The Tortoises are Back

It’s been some time since I wrote a post about my Garden – almost an entire year, if you exclude the one posted over six months ago on Carl Linnaeus’s garden in Uppsala (Sweden). Recently, we’ve been away from Athens for a few weeks. It seems we left in Winter and returned just as Spring emerged. We’ve had the first sightings of the tortoises now returning out of hibernation. It is a sure sign that the warmer weather is here to stay.


On closer inspection, I notice that someone had printed a female name on the tortoise’s shell (Μελπώ). Eyes sharpened, I also noticed the wildflowers planted around the place (or more likely sprouted there unintentionally) have bloomed – like these lovely wild irises growing at the edge of the parking area.


The wild camomile have also come back in full force – a blanket of them just outside the back door, next to my herb garden. This year there may be enough to harvest to dry for tea.


On the far side of the herb garden is an area I planted up with artichokes, a variety from Crete. They are now getting quite big and I hope to see some of these small artichokes sometime soon.


The citrus are still producing, although the mandarins and my fledgling lime tree have finished fruiting and have been harvested. The nerantzia (our bitter oranges) still cling to the trees, although not on the lower branches. I’ve picked most of them and we’ve been making marmalade in industrial quantities.


On one of the nerantzia trees is grafted a lemon. It is a old practice, insuring that the more tender lemon has a hearty root stock. The tree produces both bitter oranges and lemons on different branches. However, we radically pruned the tree last year, so the crop was limited this year.


Never mind, the other lemon tree located in a sheltered spot produces enough lemons for our use. It is a small tree located under the giant almond. The ground at the moment is littered with the palest pink petal confetti.


In the vegetable patch, greens are grown – a good thing for the Lent season. Tender lettuces predominate the raised beds.


Next to the lettuces are another green, simply known as chicory, but what variety (and there are many) it is not known. They look a lot like giant dandelion leaves, not surprisingly since dandelion is in the chicory family. We boil our Greek chicory and serve it at room temperature with a little lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil as a “cooked” salad.


And that reminds me of my failed attempt last spring to cultivate puntarelle, a Roman variety of chicory that is made into a fabulous salad with an anchovy dressing. They sprouted quite well, but overnight, the tortoises got into the fenced bed and ate the whole lot. I suspect Μελπώ was one of them in there munching away.  I now face the dilemma of either finding a better fencing system or giving up on growing puntarelle. If only other choices in life were that simple!




    • Sweet puntarelle eater, more like. She’s one of the smaller ones in the garden and I think a bit of an informal pet with some of the staff – hence the name written on her shell. But, yes, it is lovely seeing them emerge from hibernation. Will definitely try to dry those camomile for tea – along with the mint and lemon verbena. Awash with herbal teas!

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      • Nice area. We’ve walked from my husband’s family home to the Lykavittos area a number of times. Nearly killed us with all the hills! Very cool that there are tortoise colonies in the scrub and that in the midst of all the craziness, one can find a garden or other quiet spot to escape. I love that about Athens. Your garden looks lovely.


  1. I’m sure you don’t begrudge the tortoises a feed of chicory. Today it felt like autumn had arrived. For the first time in months there was a cool breeze and low humidity, although the temp was still 30C. I’m watching my potted citrus closely. The potted Tahitian Lime is bearing baby fruit, I just hope they make it. Your grafted citrus looks amazing


    • Well, I would not have minded so much if those tortoises had left some for us, but they ate ALL of them. Your potted lime sound interesting and I hope it produces for you. I was given another kumquat tree – this one with round fruit rather than the small oval ones I planted last year. Now in search of a nice pot for it.

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  2. Ha ha, I was going to ask if the tortoises eat crops and I see that they certainly do! Love the grafted citrus idea and all the greens look great.


    • Tortoises love tender green things, so the puntarelle seedlings were perfect magnets. The grafted citrus, from what I have been told, is an old practise. Lemons are more tender than the bitter oranges which seem tough. A way of insuring you always have lemons!

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    • That Melpo gets everywhere! She is actually an pet that was brought here to graze and liked it so much, she stayed. There are others much bigger. I have no idea how they migrate or how they even got here, but there is a lot more fresh and tender green things here unlike the cacti and prickly scrub of Lykavittos.


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