Greece's topography is both mountainous and coastal and its climate can vary over very short distances. Landscapes include snow covered mountains with alpine flowers, groves of figs, olives and almonds, vineyards, and also sparsely vegetated dry regions. Many native plants in these drier areas are dormant throughout the very hot summer months. Picturesque landscapes feature ancient ruins, with temples perfectly positioned to enjoy and enhance the view.
Gardens to see and visit in Greece include historic and botanic gardens; funky restaurant, bar and cafe gardens; hotel gardens as well as the spectacular wildflowers of Crete each April.
Garden Travel Guide to Greece
Many Greeks grow their own produce in what is steep, rocky, difficult country to garden but, as Greece was occupied by Turkey until the early 19th century, there were no large landowners to develop a Greek ornamental gardening tradition. After the formation of modern Greece in 1829, European landscape architects developed formal planted areas around many of the country’s national monuments such as the Acropolis. In the countryside, millennia of land clearing, burning and livestock grazing have created a distinctive low-lying vegetation known as the phyrgana.
Because so much of Greece has stony, poor soil, many small Greek gardens are gardens of terracotta pots, filled with brightly coloured plants like bougainvillea, pelargonium, roses as well as traditional Greek plants such as olive, rosemary, citrus trees, ivy and fig.
New styles of landscape design surrounding new estates, tourist areas throughout the Greek isles, as well as low-budget community parks are being developed in Greece using native wildflowers and drought-hardy shrubs. Designers such as Thomas Doxiadis are blending this more naturalistic planting style into the surrounding scrub-covered ‘matorral’ hillsides. Stone paths and walls complement rounded grey-leafed shrubs and plantings of indigenous wildflowers which colour the landscape in spring.
Gardens to see and visit in Greece and Crete
Gardens to visit in Athens
• Athens National Gardens – behind the Greek Parliament, 15.5 hectares, developed in the 1830s by Queen Amalia when the parliament building was her palace. European-style park, palm avenue, antiquities, pond, botanical museum, cafe.
• Acropolis surrounds – extensively repaved for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the area surrounding the Acropolis comes alive each winter-spring with carpets of wildflowers which die down again in the heat of summer.
• Garden of the Agora, Athens – northwest of the Acropolis. The agora was the market place of ancient Athens. 10 hectares, planted with trees and shrubs known to have existed at the time of the Agora, including oak, bay, poplar, pomegranate, myrtle, conifers and fig. Includes many ancient ruins with temples and stoa (roofed colonnades).
• Julia and Alexander Diomedes Botanic Garden – Chaidari, 14km from Athen city centre near Mt Aegaleo. Donated to the University of Athens from the estate of publisher and government minister Alexander Diomedes in the1950s. Conservation of threatened Hellenic species, arboretum, flower beds and ponds, Ancient Greece garden, ethnobotanical garden, herb garden, greenhouse. M-F 8am-2pm, S&S 10am-3pm. Guided tours available.
• 48 Urban Garden – modern bar with olive trees, herb garden
• Six d.o.g.s. – urban art precinct with garden cafe and bar
• Kifissia Park – lovely avenues of mature trees, flower beds, ponds, fountains, spacious lawns in this wealthy suburb of northern Athens.
• The Plaka district – walk through these charming, vine-covered laneways, gnarled old trees and open-air restaurants and cafes. Between the Acropolis and Syntagma.
• Sparoza Garden – available exclusively to members of the Mediterranean Garden Society, this private garden is in the grounds of the Goulandris Natural History Museum in Kifisia in Athens. A garden of terraces growing the annual and perennial flora of Attica and the Mediterranean.
Gardens to visit in Corfu
• Lemon Garden BBQ Restaurant, Achavari – Enchanting garden setting shaded by lemon trees
• Rou Estate – tourist bungalows set in beautiful Mediterraean gardens
• Definia Hotel near Kérkyra Town – hotel set in mature lush gardens
Gardens to visit in Mykonos
• Avra Restaurant – a huge flower and bougainvillea-covered pergola covers this pretty outdoor restaurant
Gardens to visit in Crete
Often called Greece’s ‘wildflower central’, Crete’s hillsides are a spectacular sight during April. There are 200 species of plants endemic to Crete and the flowering meadows include orchids, poppies, phlomis, lupins, sea lily, iris, silene, alliums and tamarisk. Visit Rethymnon, Chania, Heraklion and Lassithi to see a variety of plant species, including many rare plants.
• Rethymnon Hotel – charming plant filed courtyards, a change from the giant swimming-pool filled large hotel grounds.
Best time to visit gardens in Greece
April-June is when most of the wildflowers bloom, including corn poppies, cistus, chamomile, and marguerite daisies
Garden festivals and events in Greece
• Kifissia Flower Show – flowers and plants for sale, garden advice, gardening products. Dimitris Zomopoulos Park, first week of May.
• May Day wreaths – a popular Greek custom is to pick wildflowers and create beautiful wreaths to decorate front doors from May 1.
The 2015 Australian Landscape Conference was memorable, with over 600 attendees following the input of landscape designers from overseas and Australia – all expert, energetic, upstanding deep thinkers.