A set of adjacent gardens had caught my eye for months. Both were filled to the brim with flowers, climbing the walls and lining the street. The paths were always well swept. I’d wanted to know if the neighbours were friends or in competition with each other. Now I’m sitting here, typing this and eating my way through a most delicious bunch of homegrown seedless grapes after meeting a couple of extraordinary gardeners.
Spiros and Teresa have lived in Roath for almost 60 years. Spiros moved here as a young newly-wed from Greece, with Teresa following six months later when Spiros had settled. Their son, Mike, agreed to act as translator for our meeting.
So, are you and your next door neighbour friends or gardening rivals?
SPIROS: We own both houses and we do the gardening for the tenants who live there. Our tenants are lovely and they appreciate the garden. Teresa sweeps up the front gardens every day to keep them tidy and she looks after the flowers.
There are not many landlords who would go to such effort.
SPIROS: I think more landlords should ensure that the houses that they rent out have nice gardens. They should do it themselves, or pay someone to maintain it.
How long have you been gardening?
SPIROS: Since I was ten years old, I have always gardened. We have the gardens here, and I ended up with three allotments as well.
MIKE: Grandad had an allotment too, so when he died, Dad took over his allotment and they were almost self-sufficient. Years ago, things they couldn’t grow could be bartered for in the local shops, so they could swap runner beans for a pack of pasta, for example. There was a flourishing micro-economy.
What do you think of Roath?
SPIROS: I love Cardiff. I moved here from Greece because I am Maltese, and we were not treated well there back in the 1950s. I had nothing when I arrived but we managed to rent a single room for four family members for the first six months. I managed to find work in Maindy building rail wagons. The buildings have now been demolished and student accommodation was built. We managed to buy a house in Wyeverne Road between a few of us. They were going to knock the houses down on the street so we sold it to them, but the houses are still there so many years later. After that, I worked spraying cars in a garage on the junction of City Road and St Peters Street, and then I went on to own my own car cleaning business after ten years. Finally, I worked as a caretaker at Cardiff High before I retired. I lived in a few others places but we bought this place 40 years ago.
Have your children inherited your green fingers?
MIKE: My sisters and I are not good at gardening. I help Dad when he needs help, such as with the grape vine pruning, but I wouldn’t have a clue how to do it without guidance. It is a true art. He is always giving us house plants to look after, but we can’t get them to survive.
If their front garden is nice, their back garden is incredible. The living room/conservatory is festooned with a grape vine carrying huge bunches of ripe, green, tempting grapes and the chairs are surrounded by house plants. The house transitions from inside to outside gradually. The indoor/outdoor lines are blurred, with the carport home to another heavily-laden grape vine, another outdoor room is home to the chickens, and another room holds the tomatoes and herbs. Across all areas, climbers are allowed to wander.
Teresa, are you also a gardener?
TERESA: I like flowers. I don’t mind which, I love all flowers. My absolute favourites though are probably roses and carnations.
Spiros and Teresa are to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on the 26th August. They are both part of the St Peters Church community in Roath.