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CyprusLife & Style

As the summer sets in it is time to think of the shade your plants could be gifting Gardening with Patricia Jordan

LOOKING back to my article of June 2007 I see that we had storms and rain in the second week of May, just like those we endured this year.

I was grateful for them as they saved my garden this year, as it was dry from the lack of any appreciable rain during the winter.

Rain at this time of year usually means that the little forming fruits drop in the heavy storms and brings with it something else that we don’t usually have a lot of, and that is balled roses when the petals don’t unfurl and just hang in there, all sodden and matted together.

At the elevation at which I live the bougainvillea is colouring up nicely. They are tropical plants and that they normally do so well here in Mosfiloti is something of miracle, as they like lots of humidity as a rule.

Hibiscus, which gardeners have come to hate in recent years as a result of all the mealy bugs that are attracted to them, are in flower now and need watching daily.

My under gardener picks off the dead flowers and yellowing leaves every morning and is thus able to keep a watchful eye out for the invaders and take remedial action if necessary.

They certainly aren’t popular plants in Cyprus any more!

Now is the time that we can enjoy all the tall trees that can easily cope with the high heat of summer.

Those long, split leaves filter the hot winds and while they don’t provide much shade for those who sit beneath them, they cool the breezes and can cope with the humidity created by the closeness to the sea.

Tropical plants like frangipane and bananas can grow without problems, the latter certainly in the Paphos area. Frangipane, with its heady night-scented perfume really needs coastal humidity, along with Delonix regia, which you may find in ‘older gardens,’ and the many Albizia julibrissin around the parking spaces of Larnaca airport, delight visitors to the island as they shake their silky pink tassels in any breeze.

Once the unusual flowers of grevillea have gone over, and the lovely perfumed melia flowers have turned to plump round berries, then they too can provide a modicum of shade.

Those of us who abut or who live on the Messaória Plain in Nicosia and some of the lower hill villages, can be sweltering hot in summer heat and need to find plants that can cope with all that, while enduring quite low temperatures in winter.

If you live in the high mountains then you should still be able to grow all the delights that we who live lower down envy. Shrub-wise grey is good – Leucophyllum frutescens and artemisias can take any amount of heat.

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

In the flower beds wonderful flowers are bursting onto the scene. Hemerocallis, known as the day lily, is a great favourite of mine, and now available here in a variety of colours and shapes other than the more usual orange.

Other favoured plants, also from South Africa, include agapanthus and tulbaghias and the wonderful lavender panicles flowers on jacaranda trees, looking like hazy blue clouds, are the highlight of my gardening year.

The startling yellow flowers on the Caesalpinia gilliesii from tropical America, with the long quivering bright red stamens is also something to look forward to and if the dying flowers are removed, then another flush of flowers will delight later on.

The perfumes of honeysuckles and jasmines mingling with the heady scent of ‘Pakistani Nights’, Cestrum nocturnum, linger on the air well after bedtime, reminding me of long ago days in tropical stations, but it also attracts black flies by the million, so keep an eye out for them and spray as soon as you see them or the leaves will all curl up!

Should we have any rain showers from now on they will probably take the form of quick thunder storms.

These should loosen any snails that may have dozed off tucked up among the branches of shrubs. Weeds growing in the vicinity of a watering point will grow quickly, so remove them before they seed themselves everywhere.

Dead head plants after rain, especially petunias, whose lovely bells become very soggy if wet and can cause mould to form if they drop down on to the top of the soil.

Pelargonium heads always look sorry too when wet, so take the flower stems off right back to where they grow from the main stem, where they will break neatly and sweep up any petals as they fall, especially the red ones, or they might stain your tiles and surrounds.

Shrubs that flowered in early spring may need some trimming now. Lavender and rosemary come to mind here and the branches of the latter plant will lean outwards if allowed to grow too much.

You may find that your topiaries and hedges need a little trim which should be done little and often so that it doesn’t become a major job! Lavender is generally cut back after the flowers have died off.

Marjoram is another plant that goes over early, so give it the same treatment and it will reward you with a fresh crop of leaves later on.

Have a look at any bay trees, known here as Daphne, as they benefit from a trim and tidy up now and you can dry any leaves that you remove for cooking purposes. Try to do jobs like this in the evening and always give the plants a refreshing drink afterwards.

You may well see new little green growths appearing on the stems of Echium webbii, so cut off the dried flower spires just above them, as that is where the new flowers will appear next year.

As the outer leaves of irises start to turn brown pull them off gently. This will enable the sun to bake the rhizomes for bountiful flowers next year.

In a couple of weeks or so, when all the leaves are starting to wither, cut them down into a ‘V’ shape. If the rhizomes are very crowded and haven’t been dug up for a while, fork them up carefully and divide them up, getting rid of the oldest part of the rhizome and replanting the fresher pieces.

At this time of year I always dig up my freesia bulbs and sort them out. I really only want to save the larger bulbs for next season, so I scatter the tiny bulbs around the banks in the garden and in the fullness of time they will flower in the most extraordinary places.

As summer temperatures rise keep a watch out for any salad vegetables that you grow when sudden bursts of very high heat can cause them to bolt and the centre of the plant shoots skywards while the rest of the plant becomes dry and tasteless.

Tomatoes like water at their roots, so that is where you should put it, in an old pot sunk into the ground beside each plant. Sometimes tomatoes don’t ripen evenly here – we can’t control the temperatures in the garden as those who grow in greenhouses can.

Plant of the Month Verbena rigida
Common Name Sandpaper Verbena, Slender Vervain

This pretty verbena has been available in garden centres here for a couple of years or so now and is proving its worth as a border or ground cover plant.

Verbena rigida, from Brazil and Argentina, was introduced into European gardens around 1820 and is useful where the height of its taller relative, Verbena bonariensis, already well known here, grows too tall to use as a front of the border plant.

The eventual height is probably around 30cm. With its rigid square stems similar to bonariensis and being drought proof once it is established, it is a worthy plant in our gardens with the dry summers that we endure.

Its common name of ‘Sandpaper Verbena’ comes from the rough surface of the dark green, lance-shaped leaves. Masses of cerise-mauvy blooms, which bees and butterflies are greatly attracted to, appear on the ramrod straight stems of the plant from April onwards, resulting in many seeds being scattered around which germinate freely.

It is considered a perennial plant in some places preferring a light, free draining soil, but if the soil is heavy and there is a liklehood of heavy winter rain, it may not survive these conditions and it therefore can be regarded as an annual too.

Leaving the stems on during winter or mulching over the base of the plant means that it is somewhat protected from cold weather and new growths will appear around the base area once the weather warms up the ground. The clumps can be divided up in early spring as you would any other perennials. Generally disease free, there might be a problem with aphids and snails.

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