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Adopt a plant in the MGS garden at Sparoza

There are more than 500 species and varieties of plants, both planted and wild, in the MGS garden at Sparoza. Only the custodian, Sally Razelou, can hope to know them all intimately, but we members can get a taste of them from the articles in The Mediterranean Garden and on the MGS web site. Members in the Athens area are lucky enough to be able to visit the garden regularly and watch the plants over the seasons, while the Thursday-morning Volunteers get to care for them.

Now the Volunteers have offered to share their experience. If you join the Adopt a Plant scheme a volunteer will send you a biannual email-report of how the plant is doing in the garden along with a photograph. If the plant is growing in various sites, for instance both with and without summer irrigation, she will let you know the difference in its behaviour. If you choose one of the new plants that Sally is testing for the first time you can follow its progress from a tiny plant to maturity. Choose one of the plants which Sally has established in the garden and you’ll learn all that she has discovered about it. Or perhaps be sentimental and choose one of the plants which were planted up to 45 years ago by the garden’s founder, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt.

By adopting one of the plants below you will be helping to secure the future of the MGS garden financially and ensure that it will still be an inspiration to gardens in another 45 years’ time.

Adopt a Plant scheme
Adopt a Plant for two years for €10
Adopt a Plant for five years for €20

To adopt
Please send a message to with your name and the plant or plants you wish to adopt and indicate whether this is for 2 or 5 years. Plants can have more than one adoptive parent.
To Pay
Make a donation for the appropriate amount.

Acanthus arboreus
An acanthus from Ethiopia and other East African countries, Acanthus arboreus is an exotic addition to the garden. Sally received seeds from a South African friend in 2005 and planted one strong little plant in the top terrace between the pomegranate trees. Although rather tender, it has flourished and nearly outgrown its sheltered spot. The fuchsia pink flowers are held high in the plant and are produced intermittently throughout the year. Like most acanthus, it has produced a crop of seedlings which Sally has potted up for the nursery plant exchanges.

Anthyllis barba-jovis
Although native to the coastal regions of the Mediterranean including Greece, Sally Razelou had been unable to secure a plant of Anthyllis barba-jovis and it long remained on her wish list. At last nurseries recognised the value of its delicate grey leaves and distinctive cream-coloured flowers and started to offer plants for sale. Probably imported and definitely pot-bound, they proved a little hard to get going. Away from the rocky cliffs, Anthyllis barba-jovis grows rather stiff and straight and is prone to being tipped over or broken by the wind. Anthyllis barba-jovis is in the Fabaceae family and its fanciful name means ‘Jupiter’s beard’.

Ceanothus 'Concha'
Ceanothus 'Concha' is one of the oldest and best Ceanothus hybrids. It has deep blue flowers which are scented, it is drought-tolerant, and it is one of the few Ceanothus hybrids that is tolerant of alkaline conditions. It grows into a large bush up to 3 metres. Shrubby Ceanothus is not readily available in Greece and there are at present none in the Sparoza garden. Sally Razelou is testing this plant which was planted out in several locations in autumn 2012.

Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis 'Yankee Point'
This popular Ceanothus, which is usually grown as ground cover, has never been offered for sale in Greece even though it is apparently drought-resistant and tolerant of alkaline soil. Sally Razelou has been wanting to test it for some time and this year the opportunity has arisen. Ground covers which reliably maintain their appearance during the summer drought are as rare as they are desirable and if Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis 'Yankee Point' does prove to be strong enough to cope with the conditions at Sparoza it will make a valuable addition to the garden’s palette.

Cneorum tricoccon
This shrub from the west Mediterranean was planted by Jaqueline Tyrwhitt forty-five years or so ago. She describes it thus: "This little-known evergreen shrub is a real treasure. It grows easily from seed, makes a very neat and dense little bush with small dark leaves and has tiny yellow flowers in the leaf axils that flicker through the bush like golden stars. These are followed by a triangular formation of three red balls, the seeds, which persist for a long time. The plant flowers intermittently. It seems to be in full bloom in April, but it also flowers at the end of summer.” ** The original plant from Jacky’s day is now showing its age but some of its offspring, youngsters sown in 1996, are bushing up nicely round the threshing floor. They are rather slow-growing. One major trait of this plant, which Jacky does not mention, is that it holds its green freshness throughout the summer drought and with no irrigation at all it never looks stressed. Unfortunately after all this time it is still little known.
** from Gardening on a Greek Hillside by Mary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, published by Denise Harvey, 2nd edition 2012.

Ebenus cretica
Above the terraces in the Sparoza garden lies a raised bed containing plants that thrive in extremely dry conditions. Here we find a fine old specimen of Ebenus cretica, a Cretan endemic, planted by Jaqueline Tyrwhitt more than 40 years ago. Although in her book Jacky speaks of ‘shrubs’ of Ebenus, only one was surviving when Sally Razelou took over the garden some 11 years after its founder’s death. It has produced an unsteady flow of self-sown seedlings, some years a harvest, more years none at all, which have been planted elsewhere including in other members’ gardens. One seedling has been allowed to grow in front of the old plant as insurance. Ebenus cretica, which is in the pea family (Fabaceae), spends the summer aestivating and can look virtually dead. With the autumn rains the leaves plump up again, new shoots sprout and the Ebenus is restored. The spring flowers offer an irresistible show of soft pink, as shown in the photograph.

Eriocephalus africanus
A native of South Africa, Eriocephalus africanus is a marvellous plant for any mediterranean garden. The fine, grey, aromatic foliage has year-long appeal and the profusion of snow-white flowers in early spring is riveting. It can withstand most adverse conditions of weather, soil and habitat, can be pruned to shape if a neat border hedge is needed or left to grow loosely. The foliage is variable, being more succulent in the face of sea breezes and finer in drier inland habitats. The first plant of Eriocephalus africanus was brought to Sparoza by Heidi Gildemeister when she visited in 1996 to find out what this new Mediterranean Garden Society was all about. She went on to become its second President.

Euphorbia dendroides
This is a very distinctive euphorbia which aestivates totally during the summer, losing its leaves just like any deciduous plant does in winter. Then at the first smell of rain, a green glow appears as the brilliant lime-green leaves start to show. This is one of the plants that we identify with the ‘second spring’ of autumn in the garden. After flowering the bracts turn an attractive reddish orange. In her book, Jacky Tyrwhitt describes how she collected seeds and a few tiny seedlings whilst botanising in Attica and tended them through their first year. All the present Euphorbia dendroides at Sparoza are their descendants and require no care at all. Unfortunately a disease has started to attack them and is threatening their survival.

Fritillaria obliqua
This heart-breakingly delicate black fritillaria with its soft grey-green foliage is native to Attica. It was collected by Sally Razelou back in 1994, just before the foundation of the MGS when she was out botanising with Derek Toms, the man who thought of the idea of a society for mediterranean gardeners throughout the world. Fritillaria obliqua  has never naturalised in the garden but offspring of the original bulbs are found in the terraces. This endemic Greek plant is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.

Gladiolus tristis
This wonderful South African gladiolus has an epithet meaning ‘sad’ but on the contrary brings joy wherever it blooms. It was introduced into the garden by Jaqueline Tyrwhitt in the 1970s when she found corms in a local shop under the name of ‘night flower’ in recognition of the fact that the flowers are night-scented. Since then Gladiolus tristis has maintained a presence by self-seeding in the irrigated parts of the garden.

Haemanthus coccineus
‘Suddenly in a terrace bed we can see the exotic Haemanthus coccineus – deep scarlet flowers coming and going before the huge rounded leaves emerge.’ Taken from the Sparoza Diary entry of September 2008 when the autumn rains came exactly on cue and continued throughout the month. This year at half-way through October and still under drought conditions, this totally hardy exotic has carried on regardless and burst into life. The original giant bulbs arrived in the garden in a round of plant sharing: a gift from TMG Editor Caroline Harbouri who herself had received a clump from a friend in Crete. Having found its perfect site at the corner of a shaded terrace, Haemanthus coccineus has bloomed reliably every year, amazing visitors first with the waxy coral-red cup-shaped flowers and then with the huge under-turning leaves.

Iochroma australe
Previously know as Acnistus australis, this shrub is about to be reintroduced in the garden. Sally Razelou was given her original plant by Marjorie Holmes who grew it with great success in her garden in Corfu. Flowering in late spring to early summer, Iochroma australe has deep blue “mini angels’ trumpets” and can grow up to 3 metres. It is native to Bolivia and Argentina and so rather tender, and it was a harsh winter that killed the original Sparoza plant. Now Sally has propagated seeds found for her by Caroline Harbouri and is ready to bring this beauty back.

Lycium europaeum
This is a thorny shrub of the Solanaceae family, native to the Mediterranean. Sally Razelou gathered seeds of Lycium europaeum on an MGS botanising trip to an ancient theatre on the way to Sounion and propagated them. In the original position chosen for them the plants did not flourish, so they have been dug up and potted to be planted elsewhere this autumn. Also known as the European Wolfberry, it is a dense shrub 1 to 3 metres tall. The greyish green leaves are somewhat fleshy. The flowers are white or pink, veined, with prominent stamens. The fruit is a red or orange berry. Theophrastus, the fourth century BC Greek botanist, and Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder of the first century AD, all described thorny shrubs that are believed to be Lycium. In his Natural History Book XXIV Pliny writes: "Among the species of brambles there is one which the Greeks call rhamnos... Another species, a wild one, is darker and slightly reddish and bears some kind of pockets. From boiling the roots in water they make a drug called lycium. The seed provokes the expulsion of the afterbirth. The leaves of both species, raw or boiled, can be served with oil."

Mandragora officinalis (syn. M. autumnalis)
One of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s greatest treasurers in the garden was the Mandragora officinalis whose flowers she described as an ‘over-sized Victorian bouquet stuck into the ground’. She tells at considerable length how she dug up a large plant over a period of four days on the island of Delos but still failed to reach the end of the root. This same plant continued to flourish and flower at Sparoza until a few years ago when old age finally weakened it and it died. Fortunately Sally Razelou has now found a new source of plants: a ploughed field in Attica where young plants are disturbed and do not manage to grow a long tap root. Several of these plants are in their third year in the garden and have started to flower. The mandragora is of course famous for its root which sometimes has a human shape and has given rise to many myths about its medical and magical properties. Since the Harry Potter books we all know about the screaming and its deadly result.

Ptilostemon chamaepeuce
Although growing all over Mt Hymettos across the valley from Sparoza, Ptilostemon chamaepeuce was brought to Sally from the southeast tip of the Peloponnese by John Rendall, a former resident of Sparoza and for years the Vice-President of the MGS. This is one of Sally’s favourite species and she has planted it freely around the circular natural ‘lawn’ known as the threshing floor. It forms a medium-sized bush of a rounded shape and the purple-pink balls of flower are held high above the mound. It self-seeds happily and has planted itself along the lower road. It is not aromatic and is largely unrecognized as a native plant.

Salvia discolor
Native to the Peruvian Andes this is an unlikely species for a mediterranean garden, yet here it is growing and blooming in great splendour. Salvia discolor needs shade, shelter and summer irrigation, but once it has found the right spot it expands into a small shrub with scented grey-green leaves and arching sprays of black flowers. All the visitors to Sparoza are captivated by it and most of them get to see the flowers since it blooms throughout the year. The late Marjorie Holmes, a great gardener and botanical illustrator, gave Sally Razelou the original plant, and Sally has been propagating from it ever since. It will not tolerate a less than perfect position, but once it decides to stay it is a winner.

Senna artemisioides
Senna artemisioides came into the MGS garden when Sally propagated seeds of this Australian native brought back from the 2009 AGM in Cyprus. There is one well-growing specimen in the terraces. As the name suggests, this senna does not have the usual rounded green leaflets we associate with the sennas we already grow, but has silvery divided leaves reminiscent of the Artemisia genus. The flowers and seed pods, however, are quite typical, the latter bean-like pods starting green and turning brown, and the former as yellow as buttercups with prominent dark stamens. The shrub can grow into a pleasantly rounded shape, covered in bloom during spring and again in autumn. It is reported as being drought-hardy and frost-resistant and liking a sunny position. There are 427 species of Senna listed on The Plant List and many more sub-species of Senna artemisioides which are not. Until recently Senna artemisioides was classified under the Cassia genus.

Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’
The species Teucrium fruticans is a stalwart of Mediterranean gardens, its whitish-grey leaves and pale mauvey-blue flowers acting as a tall backdrop to more showy plants, or the shrub itself taking centre stage as a clipped topiary ball or such like. On a trip to the UC Davis Arboretum in 2004, Sally Razelou saw a cultivar with much brighter blue flowers and tucked a few cuttings into her luggage. And so Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’ arrived at Sparoza and has been spreading outwards ever since from the nursery. It is smaller and more lax in growth than the species so fills a different niche in the garden. Sally is currently testing it for drought worthiness.

Tipuana tipu
What a wonderful name! Tipuana and Tipu are apparently both the local South American names for this summer-flowering shade tree. Jaqueline Tyrwhitt got seeds “from a botanic garden in Israel and it grew fast into a rather willowy tree with long, light green leaflets and bright yellow pea flowers in June.” She did not specify where she planted it, however, and Sally Razelou, being unfamiliar with the species, did not recognise the tree growing in the second terrace and sprinkling the beds below with yellow petals every summer. Visitors were pressed for their opinions, but for nearly thirty years its identity remained unknown. Until, that is, this summer, when a thread on the MGS Forum discussing the Tipuana tipu struck a chord and the Sparoza Tipu has regained its name.
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