Gardening with Patricia Jordan
MAY is such a lovely month in the garden. Everything is bright and fresh still and heady perfume is everywhere. Plants are climbing up trellises and supports, showering us with petals from roses and sweet peas and of course the Chelsea Flower Show is held this month in London, showcasing all that is new and wonderful in the early British summer garden. Some years ago now I went on a day trip from here to Chelsea. It was all very tiring, but I enjoyed meeting up with lots of the exhibitors that I had known when I used to show the special plants I grew in my garden in Scotland.
If you are a celebrity it may well be that you have a plant named after you. This year Celebrity Gardener and novelist Alan Titchmarch, who now has a range of seeds bearing his name, is going to design a garden there to mark Britain in Bloom’s 50th Anniversary. Many villages, towns and cities take part in ‘Britain in Bloom’, when hanging baskets of flowers cascade from walls and lamp standards, and parks and villages adopt planting themes which reflect their origins. Volunteers from all the communities involved take part and the results are judged by eminent professional gardeners, with handsome prizes awarded to the best in the various categories. Wouldn’t it be good to do something like that here?
This year is also the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1 and many exhibits will reflect that theme. The poppy, Papaver rhoeas, synonymous with ‘Remembrance’, will feature greatly in the exhibits. Many poppies grow in our countryside in the early spring and what a delight they are, contrasting so well with the many early yellow colours of oxalis, crown marguerites and acacias. We could have our own Cyprus in Bloom here! Alas the Horticultural Show, which used to be held every other year as part of the Agricultural Fair at the State Fairgrounds, is no more. I suppose that while we are going through this austerity period this will not be resurrected, but it could be something to look forward to in the future.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Although most of the big jobs have been completed, May is the last time to feed any fruit and nut trees that you may grow, until the winter. At this time of year as the new leaf growth comes in, it’s important to give the trees a nitrogen feed. This is the first number on the fertiliser bag or packet. I used to recommend 20.0.0, but nowadays that is no longer available, so it may well have to be 19.0.0 or even 21.0.0. Mature trees need a dose of 900g and smaller trees 300g. You may have to water the fertiliser in this month unless we have some real rain. Remember when feeding that the fibrous roots are not near the trunk, so make sure that you spread it out a little further.
Also watch out for any other mineral shortages which manifest themselves in the colour of citrus leaves. If they are short of iron they will be a very light green colour, sometimes even yellow, with the veins showing up very clearly. Two dessertspoons of iron chelate mixed in ten litres of water should be applied to the watering area around the base, to sort out this problem. An old Cypriot remedy is to put some iron nails in the soil around the base of the tree, if you want give that a try.
Zinc shortage is another problem which occurs in citrus trees and you will see this in a mottling on the leaves. For this problem you will get better results by spraying the leaves with a mixture of a level dessertspoon of zinc chelate in five litres of water, which the tree can absorb more easily. Spray it onto the leaves until the mixture runs off. Then check all the fresh new leaves for signs of greenfly and black fly, for when they hatch and start to feed, they will spoil the leaves for the whole season. Use a soapy water spray for them or rub them off with a gloved hand.
Other trees which suffer from shortage of zinc are pecans and at the beginning of the year it is advisable to water 2 dessertspoons of zinc chelate mixed in 10 litres of water into the ground around the tree. Even so later in the year the leaves may have dark blotches on them, so spray them this time with a level dessertspoon of zinc chelate in five litres of water until the solution runs off.
After the wonderful early flower show that wisteria puts on, the new leaves and tendrils start to appear in earnest and will need some help to wind themselves around trellises or supports. Care should be taken whilst performing this job as the stems are very brittle and can break easily if mishandled. Bougainvillea is also pushing out new growths which may need tying in or helping over supports.
At ground level, osteospermums need regular deadheading. These are really good plants and cover a lot of ground, making large cushions everywhere. Some varieties want to grow upward and tend to sprawl about. Discourage them by nipping off the long shoots to form low growing plants instead. Ranunculus will have finished flowering by now. I bought some bright yellow cheery ones earlier and put the pots into a planter. Now I am going to plant them in a shady spot and hope that they will give me lots of colour next year.
Some plants have disappointed me this spring. My mature groups of chasmanthe (wrongly known in Cyprus as monbretia) threw up lots of leaves but not one flower stem and I am thinking that they are either too crowded or I fed them too much nitrogen after they had flowered last year. It could be of course the lack of rain in the winter as some Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ did not send up any flower stems either and my Calla Lilies have been a great disappointment. With the lack of rain to help swell the bulbs underground, it is not surprising that this has happened. However neighbouring gardens have had their callas in bloom for several weeks, while mine look decidedly poor.
One of my favourite annuals is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’. I brought the seeds when I came to live here 14 years ago and they still delight me every year. I no longer collect the seeds but let the plants grow where the seeds drop each year. They start to appear again in the late autumn and some survive the winter, while others wait to germinate in the early spring. They hail from this end of the Mediterranean so do well. I just love the glaucous leaves and the tiny mauvey-blue flowers.
I have decided not to grow salads and summer veggies like sweetcorn this year because of the likely shortage of water. They are wonderful to eat straight from the garden, but they do need a lot of water for the cobs to swell and taste so sweet.
Plant of the month: Sweet Peas
Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are among the most favourite garden plants grown, certainly in the UK. They are very popular here too, although they bloom much earlier as our winters are much milder and temperatures warm up faster. In Cyprus you are more likely to find the old-fashioned varieties of ‘Cupani’, sometimes confused with more modern ‘Matucana’, which have dark mauve and pink flowers, and ‘Painted Lady’, bred from a plant originally from Sicily and dating from 1737. This sweet pea has pink and cream flowers. Both have intense perfumes, much more than present day varieties. Modern breeding had given us many different varieties suitable for cutting and showing, which have more flowers on the longer stems and much bigger flowers. However the perfume tends to be lighter.
Sweet peas are annual plants, meaning that they grow from seed to making seed in one season. If conditions are not too cold and wet, it is possible to sow seeds in the autumn for earlier and sturdier plants. It is helpful to soak the seeds before sowing. Plant them in small pots or modules in a sheltered spot. Once they have two sets of leaves, pinch out the growing point. This will ensure more than just one stem grows on, giving a bushier plant. As climbers, they will need a frame or canes for the tendrils to cling to and may need to be tied in. They prefer a rich soil and feeding with a tomato fertiliser will help them greatly. Like many other climbers, they prefer their roots in the shade with their flowers in the sun. In hot climates they will need constant watering.
Aphids can be a problem and sometimes the plants can be affected by mildew, which can slow down growth. The seeds are toxic if ingested.