“Come – we can spend some time in the garden and then head to the center,” said Alexandros when looking to organize my visit in the urban center of Greece, the city of Athens.

Through our prior communication I could tell that Alexandros had his hands full, running around a fully bloomed vegetable garden, expanding his growing territory every time more, and experimenting all the time with new Permaculture techniques.

I was expecting therefore to arrive to a suburban piece of land where Alexandros could easily expand and cultivate the land freely. What I saw though, pleasantly surprised me.

 

Their house with his partner Demy, is a gorgeous one-story town house with big wooden windows and amble high-sealing spaces. In a first look, it seemed like a regular city-dwelling with its typical all-concrete front patio area. Giving it though a more careful look I could understand why after completing his PDC, Alexandros, was thrilled to find this place in the heart of the city: In a small segment of land situated next to his house, Alexandros was able to grow an impressive edible oasis!

He had pumpkins crawling all over the place – healthy looking vegetable salad greens, vibrant red tomatoes ready to pick and eat, cucumbers and many more. He had experimented with different styles of growing, mainly, by creating raised beds – surpassing the challenging depleted soil available on that land.

Everything was heavily mulched to avoid unnecessary weeding and to help save irrigation water by keeping the plants cool and moist in the midst of scorching Athenian summer.

A little further he showed me his first water harvesting attempt, where he saved all possible water running off his roof and into a big water tank he had arranged next to his house.

He had also set his compost station a little further down and had his red-wiggler helpers assist him create rich sweet-smelling humus from left-over kitchen scraps and garden surplus.

His small photovoltaic cell, is also helping them produce the minimal electricity they need to run their basic town house needs for lights, internet and most of their electrical devices operation.

Nothing going to waste: all possible resources caught, used and recycled within the system in the most efficient possible way.

The visit at Alexandros’ and Despoina’s place couldn’t have concluded in a better way than a dinner cooked straight from the garden harvest: A rich pasta vegetable sauce with all sorts of summer, sweet-tasting veggies, a healthy kale salad and for desert: one of the sweetest tasting watermelons I had tasted this summer!

What I was seeing in Alexandros’ and Despina’s town house was inspiring: It is easily possible to apply Permaculture techniques in towns, and grow part of your own food, minimizing monthly food and energy consumption expenses.

In the heart of Athens, not only gardens and life is blooming in private households, but in communal spaces as well.

A few blocks down the road, another inspiring urban gardening project is situated, that of Halandri Urban Farm – a communal project ran on an empty plot of land in mid of the city.

My friend Elena Goggou, also graduate from the 2013 Re-Green PDC course and now coordinate of the Peliti team in Athens, was there to guide us through the basics of this community effort.

“We take days,” she said, “and today is my turn to irrigate the garden. So let’s walk around and I can talk you through while doing that.”

In that big plot of unconstructed land, the Athenian group, began by creating small patches of vegetable garden, among the tall fruit trees. As we were walking around we could see different varieties of tomato plants all planted in a different manner – investigating which method eventually is more efficient. “These all came from heirloom seeds from Peliti. Every season, we harvest and each takes home seasonal fruit and veggies, but principal outcome of this garden, is to reproduce as much possible seeds, to give out during our seed exchange events as well as to distribute them through Peliti network.

Everything was carefully situated in that garden, corresponding to available light and individual sunlight needs of each plant as well as its surrounding plants and the beneficial companion planting relationships that could be developed. Beautiful calendula bushes growing all over the place, and a sweet-smelling herb mandala, made the walk around the vegetable garden even more pleasant.

That community garden consists an oasis in the heart of Athens: a platform to learn how-to and apply basic gardening techniques, for people who do not own their individual piece of land. It also very efficiently serves as a meeting point: Every several weeks, in Halandri Urban Farm, meetings take place amongst its members, either to work all together on a hands-on project, or to organize Permaculture talks and workshops, keeping the open and welcoming in, the broader community.

“What a great initiative,” I am thinking: Learning all together how to grow our own food while transforming a deserted piece of land into a fruitful paradise and simultaneously spreading the seeds of Permaculture in the broader community,

So, living in the city instead of a rural landscape shouldn’t limit our learning and creative initiatives: As long as human determination for a meaningful survival exists, there is always hope.

 

Sofia Matsi

Summer 2015