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Annual General Meetings over the Years
2001 Athens, Greece
The Annual General Meeting, Athens 2001
by Freda Cox, reprinted from TMG No. 27 January 2002
Athens was the setting for the AGM of 2001, as the MGS returned to its roots. Hot sunshine, wonderful gardens and impeccable organisation ensured that the 80 members present had a thoroughly enjoyable time. A meeting of Branch Heads took place on 17th October, followed that evening by an opening reception and supper at the Epistrofi Gallery, Athens, accompanied by cheerful conversation in an open courtyard canopied by stars.
Next day members visited the Kaisariani Botanical Garden and 11th-century Byzantine monastery on the slopes of Mt Hymettus. The surrounding woods, declared a ‘Forest of Outstanding Beauty’ in 1974, contain a wide mixture of trees which also help alleviate pollution. The remarkable gardens, designated a ‘Historical Garden of Europe’, olive groves and nursery include a valuable collection of native flora.
Members then headed for Sparoza, the home of the MGS, where Sally Razelou has worked wonders with the garden. The highly fertile plain stretching away into the distance below Sparoza has seen much development, including the massive new road and airport opened in 2001. However, development is forgotten as we enter the lovely long sitting room with marble floors and massive windows, the garden peeping in from terrace and verandah. Dishes of glowing pomegranates fresh from the tree, luscious grapes, wine, fruit juices and Greek delicacies soon disappeared. Then it was time for the garden, full of colour and interesting plants, looking spectacular despite the lack of rain. Golden sternbergia, red and yellow Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa), osteospermum, rich purple ipomoea and tiny brilliant red Ipomoea quamoclit clambered round the porch. Alliums, agapanthus and thorn apple (Datura stramonium)… Trees laden with pomegranates, shrubs hung with colourful winter berries… Not a weed in sight.
We lunched at Costa’s taverna in the hills behind Peania. Then comfortably replete, we set off for a private house and garden on the slopes of Mt Pendeli: tier upon tier of massive stone walls rising from the mountainside, the pristine newness already veiled by a multitude of plants scrambling up the golden stonework or tumbling down it from above. What a garden! We saw pools and canals, some complete, some still under construction. We admired the Cyclops room – a domed cavern cut into the hillside, rising to a single circular opening high above. The dim interior is dominated by a stone vase of massive proportions from which water will eventually cascade. Water will also pour from spouts and openings all around the walls, forming a complete ‘room’ of water. Steps lead to pergolas of roses, vines and wisteria. Paving is set with closely clipped, grey-leaved Lippia lacunosa (syn. L. cordata). Pathways and steps guide to ever more terraces and ‘garden rooms’. White and soft mauve prostrate Lantana montevidensis cascade over walls. Pomegranate trees carry an abundant harvest of crimson fruits, some splitting to reveal golden interiors with fleshy pink seeds. Leucophyllum frutescens is neatly clipped into grey bushes smothered with pink flowers. Salvia leucantha offers softly-felted grey leaves and long stems of mauve flowers. Low clipped bushes of rosemary and santolina scent the air. Choice plants spread splendour throughout the new garden, over the golden walls, decorative terraces and round wonderfully decadent long stone benches. We congregated together once again and wine was served as we looked across the distant valley fading into the blue shadows of night. But the delights were by no means over. A talk by Makis Aperghis, Secretary General of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, followed, including unbelievably beautiful slides of flowers as we were whisked away on an armchair botanical tour of Greece. Still dazed by all this magnificence, we were served the most incredible supper on tables covered with crisp white cloths and flickering candles. And finally we had to leave this utopia, saying our goodbyes and expressing delighted thanks to our hostess for all her hospitality. As we departed, glowing windows of richly coloured murals rose above us in the courtyard. Unable to resist, we found a peaceful church, the interior painted with saints and religious scenes: an outstanding finale to a spectacular day and a rare opportunity to see such a magnificent achievement which will surely become one of Greece’s great gardens.
A garden in Pendeli: “tier upon tier of massive stone walls rising from the mountainside”
More photographs of this garden here
Next morning, as the sun rose above Athens at 7.0 a.m., we headed towards Piraeus. The ferry eased from the bustling harbour into deep blue sea and the island of Aigina smudged across the horizon. Soon we were driving along narrow roads to Paheia Rahi, where Eleni Pappas showed us her garden looking across anciently terraced hillsides. This village is preserved in its original state, quiet and peaceful. Narrow streets are edged with tiny houses overhung with bougainvillea and vines. Gardens are bright with flowers despite the intense heat. We looked around the blue-domed church with its painted, candle-lit interior and icons, then proceeded to the schoolroom, now used as a cultural centre, for a fascinating talk by Andrew Farrington on the history of the island and its ancient sites. After lunch in Perdika overlooking the harbour where bright boats bobbed on the waves and fishermen mended nets in the sunshine, we visited the temple of Aphaia, spectacularly set above the headland of Ayia Marina. Worship has continued here since prehistoric times; Aphaia, a virgin huntress, was an important goddess for women. One of the most beautiful temples in Greece, this is the third building on the site, dating to 500 B.C. Limestone walls and columns rise into the azure sky as we meander across the hillside and down into the shade of pines where tiny white and pink cyclamens are scattered amongst bleached stone and pine needles.
A last dinner was arranged in the Plaka. All agreed that the Athens AGM was a resounding success due to the hard work and organisation of Fleur Pavlidis and Sally Razelou, together with the Committee: our thanks go to everyone concerned. Mellow with wine, we lingered on, serenaded by bouzoukis. Then final goodbyes were said – a moment that comes round far too quickly at these events. See you in California next year…
On our way back to the ferry we pass a volcanic hill, site of the ancient capital of Aigina. Now only numerous tiny churches dotted across the hillside remain.
Saturday morning found us assembled for the AGM in a comfortable room at the Goulandris-Horn Foundation. We ate a superb buffet lunch in hot sunshine on the terrace overlooking the rooftops of this old quarter of Athens. High above us the Acropolis was silhouetted against the sky. The north wall of the Acropolis then formed the subject of an enthralling and informative talk by Dr Judith Binder.