Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Color Purple

We spend all winter outdoors when the weather permits, harvesting olives on a steep mountainside. Once the rains start to fall in November, a transformation begins and the summer-baked earth comes to life.  We rake and hoe and clear beneath our 700 olive trees so we can find every plump purple olive when it falls. It's something like an intense Easter egg hunt.  Each olive tree has its own stone terrace, along which we construct earthberms to hold in as much rainwater as we can.  Despite our raking,  and as the winter progresses, the terraces continuously produce new growth as though we have spread seeds and watered them.  No matter how many times we clear them to catch the windfallen olives, by March the terraces are knee deep in greens, mostly edible. Come April it is impossible to find the olives beneath the dense carpet of growth that covers the mountainside, so the remaining olives stay and become fertilizer for the trees.

Along with the greens appear an  impressive and ever-changing array of wildflowers.  Tiny yellow radikia  (related to dandelions) are the first to emerge after the first drops of rain, like they had been waiting just beneath the surface to poke their heads up for a drink.  In the sheep pasture above our olive grove, fragrant saffron crocuses spring up in the most unlikely hard-trodden rocky places. They are followed by drifts of anemones (windflowers) in soft shades ranging from white to blue to pink to purple.  Among those are great patches of brilliant white daisies.

Fluffy wild daffodils, planted by Giannis' father long ago, glow in the sunlight, their heady scent meandering along the drystone walls. Just as the anemones are becoming faded and tattered, up pop clusters of tiny grape hyacinths, so purple they are almost black.  In the seasonal river gullies are pasxalia (Easter flowers), globular starry clusters scented like heaven.  Almost everywhere stand tall white asphodels, the legendary flowers of the dead in the ancient Greek underworld.  These pale beauties formed the garland crowning Hade's bride, Persephone.

Every day we hike down through a high mountain meadow to get to the edge of our property.  Last week, on our evening walk back to the car, we were surprised to see the whole clearing covered with delicate purple irises. We hadn't seen even one on the way down in the morning.  I guess they prefer the evening sun.  And I musn't forget to mention the snowtufted blossoms adorning wild pear trees that stagger down the mountain like thorny lichen-covered trolls. I always say hello and pat my favorite as I pass it, anticipating it coming into full bloom so I can finally sit down and paint it, with the sea in the distant background.  But that is another story.

Wild Greek Saffron in November
The saffron likes to grow where the sheep have trodden
Little Nora amidst yellow radikia buttons
Anemos (Άνεμος) is Greek for wind;  this is an anemone (windflower)
Another anemone
Daffodils (I think)  planted by Giannis' father Giorgos
A few of our olive trees on the east side of the mountain
A wild pear overlooking Kolpos Geras, an inlet of the Aegean Sea
An unopened asphodel in the mountain meadow
Edible tamus communis in the river gulley (well, just don't eat alot of it)
Purple-black grape hyacinths

Petimezi and my favorite pear tree
A harvest of fresh wild greens to be made into savory pie
A sprinkling of daisies (in Greek they're called Margarites)

Pasxalia in the river gulley

Tiny irises (or they may be orchids) gracing the sheep pasture

A treeload of dark purple olives ready to be pressed into golden olive oil


  1. Such beautiful photos Sandy! And I know all the flowers, we have them all here too, and yes they are irises, not orchids.
    You only pat, or you hug the tree too? :-)

    1. Thank you Yael! It's interesting that you have the same flowers there. Right now the cyclamen are covering the mountainsides which are going green again. So beautiful, like spring all over again. And yes, that tree has received plenty of hugs from me! ;)