Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The English garden (Ο Αγγλικός κήπος)

Apart from some ancient rose bushes in our garden, you won't find any more floral varieties in it. Flowers, like lawns, need a lot of water to grow. When the climate gets very dry, it's difficult to maintain a flower garden, without feeling that you're wasting a lot of water for vain reasons. I went through a stage of having a very rich flower garden, but now I prefer to spend all that time, energy and water on having a vegetable garden because it's more useful. I treat the emerging crops as my flowers; the added bonus in this is that my flowers don't wither away and die.

"An Englishman's home is his castle." London homes are small and very expensive, but they all come with some kind of private soil-lined green space, no matter how small. Even if it grows just nettles and ornamentals, they come out enormous compared to their stunted Greek cousins.

The cold damp climate of Northern Europe is said to be unsuitable for growing crops for self-sufficiency but it does seem to be the best for growing and maintaining a colourful flower garden. The front garden spaces of  the houses in Ladywell, despite being very limited in size, were often filled with all sorts of flowers, shrubs and low trees. They all seem to grow effortlessly. A characteristic feature of these plants is their size. I recognised many of them as they are similar to some plants that grow wild here - but the London ones grew much much bigger than in Crete, and they had a clean green look to them, unlike in Crete where their leaves toughen quickly, they are nearly always dusty and they never really look spectacular, all due to the harsh sunlight and dryness of the soil.

Lettuce and rhubarb - the lack of space doesn't crush people's enthusiasm for growing their own food.

In a number of gardens, we also noticed a move away from growing just inedible plants. Despite the restrictions of a London garden (size and climate), it was heartening to see the enthusiasm that some Londoners show in their efforts towards self-sufficiency. Some had cleared the overgrowth of spectacular useless foliage to sow edible crops, while others had planted pots of various comestibles.

Most house fronts were filled with rich black soil which reached the walls of the house. This is something my Cretan husband found very strange because in his opinion, it is one of the main causes of rising damp inside houses. The idea of blocking the walls of a house from contact with soil is a very Greek one. My parents tore down the bay windows of our New Zealand home and concreted the front garden in order to keep away the damp. I lived in a very Greek (at the time, but no longer) neighbourhood in Wellington, and nearly every house that was owned by Greeks in the area had had the same thing done to it. These houses stuck out like sore thumbs in the creative uniformity of the original inner-city houses, many of which dated back to Victorian times when the city was founded.

This mint was growing out of control in the middle of a concreted front yard, which was no doubt a former garden. All that had been left of it was a hole in the ground where some herbs and overgrown rose bushes were competing for space.

There were very few instances in London where this had taken place (concreting of the front garden space), which shows how sacred style and garden are in conservative societies, but where I did chance to see it, I bet that the house is/was owned by a Mediterranean who was hoping to avoid the damp in their house and was quite happy to have just a few wild-growing herbs for personal use sprouting out of the cracks in the concrete.

No space too small! Bike parking, rubbish bins, recycling bins, potted plants and the English garden, all in one.

Even now, due to limited space, property division, and the desire for a large spacious home (where the whole family can nest, where houses are more like apartments with one story on top of another), we still see houses being built in Crete with no garden space. For Londoners who seem to face even more restrictions, this seems almost unfathomable.

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