The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Horticulture and Greek garden design

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3. Gardening in European Turkey, Greece, and Albania, as to its Horticulture 538. Horticulture at Athens. The district watered by the Cephissus, on the side of Athens nearest to Thebes, is divided into those extensive grounds which are particularly allotted for supplying the city with fruit and vegetables, and are for the most part not cultivated by their owners, but let out to the peasants of the villages. A large garden of an acre and a half was pointed out to me as being let annually for 250 piastres. The olive groves of Athens are also on this side of the city. They must have increased since the time of Chandler, if the description of that traveller is, as usual, correct, since they now extend in a curved line of seven or eight miles in length, and from one to three miles in breadth. Mr. Hobhouse was told that the trees planted of late years had been too thickly set, and had much injured the old wood. Besides this large olive-wood in the plain of Athens, there are other groves in the neighbourhood of several of the villages; and, besides eight in other parts of Attica, there are thirty-six olive presses in the capital. The Cephissus, a sort of ditch stream, almost dry in summer, and in winter only a torrent, flowing from Cephissia, under Mount Pentelicus, passes through the extent of olive-groves and gardens, each of which it serves, by turns, to water. The watering of the olive-groves commences September 24. and ends April 6., and is effected by raising a low mound round eight or nine trees, and then introducing the stream through dikes, so as to keep the roots and part of the trunks under water for the necessary length of time. Each owner waters his grove for thirty or forty hours, and pays a para a tree to the waiwode, or to him who has farmed the revenue from that officer. During this period, the peasants construct huts with boughs, and are mutually watchful, both day and night, neither to lose their own portion, nor to allow others an unfair abundance of the valuable streams. Mr. Hobhouse observes that he has often seen their fires among the trees, and, as they watch in parties, and mix, as usual, much mirth with their employment, heard the sound of their voices, and the tinkling music of their guitars, when returning to Athens from an evening's ride. The water of the Cephissus is the property of the waiwode only during the season of watering the olive woods: during the remaining months, the owners of the gardens, in a proportion settled by long usage, divert the stream into their grounds for one, two, or three hours in a week or fortnight, according to the bargain at which they have hired or purchased their land. The same jealousy is manifested on this as on the other occasion. The instant that the stream is turned into the required channel, a public inspector, who is called 'Dragatis too nero,' and is always in attendance, turns his hour glass, and the gardener also measures the time in the same manner; other Greeks frequently being present, to prevent collusion, and cut off the rivulet immediately on the expiration of the stipulated hour. Besides this periodical irrigation of the gardens those who can afford to procure such an advantage, buy water from the owners of several reservoirs, which have been constructed amongst the gardens, and on the banks of the Cephissus. Throughout the whole range of the olive groves and gardens are to be seen small remains, sepulchral memorials, shafts of columns, and particularly the marble mouths of ancient wells, which retain the deeply indented marks of the rope used in letting down and raising the buckets. A very beautiful specimen of one of them is now in a large garden on the side of the river, twenty minutes' walk beyond the Colonus Hippius. It is a foot and a half high, and, near the rim, ornamented with festoons in elegant sculpture, and serves for the month of a well; perhaps the same for which it was originally constructed. The bucket lying by it is a dried gourd, scooped out, and attached to a rope of twisted hay. (Hobhouse's Travels in Albania, &c., vol. ii. p. 358.) When M. Eugene Baumann visited Greece in 1837, he found a great many ornamental trees, particularly specimens of the sweet bay, the common myrtle, Vitex A'gnus castus, Ceratonia Siliqua, and Melia Azedarach, the trees everywhere, both large and small, being intertwined with vines and Vitex A'gnus castus; 'and, where the moisture does not reach, an immense number of myrtles grow. Pistacia Lentiscus also grows there profusely; in short, one is agreeably surprised at the great variety of brilliant foliage which abounds. Nerium Oleander is particularly beautiful; it towers above the other shrubs which surround it, and presents a flourishing bouquet throughout the year.' The corn in the plain of Athens, which is cut in May, is very high at the beginning of March: in this month, also, the vines begin to sprout; the olive groves to bud; and the almond trees, of which there is a great number in the neighbouring gardens, are so covered with their white and purple blossom, as to impart their varied hues to the face of the whole country. The spring vegetables, especially lettuces, may also be procured at that season. There are nearly a thousand gardens in the neighbourhood of Athens, to many of which are attached kiosques, or country-houses, ill constructed, the lower part being of mud, and the upper of badly jointed planks. Gardens and vineyards round Athens are all enclosed with mud walls. (Hobhouse's Travels in Albania, &c.)