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CyprusLife & Style

A place for succulents and cacti

Gardening with Patricia Jordan

WHEN I mentioned last month the types of plants we should be growing with the likely shortage of water this year, I didn’t mention cacti and succulents, and it was only when I attended a talk by Mary Michaelides, President of the Cacti and Succulent Society in Cyprus, that I realised that I should have added them to the list as well.

This is the time of year when they are looking their best – refreshed by winter rain and full of flowers in all their different shapes and colours.

They are not my favourite plants but they do have a place in the Cyprus garden. I have some troublesome steep banks here on which I find it difficult to grow anything at all, so over the years I have been planting among the weeds (wildflowers) some large specimens of Aloe vera and Aloe ferox and also some variegated agaves.

They vie for attention with wild asphodels with their tall flowers stems stretching skywards. In other areas I have groups of smaller aloes planted in the ground and they certainly keep the cats off the soil with their prickly leaves! Other prickly succulents, Euphorbia milii enjoy a more sheltered life on the porch with their pretty peach, lemon and bold red coloured flowers, alongside a striking Agave attenuata which is a very architectural plant that just keeps on growing.

The flower stem, when it eventually comes, is so tall and heavy that it leans over in an arc. Alas that is the end of the plant, although it will have reproduced itself first with babies along the stem. Plants such as these that die after only flowering once are called monocarpic.

A few years ago I planted up two old wheelbarrows with different types of succulents and they are always commented on by visitors.

So you don’t always have to use conventional pots – any container will do as long as there is good drainage. Soil should be potting compost mixed with garden loam to which some gravel is added, which again aids drainage as these plants don’t like to be too wet. Dressing the top of the pot with some fine gravel or small pebbles will stop the base of the plants from rotting off.

The Cacti and Succulent Society have an annual show in Acropolis Park, Nicosia in early May where it is possible to ask advice of the members, buy many different varieties of plants and admire some very fine specimens, so watch the press for details.

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH.

There is still time to plant new trees and shrubs but a word of warning. Many trees may have been sitting in pots for some time in the nurseries and while it is good to see what they will eventually become without having to guess what it is or trying to read an illegible label, their roots may have become too large for the pots, with the result that they have nowhere to go except round and round.

A reader sent me a picture of a citrus tree which had been planted by contract gardeners some years previously and had never done well. In desperation he dug it up and revealed a mass of tangled roots which had just grown round and round in the original pot shape, never producing the fibrous roots which are needed to feed the plant and stabilise the tree.

So when you get your tree or shrub home dig a hole that is large enough to take the root base and some more.

Into the bottom of the hole throw a handful of bone meal or some slow release fertiliser and take a good look at the rootball. You may find that the roots are indeed growing in a circular way so gently tease them out with a daisy grubber or even your fingers before placing the plant in the hole.

Having made sure that the graft point will be above the level of the soil, fill in the sides with fresh potting compost and finally stamp around the top to support the tree.

If it is a big tree it may need to be staked, which you should do first, otherwise it may damage the roots. Keep the tree moist but do not over water.

March is an exciting time in the garden when things pick up again as the temperatures rise.

There is such a lot to do and you may be tempted to try your hand at seed sowing. The only problem with sowing seeds of shrubs and perennials at this time of year is that they will still be very young plantlets to have to endure the heat of a Cypriot summer.

They generally don’t flower the first year, needing time to establish. Seeds with hard shells are better soaked for a few hours before sowing – broad beans, wisteria and lablab come to mind here.

I have some spare seeds of lablab, which is a very floriferous annual climber, so if you would like a few then send me a stamped addressed envelope – 3 Andreas Miaoulis 7647 Mosfiloti.

Some seeds like to be about half an inch deep, while annuals like poppy, larkspur or cosmos seeds need very little soil over them. In fact some seeds germinate in gravel, only needing some warmth and moisture.

I usually keep my seeds in the fridge for a couple of weeks before I am going to sow them, especially if they have been bought from a shop or have been kept in a warm place.

The type of soil you use is important. Generally speaking, they need something like John Innes Seed Compost and there are two local potting composts available here, ‘Vegi Potting Compost’ and ‘Agrofino Professional Compost’, which are somewhat similar.

Harris Solomou of Solomou Garden Centre, Nisou asked me to trial them and I am pleased with the results and with the cuttings I took as well. Don’t sow too many seeds at one time or you will be inundated with masses of seedlings. Seeds usually keep for a couple of seasons, but may not germinate well as they become older.

I use flat seed trays to sow them in, which I brought from UK when I came to live here, but you can use shallow boxes with some drainage holes punched into the bottom.

This is important as you don’t want them to become waterlogged, neither do you want them to be too dry, so use a fine rose on your watering can. Place a plastic shopping bag over the seed tray to create some warmth, but as soon as the seedlings start to appear remove it or they will stretch for the light and become leggy.

Quick action is called for at this time. Once you are able to grasp the seedling then it should be pricked out into a tray along with its mates. You will be surprised to find that the root system is about twice the size of the actual seedling above ground. Only when it reaches a decent size should it be transferred into a 3 inch pot.

The perennial question as to why some bulbs don’t flower always crops up at this time of year. Only daffodils and snowdrops seem to go on and on. Hyacinths have less and less flowers each successive year, but tulips and amaryllis are brought to the peak of preparedness for flowering by those clever bulb people in the Netherlands before being put on sale, so enjoy them whilst you can.

Plant of the Month Iris albicans

Iris albicans, sometimes known as the Cemetery Iris or White Flag Iris, is one of the first irises to flower in spring time here. They originally came from Yemen and Saudi Arabia but are now readily available here.

They have a long history and have been in existence since about 1400 BC, when mention was first made of them. The plants are known to have been planted around Muslim graves.

The lance-shaped leaves grow in a fan shape and can reach between 30–60cm, which is less than the other favourite iris, Iris germanica.

They look attractive in large clumps and require very little attention, although it is good to split them up after flowering every several years and replant them in a sunny position with the top of the rhizome exposed to the sun.

The attractive flowers with white falls and standards and yellow beards are slightly fragrant and appear from late February onwards, but like most irises the flowers last only for a couple of days or so.

They prefer to grow in full sun and are particularly drought tolerant, lasting for years. Slugs may be a problem and red beetles may eat through the flower stems and leaves. Propagation is by division, as the flowers are sterile and do not make seeds.

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