Oleander, Jacaranda. Blue and White are Not the Only Colours of Greece.


On seeing Penelope Lively’s informative book, “Oleander, Jacaranda” mentioned in a magazine, I thought to myself;

”I must read this book again”

Penelope Lively, born and raised in Egypt, just before World War II, writes about her childhood in such a way as to make you feel that you grew up there with her, in the narrow streets and souks of Egypt.

She takes you into another era, another country, you can smell the aroma of herbs and spices wafting in the air; hear the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

You feel the very essence of Egypt.

Oleander, Jacarander Penelope Lively
Oleander, Jacarander
Penelope Lively

At a certain point in the book, Penelope remembers a street, lined with Oleander and Jacaranda trees, here, I pictured Greece, not Egypt, as once, not too long ago, Greece’s streets were awash in a sea of pink, white and purple.

Oleander in our garden, seen from above.

Sadly, as Greece progresses, building new roads, widening existing ones and tearing down old houses to make way for new apartment blocks, Oleander and Jacaranda are becoming a thing of the past.

Where once there was a profusion of colour, motorways are now lined with conifers; dual carriageways have centre islands with palm trees standing to attention, and along the edges of the town’s pavements are numerous, run of the mill, nondescript trees.

I much preferred the oleander, so much more colourful, so much more Greek, but, for some reason, Greeks don't like oleander.

White oleander
White oleander

I've  asked  Greeks why they don't like oleander but never got a straight answer, they tell me;

 “Because its pathetic” or “It’s not nice”

Not once though, was the reason that Oleander is poisonous, given, maybe this is not so well known by them, well, by the younger ones at least, my son of thirty two didn’t know, until I told him.

They just don’t like it, a friend of mine had rented a beautiful house, here in Greece, the garden though, was very bare, with  tatty fencing, she planted oleander all around the borders, which, when it blossomed, was a delight to behold.

When they left, the owners ordered them to uproot it all before vacating the premises.
That was a job and half, I can tell you!

I have searched and searched the internet, trying to find some old wives tale, or that oleander is unlucky, or cursed, but no, nothing, just that it’s poisonous, mainly to animals, no human fatalities are recorded.

Anyway, I adore it, our garden is filled with it, the pink had seeded itself, but after nurturing countless seedlings, that all turned out to also be pink,I bought a white one, much to the horror of the Greeks, who were shocked that I would pay good, hard-earned money for this monstrosity of a plant.


One man, when he saw our garden, took one look at the oleander and said;
 “You need to get rid of that”


Why can’t they see the beauty of it, is it the equivalent of English people cultivating willowherb in their gardens, quite beautiful, but they just wouldn’t would they?


The first thing to greet me every morning, on opening my kitchen door to the world, is a mass of tiny pink flowers, that last the whole summer long, and need no attention whatsoever.

Oleander, the first thing I see,
 on opening my kitchen door every morning.

Oleander are quite happy with a good drink of water three or four times a week, and they seem to grow anywhere, a very hardy plant indeed.

Coffee and oleander
Morning coffee in the shade of an oleander tree

Jacaranda, we don’t have in our garden, why I haven’t grown any from seed, I don’t know, I shall have to give it a go.

Jacaranda in Loutraki
Jacaranda in Loutraki

There are a few good specimens of jacaranda in our local park, I had gathered some seeds from one there, and posted them to our good friend Robert, in England, who has grown some excellent bonsai.

Wouldn't a jacaranda bonsai be something?

 His treasured bonsai, over thirty years old, had a slight mishap a couple of years ago and was partially devoured by a snail, happy to say though, it did make a full recovery.

Robert lovingly planted the jacaranda seeds, one of which took off nicely and was going great guns, but come winter, even though he took it indoors, it gave up the ghost.

Jacaranda Loutraki
The jacaranda tree in Loutraki park,
 from where I collected seeds for Robert.

I've enjoyed the jacaranda trees here in Loutraki from early spring, when they first put out their delicate purple blossoms, when I went to take photographs of them yesterday, they were a bit past their prime.

 April is when they can be seen in all their glory.

I only found three in the park, I’m sure there used to be more, or is just that they look so much more profuse when in full bloom?

Jacaranda Athens
Jacaranda in full bloom on an Athens street.
Happily, a spectacular jacaranda, growing in the courtyard of the local Soldier’s club, is still there and looking magnificent.

Jacaranda Loutraki
Jacaranda tree in the soldiers club courtyard, Loutraki.

I have a feeling that maybe the soldiers are not so happy, when I walk past the club, and the tree is in full bloom, there is always a soldier sweeping up the fallen blossoms!

I must make a note to myself to gather up some jacaranda seeds, once they are dropping from the trees, and who knows?

 I could be sitting in my garden, some time in the future, saying to myself, as Penelope Lively did, many years ago in Egypt;

“Oleander, jacaranda, oleander, Jacaranda.
Jacaranda, oleander, jacaranda, oleander”

Read the book to discover why she repeats it the second time in reverse!

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