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Sparoza, a founding Mediterranean garden

There is a debate currently among members of the Mediterranean Garden Society about Sparoza, an innovative garden near Athens, dating from the 1960s, where the society was born and which it still contributes to maintaining. Its custodian, Sally Razelou, was the MGS’s first president. For various reasons including Sally’s inevitable aging, the future of this garden is in doubt. I was asked to explain why I think this historic garden is really important for an association like the MGS, with its worldwide membership and growing international interest. Here is what I wrote:

Sparoza, near Athens (Louisa Jones)

I was once told in our French country village that there are two conditions you cannot acquire, that you have to be born into: the aristocracy and the peasantry. Sparoza for me is like that. It is a birthplace, a heritage, that could never be acquired but which the MGS was born into. We are all besieged daily by international associations that come and go, and are all much the same. Sparoza gives the MGS real roots in every sense. Once lost, this condition could never be regained. This is a bit like Wisley for the Royal Horticultural Society. How many RHS members have actually set foot in it? But all know that the society’s first and main garden still keeps nourishing the whole structure at every level—the website, the seed bank, the journal…

We hear so much about local versus global identity, and the importance of protecting indigenous character. I would hate to see the MGS deteriorate into a conflict between locals and globals. Sparoza illustrates the best kind of cosmopolitanism—British, American, Greek--and at the same time, a mix of various ways of seeing the world—through architecture, urban design, garden design, horticulture, and botany— all of which contribute to a very strong, local spirit of place. We have been very lucky that its devoted guardians understand and cultivate this spirit.

It means a lot to me also that the MGS should be rooted in Attica. You know that cliché about the Greeks not having gardens because all of Greece is a garden? I have come to understand the deeper sense of this more and more in recent years. In the old Homeric hymns, human beings growing plants, for beauty or practical uses, are all part of nature’s own dynamics. Wild areas, field and garden are all one. Today’s humanist ecologists are striving to recover this sense of people as part of the biosphere rather than its rulers or destroyers. For gardeners, this means living in accordance with the logic of place—which can also save a lot of waste and energy. This is an ancient Greek model, and Sparoza has always been managed this way.

But Sparoza is more than a symbol, it is a very real example, a testing ground, a plant collection, a seed bank, a preserved but ever-growing landscape. The problem now is how to keep it growing, literally and figuratively. And it seems that more global recognition might help. Wisley of course has a lot of funding and is readily accessible. The DVD in preparation should be a godsend in this respect, but there are many other possibilities to explore in the near future. I hope to see the MGS move in that direction.
See Sparoza on www.MediterraneanGardenSociety.org. See also www.mgsforum.org/smf/index.php


For gardeners, this means

For gardeners, this means living in accordance with the logic of place !
Réservez une chambre d'hôtel à vaise - Hôtel lyon-ouest : Chambre d'hôtel à deux pas du centre de lyon

Dear Members of the MGS I

Dear Members of the MGS

I live in Cape Town South Africa in the suburb of St James
I come from a long line of amateur horticulturists and ardent gardeners
My uncle , a physician , was a grower of African trees and together with Tom Muller , laid out and planted the National Botanical Garden in Harare Zimbabwe

For the past 13 years I have been creating and planting a garden in a strip of land infront of my home , where a land had been allocated for a park but which fell into total neglect and subsequently all plants disappeared .

Lying behind a railway line and the Main road , looking down onto Danger Beach with Cape Point and Cape Hangklip visible kn either side of the bay, it spans four urban blocks and is about 30metres wide

Gardening just above the high water mark and in the teeth of the salty South Easterly wind of summer has been a wonderful challenge . Raining in winter and EXTREMELY dry in summer , it is absolutely Mediteranean in nature.
Plants indigenous to local coastal areas have been used exclusively
Heidi Gildemeister s book on Mediteranean gardens got me going

My suggestions for ongoing development and maintenance of Sparoza are
1) To align Sparoza with a horticultural institute /college /university who will provide practical semesters for students learning their trade

2)To create an international trust appointing Trustees selected from ' interested parties ' within the gardening community of nobility , monied classes interested in maintenance and conservation of this already established and worthy garden with BOTH PRACTICAL AND AESTHETIC ATTRIBUTES...

3) Find a local / Greek based strong existing garden fraternity with an existing financially established infrastructure ..eg within the Greek Orthodox Church community , to appoint a curator and gardener who is paid by them and is accountable to the Trustees..

4) Change Sparoza from a private personal enterprise to a School of Horticulture for aspiring gardeners , graduating each year with a one year diploma
in specified areas of expertise with aim of helping young aspiring gardeners to add to their potfolios or help them into colleges or institutes

Yours sincerely, Jane Michaelis

These proposals seem to me to

These proposals seem to me to be full of thoughtful suggestions, worth taking seriously. thanks very much for sharing them here, but I assume you have also sent them to the MGS directly.

thank you for this comment.

thank you for this comment. All informed opinion is welcome. Yours is confirmation about the controversional nature of this subject. Why should Miyon Yoo be mentioned on my website?

I have just returned from the

I have just returned from the MGS Algarve spring conference, where I heard a delightful talk about Sparoza given by Miyon Yoo (mentioned nowhere in your website).

The controversy you mention is not about Sparoza, but about Greek control of the MGS, the mindless bureaucracy it entails and the endless power struggles, which decidedly wear. Lets' face it, Greece is hardly in a position these days to dictate to anybody.

In addition, the fact that Sparoza is not open to the public and can be visited only by appointment is hardly a ringing endorsement.

I would like to support

I would like to support Louisa's comments about Sparoza. For me the most important role played by the place is that it is THE international expression of the philosophy behind the form of gardening that reflects, respects and responds to both climate, culture and place. In truth it cannot really exist or be duplicated anywhere else. It lives because of where it is, those who have made it and because its form fits its function.

In these respects it teaches through its practice that we should all garden within the boudaries imposed by the places in which we garden; it teaches us to explore for plants able to thrive in those circumstances; it teaches us that individual creativity grows from the experience we gain by practicing this philosophy.

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