Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Shades of grey

Gardening with Patricia Jordan

WE ARE only just into February and already there are cries about the lack of rainfall here this winter, unlike the rest of western Europe. It is reported that the dams are only half full with not much more winter to go. Talking to Christos Georgiades, President of the Growers’ Association recently and discussing the lack of rainfall, he mentioned that old adage about ‘Nicolovarvara’ days. Ayia Varvara falls on December 4, Ayios Savvas on December 5 and Ayios Nicolas on December 6. Apparently, according to legend, if no rain falls on these days then it will be a dry winter. This set me thinking about previous years when we have gone to the ACT’s annual pantomime in Nicosia usually in the first week of December. Time after time we have been blown about by the weather on the journey there and watched electric storms flash across the plain and bounce off the mountains while we drove home. One year the theatre was flooded after the Saturday matinee performance and the front rows were out of bounds but the evening show had to go on! Another time our house was flooded, which is incredible as we live on the side of a hill. So fierce was the rainfall that it forced its way under a door and down a stairway and out of the door at the bottom! Walls in the area nearby were knocked down by the force of the water and holes appeared in the streets round about!

With little rainfall the wells and dams will not be filled so we may be in for a lean summer. It’s time to think about what to grow that does not require much in the way of water. Plant catalogues and books describing plants as drought tolerant are not helpful. First you have to help them to become established. New plantings in my garden have a cut-off water bottle dug into the soil behind them for the first couple of seasons, so that any water goes straight down to the roots where it is most needed. Carpobrotus edulis (Aphrodite’s Tresses) takes up water into the leaves during the winter which usually lasts right through into early autumn, but the rain we have had so far came too late to save a lot of it, and some shrivelled up. It will be a replanting job for me on my none-watered banks.

Another desert plant is Leucophyllum frutescens from Arizona which flowers after a shower of rain or any high humidity. The soft grey leaves are able to deflect the sun’s hot rays through the mass of hairs on them, allowing it to survive in desert-like conditions. So watch out for grey leaved plants this year, as they may be the answer to a hot dry summer. Other greys include artemisias, stachys, and gazanias with a felted reverse to their leaves. Bulbous plants can survive droughts and cold weather as their bulbs are planted deep below the surface and are able to withstand the vagaries of the weather. Some grey leaved succulents can manage normal rain but hail or very heavy rain can punch holes in the soft leaves, making them look very unattractive.

 

 

THINGS TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

I know that you were attending to your fruit trees last month but there is still a lot more to do in the garden. If you haven’t pruned your grapevine yet then do so before the sap starts to rise and makes the plant ‘bleed’. Leafless grapevines look gaunt at this time of year but it gives you the opportunity to have a look at the basic structure and do some pruning. Check over the support as well and see if there is need for any repairs or strengthening, as vines when fully in leaf and fruit are very heavy creatures! Unlike a neighbour of mine who attacks his huge grapevine with a chain saw, you should cut back the fruiting stems to one or two buds and pinch out all but the strongest new shoots. Sometimes they need some summer pruning as well.

 

Another trailing plant to be pruned even though it may still be blooming is Jasminum grandiflorum, the one with the highly perfumed white flowers. If you would like to have abundant flowers later on you have to be brutal now and prune the stems right back to the old wood. If you don’t do this then you will not have any flowers, as they appear on new stems, and the previous year’s leaves will wither and die during the summer. Plumbago which some people grow against walls or fence lines, puts on enormous growth each year and needs some drastic surgery now. Damascena roses also benefit from taking out any old wood and feeding with a rose fertiliser.

 

Bougainvilleas are pruned about this time as their leaves have fallen and you can see where to cut. Wear sleeves, gloves and safety glasses for this job, as the thorns which help the plant to climb through trees in the jungle are vicious. The buds are starting to swell already on wisterias so take off any dead stems and soon you will be able to enjoy an early spring display of their highly scented flowers. Lavender and rosemary bushes and hedges will benefit from being trimmed this month. If rosemary bushes become too big than they tend to separate out into sections, which rather spoils their beauty. Prostrate rosemary bushes are in flower now, along with some of the wild lavenders and are much sought after by the bees.

 

At ground level the dear little yellow flowers of oxalis are appearing in great abundance but you really don’t want them in your flower beds. I am always being asked how to get rid of them. The answer is to dig them up, but you have to get right down to the roots and get out the little bulblet. If you don’t, then they will regenerate next spring. If the plant appears in paths or among gravel, try using some Roundup. It may take some time to be rid of them completely as if you leave even a tiny bit of root in the soil, it will regenerate from that.

 

Check around your flower beds and see what has grown too big for its spot. Tulbaghias are delightful plants in any summer garden but the clumps can quickly grow quite large, so fork them up and separate them into smaller clumps replanting in other places or sharing with friends. A dear little plant called Oenothera speciosa, a member of the evening primrose family, with pretty little pink flowers, became rampant, and smothered other plants in one of the borders, so I have spent some time removing it. I will have to be watchful because I know that although I dug up all that I could see, some of its rhizomes may have escaped me.

 

As the season progresses and growth is fast, tall plants will need to be tied in. Last year I managed to get some herbaceous plant supports here for the first time. Previously I brought some from UK on one of my trips but they are cumbersome to carry, so it was good to see them on sale in the shops here. Plants like gladioli can be tied to a stick but other plants grown in groups benefit from an all encompassing support, which when the plants are fully grown will not be noticed.

 

Delay sowing seeds for a little longer, as the soil is still cold. I have been testing some local composts suitable for seeds and cuttings and will report my findings next month.

 

 

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' AGM
Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ AGM

Plant of the Month Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ AGM

In other parts of the northern Europe you may have grown Skimmia in the garden in a slightly sheltered spot. Here skimmia appears in the garden centres at the turn of the year as a pot plant. It does not like our hot dry summers and therefore don’t plant it into the garden or else it will die in the heat. A native of Japan and China, this evergreen shrub with simple, aromatic leaves and terminal panicles of small white or yellowish flowers is known as dioecious, which just means that you need a male and female plant in order to have any berries, rather like holly bushes. The plant tolerates a wide range of conditions, including frost, drought and atmospheric pollution but not direct sunlight.

‘Rubella’ is a compact male variety with attractive red-margined, dark green elliptic leaves and panicles of red buds, which appear in late autumn and winter, opening to fragrant white flowers in early spring. Should you be lucky enough to have a male and female plant close by, then propagation can be by seeds or you can use semi-ripe cuttings – that is cuttings before they become hard but not green and fresh.

You may find that the leaves can be damaged by thrips or spider mites, and scale insects tend to like this type of leaves on which to lay their eggs. Spraying with Mospilan can deal with this problem.

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