IMG_8047As I stepped in through the arched entrance, it felt as if I was entering a private paradise: an oasis of trees, vegetable plants and flowers, all together radiating a bright tone of green. A light that the more you stared, the more it lured you in.

Agniya welcomed me with a warm smile and her fluent Greek: I knew from her husband that she wasn’t born in Cyprus, so I have assumed our afternoon chat was going to take place in English – little did I know about this talented young woman.

I ‘ve known Agniya’s husband, Alexandre for some time now: a master builder of churches currently working on a one-of-a-kind stone church, a few hundred meters away – a project supported by the Bishopric of Morphou, dedicated to Saint Seraphim. During that time, our PDC course was progressing at ATSAS training center, just across Alex’s workplace, and one day, as we were chatting with Alexandre, I happened to mention my passion on seed saving. His eyes gleamed with light and with excitement he turned to me with a proposal: “You need to meet my wife, Agniya. Pass by the house today. She will be delighted to show you around the garden.”

And so I did…

An aspiring gardener myself, I was instantly stroke by the care and tons of hours of work I could see invested in this garden. Every corner I turned to was pulsing with life: giant artichokes growing on one side of the garden and fully-grown bean trellis on another. The garden was full of paths and corners to explore, with flowers filling up every available niche and vegetables ready to be harvested, popping out from everywhere.

I was excited and couldn’t help but feeling as a kid once more, a kid that desperately wanted to get lost in this garden’s paths and explore all the secret passages, plants and creatures hiding around. I asked permission to get lost for a while and take a few pictures, hoping I could somehow capture on stills even the slightest of that oasis’ energy.

I soon got curious: Who are the care-takers of this marvel and what kind of experience did it take to set it up and maintain it in such a healthy stage? How did they come about creating such a paradise, in an area where almost all but a few houses only seem interested or capable of maintaining a flat patch of semi-dry grass.

But first things first, I wanted to know where Agniya came from and how she ended up on this small island. I found out that she arrived in Cyprus from Russia, 11 years ago with her father and his fresco work. Her father decided to rent a house in Skouriotissa, nearby his work. Her destiny didn’t take time to decide on her part and during this trip she met Alexandre, her future husband, who was also working in the area. Soon after, they got married and decided to stay in that same house her father renter, giving birth in the next couple of years to three adorable girls: Sofia, Ioustini and Agathi.

Taking a look inside their kitchen and the tons of preserved food Agniya was diligently packing up on shelves and cabinets, ranging from sweet jams and homemade lemonade, to canned tomatoes, sauces and frozen vegetables, it didn’t take me long to realize that this woman was dedicating all of her energy to her home and family.

I soon found out that she was a trained art historian, and that during her first years in Cyprus she worked for the Bishopric of Morphou, translating the legends for the two museums of the diocese, one in Kalopanayiotis and the other one in Pedoulas.
“So, how easy was it to drop the pursuit of a career and emphasize on the care of your family”, I asked curiously.

“Since I changed radically my way of life, I decided to change my occupation and give all my best to the things I loved – spending my time with my family and garden,” she replied calmly and with a bright smile.

She had found her career, a career not as easy as many assume: with days starting up as early as 5.30 in the morning and ending around 23.00 to midnight most of the evenings. Her days are full of activities ranging from cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking, de-weeding, digging, planting, harvesting fruit and vegetables form the garden, and then spending more time to wash, store or process the collected food. Then spending time with family till the girls go to sleep and later on dedicating the rest of the time to read, fix things around the house with Alexandre and save and sort her seeds: one of the reasons she became a gardener.

I then asked her, what made her want to create this garden. Was it something she grew up with?

She then took me back 11 years ago, when the garden was planned as purely ornamental. As an art historian she had a strong need to surround herself in an aesthetic landscape. Growing up as a Christian she would always connect the image of a garden to the image of Paradise, something that consolidates us and gives us the force to go through the tough times on earth. She had no gardening experience except watering her grandparents’ garden when she was a child, so they started step by step. First they planted fruit trees and kept flowers in pots. As time progressed, they started to travel less and spend more time at home, and that is when the vegetable garden started to come to life.

“So what was an expectation or aspiration you had from your vegetable garden at that time?” I asked impatiently.

“The most important thing to me was to start everything from seed – this way I could realize I did it myself. I had brought some seeds from Russia – some which reminded me of the huge rose tomatoes I enjoyed so much as a kid. It was a surprise to see how easy they would grow and how much harvest we would get from only a few plants”.

In the years that followed the plants continuously increased, reaching today to more than 20 tomato varieties, and with seeds of unusual and traditional vegetables. Agniya remembers the immense variety of her grandparents’ vegetable garden and feels depressed with today’s agriculture practices. “That is how it started,” she told me, “I wanted to have something different from the typical tasteless red tomato available at the supermarket, lacking aroma and juice.”

“So, then Agniya,” I asked, “is this a project that anyone of us can start in our back yard? More and more of my friends come up with the desire to start producing their own food, but they lack the experience or don’t know where to start from. Was it easy for you? Did you work on your own to set up this paradise?”

“Well, everything comes with experience – when I was creating my veggie garden the best advice I received was from my husband’s parents who had spend many year growing their own vegetables. In the practical sector I had a tremendous help from my husband who helped me set everything up. At the beginning, we had to change a big part of our garden’s soil and heavily fertilize the rest, before we could plant. Then, there is always internet – I use its guidance every time I face a specific question or trouble. And now, 11 years later I take it step by step and enjoy as much as I can every single minute I have in the garden”

I was encouraged to see how much one can achieve in a few years, with plenty of will, planning and determination. I admired the beauty of the outcome that dedication and love can have, and I thought to myself: “Everything is possible – we need to only set our mind and soul to it and allow our passion and desire for it to grow and lead the way.”

Everything gardens says a permaculture principle – and today I saw that in Agniya’s garden.