Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Grow your own

There’s nothing like the taste of fresh veggies that have gone straight from plot to plate

Gardening with Patricia Jordan

TO HAVE a little patch of earth in which to grow a few vegetables is heaven to some people, and there is nothing to compare with the taste of freshly picked fruit and vegetables on your dinner table. Plot to plate in the shortest possible time allows you to lose none of those vital vitamins which we all need. Nowadays more and more people are growing their own as times are hard and every few cents saved can be used for some other essential item.

Harris Solomou, who is in charge of the family business Solomou Garden Centre in Nisou, from where most of the plug plants you buy in garden centres start out life, says that all the various vegetable and salad plugs including aubergines, courgettes, many kinds of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, squash, corn, several varieties of lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, spinach, parsley, spring onions, coriander, rocket, black eye beans, melons, watermelons and green beans are selling well and are ready to plant out. Business has been brisk this year as more and more people realise the value of growing their own.

With such a choice available, growing what your family like to eat is best, as you don’t want to waste precious water on plants that are not going to be enjoyed. Using plug plants is the modern way of growing and is not cheating at all, as you just plant a row or two at a time so that the vegetables are not all ready together. Sowing seeds might be all right if you live in a cooler climate than ours, but everything races away here as soon as the weather warms up, and probably far too many seedlings germinate. Far better just to buy the veggies you enjoy and have enough room for. A word of warning though – ensure that the plugs are damp when you select them and make sure that they are still damp as you plant them.

Some vegetables have to be sown from seeds – mostly root vegetables like beetroots, a real favourite here, radishes as well as peas and broad beans and you will have to thin them out as they become graspable. These tiny seedlings will not survive transplanting, so sow the rows thinly. I have never seen seed potatoes for sale here but you can still grow them by letting them sprout in your vegetable basket, which they do a couple of times a year.

It’s always good at this time of year to pop out to pick a few lettuce leaves for a salad along with some home grown tomatoes, and there are so many choices these days from tiny ones to great big ‘beef’ tomatoes, that there is something for everyone. Home grown tomatoes have that lovely aroma when you remove the stalk – um!

We do have wonderful greengrocers in Cyprus with many varieties of fruits and veg but there’s nothing like having fresh veggies right on your doorstep!

  

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

June is not the ideal time to be planting trees. However, with care and using containerised plants, trees can be planted almost any time, although November to March is the ideal time when the ground should be damp deep down. Trees in nurseries and garden centres have had a sheltered life up till the point they go home in the back of someone’s car, and then they are out on their own. The best stuff to put at the bottom of the planting hole is Bone Meal, which is difficult to find here. Teasing out the roots is another must and means that you are encouraging them to search for water. If you do not do this then they may stay in that tight round formation and eventually die!

Newly planted trees need to be watered deeply every day for the first few weeks. Once they are well established you should adopt the Israeli method of watering which means deep watering on both sides, making a deep damp area for the fibrous roots to feed from. Eventually when mature, fruit trees will have a wide canopy of branches and leaves and the fibrous roots will extend to the outer edges of that canopy. The watering points should be either side of the trunk equidistant between the trunk and the edge of the canopy to give best results. Remember too when planting trees leave around 5 metres between the trunks to allow for sideways growth.

Wisteria will climb well although could take some time to flower
Wisteria will climb well although could take some time to flower

I am always being asked to recommend climbing plants for verandas or trellises. Along my upstairs veranda I used to have two bougainvilleas covering the veranda railing. In my garden at 300 metres we can experience quite cold nights during the winter and one of the bougainvilleas succumbed to frost several years ago, and the remaining one took a whole season to put on enough growth to cover half the veranda. We replanted the other side with wisteria, another good climber which flowered very quickly. Generally speaking wisteria takes about seven years to flower from seed, so if you are looking for one in the spring, choose a plant with some woolly flower buds showing already. Their only problem is that they can be devastated by black fly on the new leaf growth in May or June, so watch out for them and deal with them quickly.

Bougainvilleas are good climbers in such pretty colours and certainly are not affected by bugs of any kind. They put on a lot of growth each season, which might be too much for your trellis or veranda railings, so they will need some support. This is best to put up before the plant doubles in size and it becomes difficult to do. Remember too that there are many nasty thorns along the stems which help it to climb through its natural habitat to the light, so wear sleeves and heavy gloves when dealing with it. There are single and doubled flowered varieties, with the single flowers blowing off in any breeze but unfortunately the doubles have to be pruned off.

Down at ground level lots of plants are going over, but the bulbous plants are still holding out, especially those from South Africa. Tulbaghia violacea is widely grown now and is much used in landscaping. It has a distinctly oniony smell but the long lasting flower will fill your borders for many months if you dead head them frequently. Hemerocallis (Day lilies) which not long ago were only available in bright orange, now come in many different colours. This is such a good plant although each flower only lasts one day, hence the name. Agapanthus in blues and whites and grown all over the southern hemisphere along the sides of roads and avenues, does not like to grow in full sun here – maybe it is stronger here than ‘Down Under’. I grow mine in large pots and move them into a shaded position as the summer rolls on. They can be very ‘iffy’ about flowering, but the trick is to feed them after they have flowered with lots of Phosphorus and Potassium rather than Nitrogen, which promotes green growth.

 

Plant of the Month Nerium Oleander

NERIUM Oleander is more usually known just as Oleander although it has a couple of other common names such as RoseBay or Laurier Rose. It is a loose, evergreen shrub growing generally up to about 2 metres but it is one of the most poisonous of garden plants. It has a long history, appearing in many Roman Wall paintings in Pompeii and while Alexander the Great was conquering parts of the world some of his soldiers died when they used oleander twigs to barbecue meat on their campfires!

Oleanders do well down the central reservation
Oleanders do well down the central reservation

It grows well in many Mediterranean countries and has even been found as far away as China. The most favoured location for it to grow seems to be in full sun alongside dry stream beds. It is very drought tolerant, preferring well drained soil. Oleander makes a good hedge and in many towns in the Mediterranean area, the bushes are grown along road and highway central dividers which is where such a poisonous plant can do least damage to humans or animals. It has a long flowering season there, not minding exhaust fumes at all.

The leaves are lancelote and dull green. The sometimes scented double or single headed flowers are red, pink, white or cream and appear in terminal clusters. Blooming for most of the summer, the flowers are followed by long seed capsules, which eventually split when dry and the downy seeds float out on the air to germinate where they fall. To encourage new growth prune off old stems and if the plant is really woody cut back down to the base, feed and new shoots should quickly appear. They are generally disease free. Propagate by seed or semi hardwood cuttings.

All parts of the plant are extremely toxic if eaten. Contact with the sap may cause dermatitis and inhaling smoke from burning leaves or branches can be toxic too.

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