Articles from April 2010



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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Into the Labyrinth of Gardens

I have just returned from the gardens of Sparoza, where our journey through European gardening began in 2002. For two weeks I woke up every dawn there , walked out  to begin shooting video and stills, and continued  shooting until the last light went. When it came time to return home to Bainbridge Island, I felt  there was so much that I hadn’t yet captured of this incredible place where light changed as much throughout each day as the plants had changed in the years since Terri and I had last visited and worked there.

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In the Cactus Garden

When we began our 2002 journey, we had started at Sparoza for two reasons: first, it was where we had encountered the mediterranean Garden Society, whose members would help us through our journey to come; secondly, the gardens of Sparoza were like a huge, fantastic guide book to the landscape, climate, and plants of the Mediterranean Basin. Just walking the grounds there, as the April sun brought constant changes, was the best preparation that travelers into the world of mediterranean gardening could hope for.

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Irises and Poppies

We saw the variations upon wild landscapes and subtle designs that would help us to understand the varieties of settings that lay ahead of us. There was something about the place that combined the very best of a huge natural history museum with an art gallery. Horticulture and European culture were seamlessly interwoven in the landscape – which, in many ways , was what we were trying to accomplish in our trip. We wanted very much to connect what we were seeing in the Pacific Northwest with its wellsprings across the Atlantic.  Oddly enough, we were familiar back home with the Pacific and Asian roots of our gardening ways, yet we had almost forgotten our other tradition – the Mediterranean.

Dancing Euphorbias, Dancing Olives

Dancing Euphorbias, Dancing Olives

After a few days at Sparoza we began to recognize plants, colors, and, yes, many feelings that we knew so well from our own gardens at home. And we readied ourselves to go deeper, toward the center of the Labyrinth.

Sun at the Heart of the Tree

Sun at the Heart of the Tree