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Sparoza Volunteers Group

An occasional chronicle of Thursday mornings at Sparoza

Plaiting the narcissus - April 2015

This week in the garden Sally showed us how to plait or twist up the green tops of the spent flowering bulbs of Narcissus papyraceus. She explained that there are several reasons for doing this. Most importantly, the sprawling green leaves of the bulbs cover the garden bed and don't allow new plants access to the sun. Aesthetically, the garden looks very messy with this sprawling greenery withering and turning brown. You can't just remove the green tops when the flowers are finished because the bulbs need the greenery to photosynthesize and send nourishment down to the bulbs so they can survive their aestivation and grow to flower again the next year.

There are two methods to tidy the green tops: plaiting and twisting. Twisting is accomplished by taking a hank of greenery and twisting it tightly all the way to the tips. Then you take this twisted bunch, loop it and pull the top through a slit you make by separating leaves at the base of the plant, or you can tie the twisted bunch in a knot. I found this twisting method did not hold together very well for me so I used the plaiting method. Plaiting is like braiding your daughter's hair or a horse's tail. Since Jane said she was not familiar with either daughters or horses, she stuck to the twisting method with better success than me. To plait you take a hank of leaves, separate them into three sections and braid them to the tips. I suppose you could do a fancier plait with four sections but that would be overly fussy. Once you have the bunch plaited to the tip you loop it and pull the tip through a slit you make at the base by loosening the sections a bit. With all the Paperwhite tops plaited or twisted into neat knots, you can see what else is in the bed to pull weeds and allow the new plants to emerge. With four or five of us working at this, we managed to clean up a few beds at the southern edge of the garden. The sun that day felt great on our backs.
Robin McGrew

View of an area not yet tidied up

You can also tidy the leaves by twisting and then tying the greens in a knot.
As Sally said, this is faster but not as nice. I find they don't stay tied as well either

Detail of a plaited bunch of green leaves

Detail showing how to pull the plaited leaves through at the base to "knot" the arrangement

When the leaves dry up and are ready to be cleared from the beds, having
them plaited makes them easy to remove, just grab the bunch and pull gently

Plaited narcissus among the irises, yuccas and Melianthus

Why I volunteer – March 2015
I have been a volunteer gardener at Sparoza for several years. I volunteered because I have only pots on my veranda here in Athens and I longed to really get down on my hands and knees and get dirt under my fingernails (though there’s a big basket of gloves to borrow). I also thought it would be an excellent way for me to learn since gardening in Greece is so different from the gardening I grew up with in the NW corner of the United States (Oregon).

I have gotten dirt under my fingernails. And I have learned a lot, particularly about waterwise gardening, drought-resistant plants, and – here there is much room for improvement – even some correct names for the plants and flowers. Quite importantly, I’ve also met a wonderful  group of kindred spirits. What I like about Thursday “Vollie Day” work is that you can work all by yourself and just enjoy letting your mind wander or you can plunk yourself down next to someone and have a good conversation about – plants, politics, people,… even poetry. Whatever!

Depending on the way life goes, there have been periods where I have been a very regular Thursday volunteer and periods when I just don’t make it very often. This year I’ve been very irregular. I hadn’t seen the garden for several months, so it was a treat last week (19 March) to arrive and find Sparoza breathtakingly healthy and beautiful in its spring glory. Oh my goodness, it just made my day, my week!
I took photos to show the path where I was pulling out miscellaneous weeds to help make the garden tidy for the Plant Exchange day, and a few shots of the lush and textured greens and the colorful accents of spring flowers. Finally there is one picture of tea time in the house at the end of the morning’s work.
Margaret Joss

The cleaned gravel path leading to the phrygana
with over-exuberant Acanthus mollis on either side

Another cleaned path, in the terraces this time

Aloe elegans amongst the wild flowers of the phrygana

All the volunteers contribute to the after-work spread of snacks

Clearing the gravel paths - February 2015
This month the biggest task undertaken by Sally and the volunteers has been the weeding of the gravel paths. By the end of the month all that remained was the circular path through Derek’s Garden. It took four volunteers a morning’s work to get this cleared, proving how much the good appearance of the garden relies on their dogged manual labour.

Part of the path through Derek’s Garden barely visible through
the annual spring flowers - or weeds

Jane, Vina, Despina and Robin satisfied with a good result

Photographs Davina Michaelides

Protecting our knees - February 2015
Kneepads play an important role for the Sparoza volunteers as they undertake the endless job of weeding. Sally has various types on offer:

Frosso using the thickest pad available, Olia takes the wall

Jane holding a neat pad but the colour means it’s all too easy to mislay

Vina has her own Lidl pads, great for the winter
but too sweaty when it gets warmer

Photographs Davina Michaelides and Fleur Pavlidis

Starting the New Year - January 2015
2015 was welcomed in with the cutting of a Vasilopita, the traditional New Year’s cake. Sally Razelou, the garden’s Custodian, took the role of head of the family and so started with the first slice for Christ (this is a Greek Orthodox custom), the second for the MGS, the third for the garden, the fourth for herself and then twenty-one more slices for all the volunteers and Thursday morning friends. It was a cliff-hanger who would win the lucky charm but finally it went to the organiser of the volunteers’ group, Vina Michaelides.

Sally cutting the Vasilopita. Fleur, who made the cake,
smiling with relief that it’s not soggy in the middle

Vina helping Sally with her list of volunteer names, not
knowing she would get the lucky slice. At the table from
the left Robin, Greek Branch Head, Lenio, Olia and Diana, ex-BH

Victoria the dog hoping to share cake from the
plate of Jane, Vilka or Despina

Photographs Robin McGrew and Fleur Pavlidis
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