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SPAROZA: A WORLD IN A GARDEN

MGS-Blog-#1My last post, on the beginning of our 2002 European garden journey, made me take pause. Our starting out at the gardens of Sparoza now seems to have been both appropriate and auspicious. Our explorations were to be aided at so many points by members of the Mediterranean Garden society. And during this last year we came to realize that, while Sparoza was the fountainhead of the Society, the vast majority of members had never visited it – or even knew much about it. It was because of this that I was asked by the Society to travel to Greece this spring in order to produce a video documentary of the gardens for DVD release. With my trip there so large in my imagination today, I’ve decided to do this post on the Sparoza of 2010 before continuing on with our earlier journey. A brief heartfelt soliloquy on that lovely place seems to me the right candle by which to softly light the remembrances of our maiden voyage among the gardens of the Mediterranean.

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Sparoza is a work in progress that retains the permanency of deep nature. The narrow beds of the terraces which Jacky Tyrwhitt laid out almost 50 years ago have, over time, been connected with other area, further and further from the  house, which are reminiscent of the informal, or even “wild”,  Greek landscape. For instance, a section of the phrygana (the local garigue) shows swaths of Phlomis fruticosa and Asphodelus that have been subtly augmented by agaves an  aloes. One might protest, “But this is not really wild, not truly natural!” But, then, what is wild, what natural? People have been walking and planting the land in Greece for at least 6,000 years. And were not these earlier inhabitants “natural”?

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Perhaps Penelope Hobhouse put it best when she said that the Greeks have never been great horticulturists as such, but then all of Greece is a garden.

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The seamless drift  from wildflower lawn to stately yuccas, from humble but beautiful flowering vetch to casually placed cypress, or from electric flowering, dancing masses of euphorbias to  slim-leaved, intensely colored South African Crocosmias – all of this draws one in to that intense place where are and nature meet.

Call it the human place. Call it a garden.

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Now that I have lived, from dawn to dark, for 13 days in the world of Sparoza, I realize that its gardens were like a lens for us as we began our journey, helping us to focus on and see clearly the vast variation on that most ancient of themes called “the Mediterranean Garden”.

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Finding the Middle of the World

“MESOGEO”… Meso-geo, middle earth, middle of the world. How did that idea ever come to us?

Let’s see:  Just now I’m sitting on our front porch at day’s end, surrounded by brugmansias, lilies, colocasias, clivias, and a straying finger of jasmine, reaching out for my pen to write its own remembrances. The music of Manos Hadjidakis wraps me in Greek reveries as I sip wine from Australia, while eating feta-like cheese from Bulgaria and olives from Sicily. Right here, right now is the middle of the world. And our gardens, upon which I gaze and through which I will soon wander, are the environs of this world. But this is old song…

Every gardener knows that their garden is the middle of the world. Its light shines through our every breath, our every doing, like a quiet sun within the earth and we are illuminated. Again, how did we come to this way of thinking about ourselves? Years back I began visiting Greece. first as a sort of pilgrimage that students do, and later as a place in which I wished to live. When Terri and I married, we took our honeymoon in a tiny mountain village of Crete, gathering olives with friends. WIthin the year we returned to restore an ancient stone house which I had bought years before. Though we shared a love for Greek culture – music, language, food, our impulse to become villagers flagged as we ran up against the problems of rebuilding the house. Soon we were driving around the whole island in late winter, visiting Minoan sites and photographing people and wild landscape – a wildness that was still being tamed after 5,000 years of settlement.

The photos here are the treasure with which we returned in the spring. We also brought back the plan for a book that would fuse our ideas of the Mediterranean with our experience of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. This blog is a window onto the gardens we visited and photographed, the stories and people we encountered, the feasts and lunches we consumed as we rambled through 5 countries around the Mediterranean Basin, returning to build our gardens and nursery here on Bainbridge Island. The entries are testimony and praise to the wonders of Mediterranean gardens and their unexpected connections to the gardens of our Northwest home.

The middle of the world is wherever you are in your own garden.

Terry Moyemont at the archaeologist's table in Falasarna, Crete.

Terry Moyemont at the archaeologist's table in Falasarna, Crete.

Path to Old Minoan port, Falasarna, Crete

Path to Old Minoan port, Falasarna, Crete

The rocky rim of the Falasarna beaches.

The rocky rim of the Falasarna beaches.

Terri Stanley studies the archaic landscape at Falasarna.

Terri Stanley studies the archaic landscape at Falasarna.