By Patricia Jordan
I have found this gardening year to be very disappointing so far. First of all I had to find a way of combating next door’s cats from digging up my newly planted freesia bulbs and iris rhizomes in a new bed.
Every morning I would find them lying on top of the soil with all their roots exposed, until I decided to net the whole area with tall poles and bird netting. So what did they do then? Move over to the other plots where I had to erect more stockades to keep them off. With very little winter rain many bulbs were unable to make roots in the dry sandy soil, so the wonderful spring displays I had planned came to nothing. I seem to have lost my touch with cuttings and try as I might to raise lots of lavender cuttings for a friend, they all failed except one. This is from me who raised over 300 lavender plants from one plant when I came to live here for my lavender par terre! I fear I must try harder! On the plus side my white plumbago is full of amazing flower heads despite not having the usual amount of winter rain, and the cactus and succulents have been crowned with masses of flowers time after time this year, so I won’t despair too much.
Wherever I go or open an email there are always people asking me questions about plants. I’m glad that I am only shown pictures on their cell phones or look at attached images on an email or I could have lots of nasty bugs escaping into my garden and we have enough of our own, thank you very much. With the humidity and high temperatures we encounter in most parts of Cyprus during July and August, it’s no wonder that there are so many problems with moulds and such like.
How do you avoid them – by being vigilant! My under-gardener dead heads the hibiscus hedge every morning as the flowers only bloom for one day and hang limp and faded the next day, so he is able to keep a watchful eye out for the dreaded mealy bugs. I inspect my special potted plants for them as well and for scale insects, which are just as difficult to get rid of, but best scraped off with a finger nail. Someone showed me a nasty infection on a ficus hedge which turned out to be caused by thrips. These are best got rid of by using a solution of Citrole and Pyrinex in 5 litres of water and you can use the same solution for mealy bugs, or 12cc Mospilan 20 SP in 10 litres of water, where mealy bugs and other nasties have become resistant to the other formula.
What you don’t want is for these mixtures just to run off the leaves onto the ground beneath and this is where the Citrole comes in – combined with the Pyrinex it helps to make the liquid stick to the leaves, especially underneath where the bugs usually are lying along the veins and stems. I have compiled a list of bugs and how to deal with them which you may find useful, so if you email me at [email protected] I will send a copy to you. Hopefully your summer will be bug free!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
It’s unlikely that there will any appreciable rain from now until the autumn unless we get a passing thunderstorm. Most of the ‘weather’ seems to pass by slightly further north than here, so as a consequence you will have to adopt a watering regime. Try to water at the same time every day as the plants come to rely on it. If you have plenty of water, then water daily or at least every other day, remembering that pot plants are particularly vulnerable at this time of year. If possible move them into a shaded area. Check for iron or zinc deficiencies on citrus foliage and pecans and treat accordingly (I talked about that last month). If you collect seeds from your favourite plants, save them in a paper envelope or bag and dare I say name them – and keep them cool as they do need a winter of sorts.
I’d love to have a frangipane tree in my garden but alas we are too high up and don’t have enough humidity. They really are more suited to coastal areas where they will enjoy plenty of it. Oleanders and hibiscus in their many colours quite like it here but Flame Trees (Delonix regia), like frangipanes, prefer the coastal fringes, blazing away in some gardens with a wonderful show of flowers among the fernlike leaves. Albizia julibrissin shows off its pink tipped flowers in great abundance. These two trees are also best grown along the coastal strips. Later in the summer you may even enjoy the first of the Hibiscus mutabilis, which also enjoys similar conditions. Climbers like hoya and stephanoides are soaring skywards, as are the lovely Mandevilla splendens in pinks, reds and whites. Provide them all with some support so that they have something to hang on to. Jasminum grandiflorum and Cestrum nocturnum scent the night air and if you have planted them near a window or door then you will be able to enjoy their perfumes wafting in on the evening breezes.
The outermost layer of leaves of Cycads turn yellow or brown at this time of year but this is a natural occurrence and if you look inside you will see a new crown of leaves emerging from the centre of the plant. If your cycads have grown into trees then you may have to saw the branches off. There are some specialists about who could do this for you. The lower leaves of Yuccas can look a sorry sight when they die off, so cut them off and clean up the trunk, watching out for the very sharp pointed tips of the leaves. Aeoniums can be weak and tired-looking as the heat continues when they use up all the water inside their stems and leaves to keep going. However when the autumn showers come they will fill out again. If you are going away in the heat of the summer try to move vulnerable plants into shaded positions so that they are easily watered and looked after. Add in some slow release fertiliser and also water retaining crystals so that if your help cannot water on some days the water contained in them will be released until regular watering resumes. Annuals will go over without your loving care as their roots are near the surface, but there will be plenty in the garden centres when you return.
Keep dead-heading and as the flowers turn to seeds remember that some are downright poisonous! Every part of oleander can be harmful and lantana berries, which look like ripe blackberries, are toxic, as are the seeds of ricinus, although the plants look very attractive. Thevetia berries (yellow oleander) are poisonous too and are often used in cases of suicide in the India sub-continent. Do not leave seeds where they can harm human or animal life. Cattle have been known to die from eating oleander seeds which had blown over a fence, so please do take great care when handling any part of that plant.
Plant of the Month Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’
THESE climbing vines are truly exotic and wonderful plants, growing up to three metres in height. Originally from tropical Asia and Africa, they are also grown in Australian and New Zealand gardens. In Cyprus they can be grown outdoors but in countries like UK they are usually grown in greenhouses. They are regarded as perennials, growing from a tubular rhizome. By studying the rhizome carefully you will see from which end of it the little shoots will appear. These shoots are the plant’s leaves, so should be planted facing upwards. If no shoots are visible, plant the tubers horizontally in trays and transplant later when they have sprouted. They grow well in pots with some support to cling on to for the curling tendrils, which appear on the ends of the leaves.
Gloriosa plants prefer full sun to part sunny conditions with perhaps some afternoon shade here in Cyprus and rich, well-drained soil. Water them regularly and do not let the soil dry out. When the exotic flowers with their furled-back striking petals of red and yellow fade and the leaves die back, stop watering and they will become dormant. They should be stored or kept dry in a frost free spot. Propagation is by dividing the rhizomes or planting out any offsets. Seed can be collected once the pods are dry, but removing spent flowers as they die, will encourage more and more flowers to appear.
Be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic if ingested, so wear latex gloves when handling them and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, as they can cause skin irritations.