By Patricia Jordan
IT IS certainly not the time to sow seeds during high summer, even though the main aim of plants is to flower, be fertilised and to set seeds for the further continuance of the species. It all sounds rather Darwinian doesn’t it?
Watching goats traverse the hillside opposite my house, eating anything that is above ground such as young bush and tree seedlings, it is no wonder that parts of Cyprus are devoid of trees. In times past invaders from neighbouring countries came ashore at quiet coves and chopped down trees to take back to their own countries for use there. Many years ago Cypriots used tree trunks and branches to make charcoal or for roofing materials, until gradually all that was left was scrubland and a lot of the island became desert-like, especially after long dry summers with little rainfall.
All life on Earth depends on plants. They are the basis of ecosystems in which all animals, including humans, live, survive and grow. They also provide vital ecosystem services, such as producing the oxygen we breathe, removing carbon dioxide from the air and purifying water. Gradually, over the many intervening years, things have improved and more trees have survived. Gardens have flourished as more and more people know how to look after their plants. Not all plants imported by garden centres from other parts of Europe are suitable for such a harsh climate as ours, but when plants grow well then it is up to us to collect the seed if we can and encourage them to prosper here.
Some plants do not make seeds and have to be propagated by different methods. Seeds are created in several ways. Some have hard pods to protect them like Caesalpinia gilliesii, bauhinias and albizia which, as they dry rattle in the wind and eventually pop open scattering their seeds over a wide area. Others, including the seeds of succulent Orbea variegata, float on the air like little dandelion seedlings. They are blown out of the split pods by gentle breezes until they find a little nook to nestle in and start another plant. Annuals, those plants which germinate, flower, set seed and die in one season usually have tiny seeds which are generally sown just under the surface of the ground. They tend to grow and flower early as their roots are easily burned by the sun. Nevertheless they make their seeds which are shed and lie patiently waiting for rain to fall in the autumn when they will germinate and start life again.
The loss of habitats worldwide is to blame for the demise of so many native plants and a Red List book naming endangered plants has been produced. Cyprus has a Red List plant called Astragalus macrocarpus subsp. Lefkarensis, which is greatly endangered. The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens has successfully banked 10 per cent of the world’s wild plant species seeds but their aim is to save 25 per cent by 2020, which will be about 75,000 species. For 17 years I was involved in the UK trying to save garden plants from becoming extinct. They were listed on a Pink List and I’m glad to say that many were saved from extinction. You can do your bit by collecting seeds from interesting plants and help save the planet.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN DURING THE HOT SUMMER MONTHS
THIS is the hardest time of all to keep the garden going here in Cyprus. Temperatures can soar to over 40C in places and on the coast humidity is high, which some plants enjoy but others don’t, and become susceptible to various fungal enemies. In the last few years cases of scale insects and mealy bugs have soared during this period so if you have escaped these up to now, don’t relax but watch your plants vigilantly, especially hibiscus, verbenas, pelargoniums, osteospermums and in some cases daturas or brugmansias, as some of them are now known. Hidden away under the leaves in congested areas and with no air getting into the centre, the right environment is created for these pests, along with botrytis which also enjoys crowded humid areas.
So how do you avoid all these inconveniences? Some of the problems occur when others are tending your plants for you while you are away. I am not suggesting that you don’t ever take a holiday, but make sure that your plants can cope without your constant daily attention. They may be watered and fed only occasionally while you are absent. Take off any old leaves and stems before you go away, especially in the case of pelargoniums where it is so easy just to pull off the heads when they are dying. If you look back along the stem and take off the whole flowering stem where it joins the main stem, then you will avoid this. If you have added slow release fertiliser to your compost when you potted your plants up then you will not have to give instructions to feed. Like-wise, an addition of water retaining crystals to the basic mix will cover the days that the plant cannot be watered. Lots of people manage to drip feed their pot plants by using spaghetti-thin piping from an automatic tap or well. In my own case this is impossible as the potted plants are too far away from a water source, so they have to be hand watered by a reliable person. By reducing the watering to every few days before going away when I know that my help will be able to come, then the plants get used to that.
This time of year we need those stalwarts of the garden to keep it looking attractive. In coastal areas Tecoma stans is already showing flowers, while up in the hills it is regarded as a late summer or autumn flowerer. At Larnaca Airport the silk trees are rustling in the breeze from the proximity to the sea which they relish. Delonix regia, which is known around the world as ‘Flame of the Forest’, lifts the eye to enjoy the wonderful red panicles of flowers. Plumeria, or frangipani as it is more widely known, is covered with huge night scented flowers of white with golden centres attracting months on their nightly flights searching for nectar. Alas these plants do not have any but don’t tell the moths that! They pollinate the plants by crawling all over the pollen looking for it and transferring the pollen from flower to flower.
In gardens plumbago has been in flower for some time now and the first crop of blue or white flowers will have turned into sticky seed capsules. This is the time to give the plant a summer hair cut which will allow fresh growth to appear with even more flowers. Along the roadsides as polygala hedges fade and have a summer rest, then Leucophyllum frutescens bursts into flower attracting all manner of pollinators. These are desert plants so can survive our hot summer conditions, especially those in towns. In Arizona where they come from, high humidity causes then to burst into a blaze of pretty pink flower almost overnight. In gardens a spray from a hose will encourage them to flower.
I rest my veg plot now that we have enjoyed the sweet corn crop and the rest of the salads. During the heat of the summer it is in full sun and the garden is on low maintenance now until late September when lower temperatures induce me to get out there and start all over again.
PLANT OF THE MONTH Nicotiana sylvestris
Nicotiana sylvestris, a hardy annual (meaning that the seed can be sown directly into the ground); is a tall, stately, tobacco plant (Solanaceae family) growing to between a metre and metre and a half, so it is best planted towards the back of a lightly shaded or sunny border in light well-drained soil. A sweetly fragrant fantastic cutting and border plant, it attracts much attention and is a long-standing favourite among gardeners. Common names vary from Woodland Tobacco, Flowering Tobacco to South American Tobacco.
Known mainly as a cottage garden plant, it could equally well be grown in pots placed on a courtyard or veranda. Plant groups of several plants together for maximum effect. The mid-green leaves are very soft and grow almost as large as commercial tobacco plants. The flowers tower above the leaves on long stems with umbels of flowers cascading into a star burst of long white typical nicotiana flowers. The scent is strongest at night, so as to attract pollinating moths. Grown alongside the smaller Nicotiana langsdorfii, which has limey green flowers, they complement each other beautifully.
As this plant is an annual, propagation is by seed. Although it can be sown directly into the soil, it is best to sow the seeds in a seed tray and plant them out only when any danger of cold night temperatures has passed.