Τhe garden with a thousand plants
Just 3km outside the center of Athens and accessible by metro (Aghia Marina metro station), the 186 hectares of the Botanical Garden Julia & Alexander N. Diomedes in Chaidari gives visitors the chance to connect with nature.
With its 4,000 endemic and exotic plants, a network of 25 lakes and more than 100 varieties of rosebushes, visitors can surrender themselves to the green embrace of the garden or choose to go on one of the scheduled tours: a 45-minute tour of the cultivable section and primarily of the flower beds, of the historic and medicinal plants, or a 75-minute tour of the extensive network of forest trails that meander through the area. During the tour, visitors learn about the best practices they should follow when hiking in the mountains and in forest ecosystems.
Volunteer at an experimental garden
In 1994, a small group of gardeners from countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia who had moved to Greece decided to create a gardening club that would be devoted to the dry Mediterranean climate, as they were struggling to apply the gardening models they had learned in their native countries. The Mediterranean Gardening Society (MGS), as it is known today, found a home at Sparoza – a garden in Paiania that was created and developed by Jacky Tyrwhit, an urban planning professor at the University of Harvard.
In 1983, however, following her death, the Society was bequeathed to the Goulandris Natural History Museum. Aside from the fact that it is one of the most beautiful gardens in Athens, and that a simple visit is enough to feel close to nature, on the first Sunday of every month you can get your hands dirty and help with the property’s gardening needs. “Over the past two years, young Athenians have shown an interest in learning about plants and the art of gardening,” says Lucie Willan, one of the Society’s volunteers. Don’t forget to visit the garden’s website where you can find information on many other interesting events, such as their recent plant and seed fair and the botanical illustration event.
Birdwatching, a relaxing hobby
The therapeutic benefits of birdwatching are well known. Indeed, the findings of multiple scientific studies have linked the meditative activity to significant reductions in stress, anxiety and depression, and elevated levels of joy (akin to unexpectedly winning 150 euros!). If you’re interested in getting started, you can visit the website of the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) and download some of its publications that will help you identify the various species of birds that can be found throughout the year.
The HOS also organizes events, such as a birdwatching competition (May 6-7) and a two-day event (May 13-14) in celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, during which birdwatchers use binoculars to watch birds in wetlands such as those found in Vrarona and Artemida in Athens. “It’s an activity that involves a lot more exercise than we think,” says Roula Trigou, the Society’s communications officer.
Adopt a beehive
It’s not exactly a novel idea. I remember many years ago sitting in large bookstores abroad flipping through books and reading that what was missing from my life (and from my balcony) was a beehive. Today, most of us know that due to the effects of climate change and other human interventions bees are in danger. According to the WWF, almost 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global crops depend on animal pollination – in other words, a large part of our food depends on pollinators such as bees.
A beehive in Pangrati may not be the best idea, but the rural apiary From A to Bee in Pallini gives you the chance to experience something similar without the risk of separating from your partner. Through their ingenious “Meet Your Own Hive” program, you can adopt a beehive and learn how to take care of it at the apiary with the help of experts. It’s an investment that, in addition to some interesting spring outings, will provide you with four to five kilograms of honey every year!
How to make the best floral arrangements
If you’re the type of person who spends a lot of time on Pinterest or who enjoys watching Martha Stewart’s videos on YouTube, then the seminar that is organized by the Secret Garden flower shop is for you. In the past, Secret Garden has organized the floral arrangements for celebrity weddings and events of large international houses.
Today, it has invited Alina Deer, a floral designer from London, for a two-day seminar (May 6-7) that will be held in the gardens of the Vorres Museum, where she will present viable ways of gathering flowers and how to create natural bouquet compositions and art de la table thematic arrangements. The museum’s botanical gardens, which are rich in endemic trees and plants, as well as the folklore exhibitions and the ponds with goldfish, will of course be the inspiration of the two-day event.
Scenic bike rides
Gr Cycling is a cycling club with 300 members that organizes trips in Attica, such as to Sounio and Lake Marathon, as well as to the Argosaronic island of Spetses. As I’m told by the club’s founder, Alexandros Zontos, the club is open to all cyclists, regardless of their level. You can even come with an electric bike. “Our vision is to help people discover some of Greece’s most beautiful areas by bike,” he explains. So, if none of your friends share your passion for outdoor sports, there is a ready-made group of like-minded people waiting for you.
Forest-therapy on Ardittos Hill
Maria Christodoulou is a clinical herbalist who grew up in New York and moved to Athens two years ago. I met her one day between the lockdowns during an herbal tea ritual that she’d organized in the center of Athens. It sounds a bit mystical, but in reality it was an introduction to the world of Greek herbs and an opportunity to try a fantastic cup of tea and relax through guided meditation. These days, she offers other botanical experiences, such as tours of the National Garden of Athens that focus on the mythology of the garden’s plants and hikes on Mount Ymittos, where she provides information on the history of the mountain and its endemic plants.
If, however, you are looking for something immersive, then I recommend you try Forest Bathing – a wordplay on sunbathing and a Japanese relaxation technique where you surround yourself in nature. Maria organizes regular trips to Ardittos Hill, the rural oasis behind the Panathenaic Stadium in the center of Athens, lush with pine trees, olive trees, cypresses, agaves, pepper trees, carob trees, almond trees and eucalyptus trees. If you’re still not convinced, you should know that the digestif of this particular experience is a saffron-flavored herbal wine.