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MGS Invades the Peloponnese

by Barbara Diamantides

photographs by Barbara Diamantides (BD), Maria Koechel (MK), Brian Constable (BC), Davina Michaelides (VM) and Karin Fichter (KF).

Following the 2007 AGM in Athens a group set off for the Peloponnese led by George and Chrysanthi Sfikas.
Our route was via Mystras to Gythion, our base for two nights, then via Monemvasia, Gerakas and Kardamyli to Kalamata before returning to Athens via Kyparissia. The weather did everything, but after the first day behaved reasonably well. Chrysanthi's presence was invaluable, smoothing arrangements and ensuring everybody's comfort, translating, producing food and drink in case anyone felt faint between meals, as well as notifying the staff when the ceiling of an upper landing fell down at our first hotel. 

We took coffee in Isthmia beside the Corinth Canal and watched in delight as the road bridge was winched down, disappearing completely beneath the water to allow a ship to pass. We consumed more coffee in the 17th-century Kapetanakos Tower in Areopolis and saw the restored bakery there.  The next morning found us searching for coffee in Monemvasia, an ancient town founded by the Laconians who arrived there in the 6th century AD and who presumably enjoyed no such perks! We enjoyed regional specialities in traditional tavernas at Mystras in the foothills of Mt Taygetos and by the sea at the bay of Gerakas. We had expected to see the effects of the fires and, sadly, we saw plenty. 

George knew just where to find flowers – and sang lovely old Greek songs to us when the skies grew dark and threatening… and when we were too long in the bus. 

Bakery in Areopolis (BD)

Regrowth on a Quercus coccifera (MK)

With so many botanists and plantsmen on board it was a wonderful opportunity to add to our knowledge. There was a lot of interest in the plants sprouting on the hillsides after the summer drought, such as the fat leaves of Urginea maritima growing into the good luck symbols sold bygypsies at the New Year with theirbulbs wrapped in silver paper and tied with a red ribbon. We learned to differentiate between Sarcopoterium spinosum and Euphorbia acanthothamnos. Wesaw Sternbergia sicula carpeting a hillside, Prospero autumnale (syn. Scilla autumnalis), Colchicum cupanii and C. psaridis (the latter a Peloponnesian endemic), Cyclamen graecum and C. hederifolium, Crocus boryi, C. goulimyi, C. niveus, C. cancellatus and C. cancellatus ssp. mazziaricus, C. biflorus ssp. melantherus, a Peloponnesian endemic as is Allium callimischon subsp. callimischon, Arisarum vulgare, Anemone pavonina, an orchid, Spiranthes spiralis,and Nepeta cataria.

Colchicum psaridis (BC)

Crocus goulimyi (BC)

Cyclamen graecum (BC)

Crocus biflorus ssp. melantherus (BC)

Cyclamen graecum & Colchicum cupanii sharing a hollow in the rock (VM)

Crocus niveus – a white spider well camouflaged. (BC)

In the wetland area of the bay of Geraka we were lucky enough to see a kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), a grey heron (Ardea cinerea), a white egret (Egretta alba), a black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and other birds of prey.  

We stopped at the Aird/Martin garden en route to Kardamyli where skilful encouragement on a rocky hillside made much of Peloponnesian endemics such as Lithodora zahnii with Cyclamen hederifolium var. confusum growing through it; myrtle (Myrtus communis) was in full flower with blue-black berries on the same bush.  Alisdair Aird's local knowledge led us to a flower strewn kalderimi, an old stone-paved road trodden by laden donkeys in bygone times and much loved by walkers nowadays.   

Lithodora zahnii  (BD)

Myrtus communis (KF)

Traudi's garden in Kyparissia was fascinating because of the unusual plants growing in the tropical mini-climate she has created.  Frangipani (Plumeria acuminata), Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae), huge bushes of hibiscus covered with pink or red flowers, Malvaviscus arboreus looking like a red hibiscus with closed petals, Orchid trees (Bauhinia monandra and B. galpinii), Parkinsonia aculeata, Guava (Psidium guajava), Kiwi fruit (Actinidia chinensis), Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and dozens of other trees and plants too numerous to mention and needing Traudi’s special touch. 

(Brian Constable’s photographs from Traudi’s garden will appear later to illustrate a feature on her garden.)

We paused to pay homage to an ancient plane tree (Platanus orientalis) at the springs of Aghios Floros, which, we calculated, must have shed its leaves more than 1,500 times. 

Some members took every opportunity to swim, watched in horrified admiration by the rest of us.  On our return journey, those living near our route were dropped at various points along the motorway and considerable excitement was generated when the taxi ordered by one couple, who shall remain nameless, REVERSED down the motorway to where the bus was PARKED! Anything can happen on an MGS trip - but fortunately it didn't! 

Compiled by Barbara Diamantides with help from Vina Michaelides, Maria Koechel, Barbara Jones, Karin Fichter and Alisdair Aird.
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