Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Should we be growing only indigenous plants?

By Patricia Jordan

We have just had some Australian friends staying with us on their way home after a six-week holiday in Africa. They were very impressed with South Africa and its policy of trying to only grow plants native to that country. My friends thought that Australia should adopt the same policy and rid itself of non-indigenous plants as well. Lots of plants there, and indeed in neighbouring New Zealand, were introduced by settlers who wanted to bring a touch of the old country to their new gardens, which later became rampant and undesirable.

I suppose that you could say the same about Cyprus. In his book Cyprus As I Saw It In 1879, freely available on the internet, Sir Samuel White Baker, a much travelled explorer, describes the landscape as being wild and inhospitable, with only sages and culinary herbs being grown and many of the people living on a vegetarian diet, despite being surrounded by the sea. Many of the plants which we grow now were introduced by British Government officials when they set up homes here. Another chronicler of the time describes that it wasn’t long before productive gardens were to be found around the houses in Nicosia in the late 1800s.

Later on and as a result of plant hunters having travelled the globe, many foreign plants were introduced. The British, with the best intentions and to stop the soldiers stationed here from catching malaria from the swarms of mosquitoes breeding in wet inhospitable areas, are held to blame for the many eucalyptus trees planted to drain the swampy land. Likewise acacias, also from Australia, were planted to stabilise the dusty earth around the coast line, which now has become the ideal place to erect lime sticks and nets to catch the many migrant birds travelling through Cyprus at various times of the year. Both of these we could perhaps do without now.

Looking around the towns and villages, where would we be without the many colourful trees which we enjoy throughout the year? Both bougainvillea clambering over walls and trellises and tall jacarandas from Central and South America are widely grown in other countries too. Tropical hibiscus and Melia azedarach, from southern Asia with its heavenly perfumed soft lilac flowers in early spring, are just a few of the lovely flowering trees which brighten up our lives. I don’t think we could do without street trees such as Bauhinia from the east providing us with colourful flowers and shade in late spring and early summer, or the tropical ficus trees, which shield us from hot sun in parking lots. Coastal gardens with more humidity are full of exotics like Plumeria (Frangipane) and Delonix regia while Albizia julibrissin (silk trees) greet travellers as they park up at the new Larnaca Airport. Not only do they brighten up the landscape but give us pleasure too. Is that wrong?

I revisited the replanted Amiantos quarry high in the Troodos recently and was pleasantly surprised to see how much growth has been achieved since I was there about three years ago. I have no argument about the desire to plant up with native plants there as it is now classed as a botanical garden, where species plants can be grown in a more natural environment, but in our home surroundings perhaps more colour and some prettiness is what we crave.

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

gardening Enjoy the beauty of nerines
Enjoy the beauty of nerines

I HAD a pleasant surprise when I looked over some flower beds the other day to find that behind my back my nerines had thrown up flower stems, so I can’t wait for the full beauty of their rich flowers to open. Generally in northern Europe nerines flower at the end of summer but mine wait for the clocks to change before sharing their beauty with everyone. This is another plant from South Africa belonging to the Amaryllis family. At a recent gardening morning I held, someone brought along a bowl of autumn flowering Sternbergia lutea, from the same family. So while the rest of the garden is winding down for the coming winter, we can still enjoy delights such as these.

Talking of amaryllis, if you want them to flower for Christmas then you should plant them now. I noticed some yellow ones in one of the garden centres this year so I have decided to try them out. Normally the colours are white, pink or red and can also be striped but yellow is unusual. Plant them up in a peaty compost with their neck and shoulders above the soil. You will be amazed at their rapid growth. Plant your paperwhites now as well. Leave their noses above the soil and don’t let them touch each other in the bowl or pot.

Get any other bulbs in quickly as they could be sprouting in their bags. I have just finished planting out 150 freesia bulbs and look forward to a dazzling display in the spring. Of course, first having dug over the area and added in some bagged compost to enrich the very sandy soil I am now having trouble with the local cats, so I have covered the patch with upturned planting trays to keep them from digging up the bulbs as they are looking for new toilet areas, and I will gradually lift the trays as and when the shoots appear.

New growth is fast appearing around the bases of many trees and shrubs so give an autumn feed to encourage this. It is also a good time to sort out your potted plants and re-pot those that have outgrown their pots. I have a small Hoya called Bella, which I notice has just been renamed Hoya lanceolata subsp. bella – why do names have to keep changing? I bought this plant last year and it was entwined right around a rigid plastic trellis. It took me a good half hour to disentangle it in order to pot it on into a large pot and taller support. Stephanotis is another plant which usually comes entwined around a curved wire.

It’s tidy time in the garden so clear up around old pots and plant trays and get rid of any dormant snails. When the rain starts to appear they will awaken from their summer dormancy and be ravenously hungry! If you live in a wooded area, pine needles are a real pest but do not make good compost, so get rid of them another way – using them as kindling on a wood fire indoors it as good a way as any.

Move more tender plants into protected areas away from any low night temperatures and wrap them in straw or some of that green material sold by garden centres and builders’ merchants, leaving air to circulate around the plant. There is still a little time for some veggie plug planting before the soil cools down completely, so choose your family favourites and get them in during the early part of the month. If you live along the coast then you could still grow a few salad crops as well. You may well need to replant some herbs after the summer and there are plenty to choose from. I have planted some dill this autumn and hope to make some dill pickles.

Plant of the Month Zamioculcas zamiifolia

gardening -plant of the month
This belongs to the Aracea family (plants with a spathe-like flower), which also includes Arum Lilies. Although it was first described in 1829, it was not until 1996 that nurseries in Holland began to propagate the plant. This is done by leaf cuttings inserted into a gritty compost and enclosed in a plastic bag, but may take up to a year for the leaf to die and produce little bulb-like growths from which new plants can be grown.

Sometimes known as the Zanzibar Gem or ZZ plant, it is the ideal plant for people who find growing indoor plants difficult. Although it can be cultivated outdoors at no less than 15C, it is being marketed as an indoor plant and can be grown in a light place at room temperatures of between 18C and 26C.

ZZ can grow to 45 and sometimes 60cm and has a rhizome which stores water during droughts. It is grown mainly for its glossy pinnate dark green leaves but does produce flowers in mid-summer to early autumn, which appear around the base of the plant rather like an aspidistra does, although the flowers are quite different. Do not over water this plant as it could cause the rhizome to rot off but feed about once a month. ZZ has a high resistance to insects and diseases and it is capable of cleaning the atmosphere in a room which is beneficial to the occupants. Do not use leaf shiners on the leaves – they remain glossy of their own accord. What more could you want from a plant?

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