In English, ΚΟΚΟΦΟΙΝΙΚΑΣ means “Coconut Palm Tree” – but I don’t think you will find too many of these at ΚΟΚΟΦΟΙΝΙΚΑΣ, between Lavrio and Keratea. Instead, you will find fantastic service and a great selection with valuable local knowledge at this garden centre I’m so happy to have discovered.
When I moved to the Keratea/Lavrio area back in December, the house came with a small vegetable garden which I was excited to work with. It’s not as big as some plots I’ve worked before, but the view is amazing, and in the past, it’s been well looked after with enriched soil and compost. The first month I was here, I had no time to really devote to the garden, but noted that what we would call “weeds” back in Ontario, this garden was filled with… nettles, mallow, and other things I cannot identify. While I wanted to plant some things, I also wasn’t sure of what value or why the previous tenants/owners had left the garden in such a state. Could it be that it was really better at producing things suitable for making teas out, than vegetables I’m used to?
I discovered a “garden centre” close by – five minute drive located on the main highway between Lavrio and Keratea and thought one sunny warm day in January to visit. The man who was there could speak no English, and I could speak little Greek other than “Kalispera, ti kanis?” But with hand motions, some smiles, and looking around, the gentleman tending the garden centre understood I was trying to figure out what I might plant at this time of the year.
Or at least he did not give up on me and my lack of Greek – for all I know, he may have thought, “what to do with this crazy person in my shop who cannot speak Greek?”
What he did do was call his son, who could speak some English and handed me the phone. Of course, when he handed me the phone, I did not know it was his son, or precisely what his motivations were, but I when I spoke into the phone speaker and said, “Hello?” and heard a Greek say “Hi” back to me, I figured out that this gentlemen must have thought it important enough to have someone speak to me. Which was nice. Or crazy on both our parts.
In the end, it was nice. I explained that I had just moved nearby and was curious as to what I could plant in my garden. The voice on the other end suggested things like onions, lettuce, potatoes, and some other things – and I thought, “Okay, I really have not clue right this minute how this garden will go, but some lettuce and onions sound good.”
I walked out of the store with lettuce sprouts and some onion sets.
I spent some hours clearing some of the nettles away to make room for the lettuce I purchased. The next days and weeks though, the weather turned cold, even snowy, and I was not in much of a mood to do more garden soil turning and weeding – so the onion sets sat for quite some time. Plus, I was just not sure – is Mallow actually a crop they grow here and eat?? The garden was full of it, along with the nettles and other weeds. I wanted to respect the choices of the previous gardener, but not sure I wanted to keep the garden as it was.
As some weeks passed, I decided to just get rid of all I did not want, and to make space for what I did want to grow. It is my garden now. And I couldn’t see how big bushes of mallow and a bazillion nettle sprouts would really do me much good when I wanted tomatoes, peppers, and whatever else I might be able to grow. Bearing in mind of course, nettles are prized by some for their health benefits, and mallow is an edible. But I want tomatoes, peppers, beets, onions, lettuce and more!
I ended up pulling out probably a ton of weight in nettles, mallow and other stuff I had no clue about, as well as great big broccoli plants from last year, that weren’t going to do much more than give just leaves and some tiny florets.
Then I decided to go back to the garden centre, where I got to meet the “son” in person. He spoke great English, and listened to me as I told him my concerns, and that I was trying to figure out this Greek growing season.
He gave me beets and spinach. So I planted beets and spinach. Then the onion sets I had purchased six weeks earlier.
I discovered the son’s name is “Gianis” or possibly spelled “Yannis” – the same as “Ian.” That first time I met Yannis, he seemed pretty busy with quite a few customers in the store, but on returning a second time, he remembered me which was nice. We talked about what could be planted in the garden at this time of year (he suggested some Cretan vegetable which I still don’t know what it will grow into), and spinach seedlings he had ready.
Since then I’ve visited two more times – and Yannis has always been extremely helpful! He’s a super nice man with great advice that’s honest and fair. I had wanted a Gardena hose and reel kit, but didn’t want to spend the money on the motorized unit he had in stock, but wanted more than 10 metres. He suggested an Italian brand I had never heard of but apparently is known back in North America – Claber. Because I’ve seen some really crappy cheap lousy Made In Communist China Gardena knockoffs that are of horrible quality, I was a bit skeptical of purchasing something that was not Gardena. But Yannis reassured me it was a quality brand, and sure enough – it’s been great! I also saved some Euros with the purchase.
Yannis has been really helpful in learning about both flowers and vegetables here in Greece. Of course, many are the same or similar to what you might grow back in Ontario, but as far as the vegetables, the growing seasons are completely different. And with flowers, while there are petunias, roses, pansies, snapdragons (they call those ‘dogs’ or ‘skilos’ here), there are of course many other options available that can give year round pleasure unlike back in Ontario.
The other day, I had gone back to the garden centre as I wanted some hanging “window box” planters that I wanted to hang on the window security bars of the garage. But I really didn’t know what to fill them with – so Yannis started pulling out a variety of plants, moving them around to come up colour combinations we both liked. He was perfect!
The other workers at ΚΟΚΟΦΟΙΝΙΚΑΣ have also been friendly and helpful toward me and there is always someone nearby to help load the car with the bags of sheep manure and garden soils I’ve bought.
So, a big shoutout to this place, and Yannis! The garden centre is located on what the map says is Hwy 85 but locally is known as the Lavriou Rd. They’re between Keratea and Lavrio, and just a kilometre or so south of the road that takes you to the Vromopousi Beach.
They don’t have much of a website, but it’s located here and its all in Greek.
This is a place I’ll be returning to often!