his garden.
After 7 or 8 years his garden is now mature and grown…the plants he first planted have become trees and since then he has planted thousands of other plants too. Bushes, perennials, trees…even a Sequoia ..one of the tallest trees in the world you know..it has reached 4 metres already and continues to grow which is good.
Some things about gardening now. When you construct a garden you have to keep in mind that whatever you put in to it will mature after about 3-5 years. Therefore you need to know about the plants and the best place to place them appropriately. It’s not enough to say, I like that Hydrangea and I will put it in my garden. Hydrangeas need acidic soil which is hard to find in Greece. Also some bushes you may like grow to three metres and others to only a metre. Well, you have to realise this and plant the shorter in front even though when small they are the same size. And there are so many other things to consider.. because a garden changes over time continuously and needs patience and lots of knowledge. And something else. You see the changes with the passing of the seasons. A garden changes by the day..different in winter, in autumn, in spring and in summer. And of course when you plan a garden you must keep all that in mind. You must have plants that create interest all year round. With their flowers with their different coloured leaves, with their branches. How would it be to be all in bloom in April and not the following months? Won’t you be living there, won’t you see it? It’s quite difficult to get it right.
Antonis planted a Sequoia which normally grows to 80 metres in height.. he planted it when it was half a metre tall… are you telling me he will see it when it’s at full height? Of course not..it lives for hundreds of years and will take all that time to reach full height.. but the fact that it’s already 4 metres is amazing..you see the future..the continuation..like something you are leaving to the world, your inheritance.. A Sequoia?…you might say, well yes, it is an inheritance for future generations..
After so many years Antonis’s garden has taken on the look he wanted. Of course there are still small and some large changes but most things are now in place.
The pathways with the gravel, the lakes (3 of them) , a rose garden, the chicken and geese coops and the vegetable patch.. Points of interest are the collection of Japanese Maple trees, the banks of the river, his loved of old variety plants which these days are no longer used in gardens, but just the wonderful atmosphere that a beautiful garden brings.
Unfortunately you cannot visit the garden as it is private although I think it should be visited in the future. This village and the one next door called Seliana have attracted many energetic and interesting people and will soon become an amazing destination… Sinevro has already got a theme park called ‘Area Synest’ owned by Martik and in Seliana there is the community “Re-Green” of Christos, Fleris and Liveloula…
It is always an amazing thing to create a garden even on a balcony with a few pots .. the relationship you have with nature, the time you spend is time you are spending on yourself. And you learn lessons.. and that is the main reason why we should all have a garden or even just plants on a balcony.. or just a lovely pot plant.
I hope I have planted the seed for you to try it too..
You can find Antonis through his company Ecoscapes.
It would be a little difficult for him to create you a garden at the moment because he is booked out completely you know…but keep trying
I must day that Antonis and Ecoscapes constructed our garden which you can findhere...
We went on an excursion with the Mediterranean Garden Society (to which I belong) to the nursery of Yannis Gryllis.
The Mediterranean Garden Society is a charity which has the aim to study, cultivate and spread knowledge about the mediterranean flora more suited to our gardens in Greece. Growing plants in this way means they do not need as much water or suffer from as many diseases as introduced plants in our country.
I have been a member here in Greece for many years and I have noticed that most of the members are foreigners living in Greece, mostly British and very few Greeks… Strange but true. Maybe because the British have a great love of plants and gardens and gardening and have been known for it for centuries.
Anyway.. it is a very interesting organisation and if you are interested in joiningthere is link a the end of the article.
Let’s talk about Yannis now.
He is an incredible person and we are quite friendly. I have known him for many years now and in two different places.
I met him the first time at a flower exhibition in Kifissia (a Northern suburb of Athens) which he has participated in for the last few years, and he has always had one of the best stalls featuring plants for sale but is especially good for the way the plants are displayed.
I also met him through a friend of mine Andonis Skordilis; a landscape gardener who creates stunning gardens all over Greece and beyond and is supplied with many plants by Yannis Gryllis.
Yannis studied horticulture as I did and he also has a post graduate degree in landscaping. He is the person you should go to if you wish to have a pond or small lake on your property and need an expert to set it up for you.
I first went to his nursery a few years ago when he first set it up. I was blown away with the beauty of the plants and so many were strange and of the type your rarely see around in other nurseries. He started off by bringing to Greece the first water plants which drove me crazy! Water Irises, water lilies, decorative water reeds…and it was in a huge nursery about 3 acres in size! “What are you going to put in here Yanni?” I asked him, “isn’t it a bit too large?”
“Maybe a bit small after I’ve finished” he said….
I didn’t believe him and thought he was exaggerating.
The last time I went I understood what he was meant…The nursery is too small and Yannis has created something magical in Marathon. An area that soon will become a theme park with many attractions, many lakes with water lilies and Koi fish, a forest of bamboo, a display section showing how your garden could look if he did it for you and much more!
He cultivates more than 300 species of plants to give you an idea. He has special soil in which the plants grow creating roots that are encased in red earth and are capable of doing well in the arid soil of any garden you may have. The plants are always in their pots ready to be replanted without any problem into your garden.
Apart from the water plants of which there are many compared to when I first visited, Yannis has started to cultivate plants that most of us do not know much about. One example is those plants that prefer the shade. Until now we didn’t have a great variety of these plants in Greece which we could plant in the shade and in dry soil. He has provided us with many solutions to the problem of these areas in our gardens and on our balconies.
Another group of plants which he has grown are decorative grasses that range from the smallest “Briza” to a huge bamboo and with leaf colour which ranges from yellow to black. Wonderful plants especially if you see them moving with the slightest breeze!
Lastly he has a huge collection of Mediterranean plants that are very easy to grow bearing beautiful flowers, some can be kept in bloom for up to nine months per year.The varieties of Salvies are innumerable and you can add to any garden or even a pot giving light and colour to the garden. I forgot to mention the plants he has to grow on roofs. His collection of sedum is monumental and you will find everything from the smallest to the largest you may need. Of course he has other plants that he is trying out and they are not yet for sale- some he gives away to friends to plants in their gardens to try out. But some he doesn’t even share and he keeps them to himself….I can’t even get a look in!
Every time I go to Yannis I end up buying something. You always find something interesting there and he has the patience to teach you a lot. It is worth getting to know him and I’m sure you can get an idea from the pictures!
When one hears about this city, one thinks of the skyscrapers, the beautiful architecture, modern shops, every electrical gadget known to man and maybe the odd geisha and some bonsai plants..
Gardens and parks are not the first thing one thinks of in Tokyo.
But you would be wrong, as Tokyo has many beautiful parks and people use them usually for a stroll in the morning or afternoon during the day depending on the season and weather. Work hours in the city are a little crazy, everyone is rushing about and they need these spaces to get away for a while.
When we went to Tokyo we were blown away by the parks.
Huge enormous places that you would need days to explore properly.
Most of the parks were the former gardens of the Feudal lords and Shoguns especially around the Edo era and so they remained as public parks now.
It is impressive how they look after their parks and how much the locals love their city and that includes and covers the parks.
All the trees are pruned carefully and the pine trees look like giant bonsai trees manicured and pretty.
And whoever likes Japanese maple trees, will be knocked out by them here as they are the size and age of Plane trees and the tiny leaves on the giant branches sway in the wind and are a wonderful sight to see.
If I lived in Tokyo I would organise a walking tour through the parks for tourists.
As we didn’t stay in Tokyo for very long, we didn’t manage to visit all the parks including the one considered the central park of Tokyo,the one near Shinjuku which has three sections in one park; a French style, an English style and a Japanese style. We will definitely go there next time!
We did go to the park in Yoyogi which has huge Gingko trees and in autumn it would be amazing with its yellow leaves falling….
The one we loved best was the Hamarikiou on the banks of the Sumida River which has a wonderful teahousewhere you can enjoy a cup of tea or watch a tea ceremony accompanied by various sweets that are served with tea in Japan.
It’s also worth visiting the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace with it’s magnificent trees, sprawling lawns and sculpture and views of the Palace which cannot be entered.
The parks of Tokyo are alive with displays all year round but especially in spring time with the cherry blossoms (Sakura) and in autumn with the leaves changing colour yellow and red and falling…
I hope the next time I find myself in Tokyo it will be during one of these seasons…