By Patricia Jordan
IT IS 10 years since I wrote The Cyprus Garden, which is still a best seller here and even beat sales of Ruth Rendell when it hit the bookshops! It quickly sold out and was reprinted in 2006.
Since then I have written two other gardening books, The Potted Garden and The Cyprus Orchard. I re-read the Garden book recently and thought what a sound book it is, especially for newcomers to gardening here. I know I am biased but it sets out just what you should do in order to garden successfully in Cyprus and lots of people tell me that they regard it as their ‘gardening Bible’.
Some of the products mentioned in it are no longer available but similar products have taken their places. Garden centres have improved enormously everywhere and have become more sophisticated, selling garden products as well as plants. The problem when I came here was that nothing was labelled so I set out to encourage everyone to use botanical names. This is now widespread. It is not ‘posh’ to speak ‘botanical’ – all over the world these names are used allowing gardeners to be able to communicate with each other rather than use common names that vary around the world.
Friends in the trade in UK tell me that plant sales now make up only two per cent of the sales in garden centres there as everyone has moved outside and is looking for smart things to put in their gardens – fancy furniture, gazebos, water features and even clothes! Here I think that is not the case yet, but people like to one-stop shop, buying suitable pots for particular plants and garden ornaments, so it may catch on. More and more young plants are being imported and grown on here.
Not all of these are suitable for our gardens, so beware if they are proclaimed to be drought tolerant – they are only so when they have settled into your garden in a comfortable spot. Lots of people like to grow their own veggies and salads, and with nurseries such as Solomou in Nisou bringing on thousands of young plug plants each season, this enables even the poorest gardener to achieve success in their plot. Sales of seeds and bulbs do well too, although I have noticed that lots of places still have unsold packets of spring bulbs on their shelves this year. Is the market saturated? Beware of buying them next autumn as they were prepared by the bulb growers for last autumn!
The heavy frosts in higher areas last month killed off many annuals, those that grow from seed to seed in a season. It also scorched the tops of the jacarandas and hibiscus here. The plants that survived that and all the heavy rain this winter are what you should be growing in your garden. Like anyone else I can be a sucker for a new and exciting plant (see Plant of the Month) and I am sometimes asked to trial new plants and report back on them. This is valuable information for the growers. With my gardening experience from around the world I should be able to grow anything, but you can’t control the weather, which tests even the very experienced gardener. Gardening can be such a wonderful hobby as it gets you out in the fresh air enjoying the fruits of the earth and letting one’s mind wander while weeding.
The Cyprus Garden is available from good bookshops islandwide
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
If the weather is anything like January, you may find it difficult to get anything done. Torrential downpours and low night temperatures are not ideal for working outside but some jobs have to be done. If you managed to prune any prunus trees last month, that is good news for although many of them, for instance cherries, peaches and nectarines, do not flower for a while yet, the almonds will be blossoming with pink or white flowers in sunny spots any time now. You will see many local gardeners gathering in the last of the olives and then pruning the trees quite severely. In some case hacking them to bits! Still, they survive all that and are usually the better for radical pruning after they have recovered.
Citrus trees are still laden with fruits, so it may be difficult to make a start there. You can look out for crossing branches or any that are diseased and start to remove them, going back to the tree when the rest of fruit has been harvested. Have you noticed how small the fruits are this year and how thick the pith? Last year was so hot and dry that there was a thicker peel to protect the fruit inside, and of course the lack of rain produced smaller fruits than we usually expect.
While you are among your trees, it’s time to feed them again. Use 900g of 20.10.10 fertiliser for mature trees and a third of that for young trees. February can also be a wet month, so you may be spared the chore of watering in the fertiliser. Remember not to put the food around the trunk of the tree as there are no feeding roots there but spread it out halfway between the trunk and the tree canopy where they are there below the surface. Of course as the tree matures this position will change and you might well have to move your watering nozzles too.
The storms of late December and early January caused such a lot of pine needles to fall everywhere, especially where I live up amongst the pine forests. Pine needles do not make good compost, so don’t put them into your bins. I read somewhere recently that tiny cyclamen plants like to nestle in among them, so if you grow these plants then this is a way you can use them. My street is lined with casuarina trees which not only shed needles all the time, they spread their roots everywhere including my garden and have pollen twice a year after which the male trees shower their spent tassels on top of the needles. Who ever said that gardening was relaxing?
After all the rain and then some Halcyon Days mid-January when daytime temperatures reached 16-18C in some parts, weeds are popping up all the time so keep up with them. Oxalis with its bright yellow flowers is very difficult to remove from the garden especially if you don’t like using chemicals. You need to dig right down and get all the little white roots out or they bounce right up again next spring. Seedlings of annuals which survived the frosts will also being growing apace and may need thinning out.
Rose bushes should be pruned now. You can be quite severe with them. If you had cut them down in the autumn then prune them now by half again and then feed with a rose feed around the base. The Damascena rose (one of my favourites) produces lots of old wood so take some of that out each year. This rose only has one flowering but the colour and perfume is well worth giving it space.
Another prickly plant to prune severely this month because of the annual growth rate is bougainvillea. You really need some protection from the nasty thorns so wear an old jumper and glasses too.
Echiums, which are short lived garden favourites here, are putting on much growth and will soon be buzzing with bees and butterflies around their tall spires of blue flowers. Take cuttings from the new growth by pushing them into the earth around the parent bush and leaving them for some time to get on with growing roots. So here’s hoping for some good days to prepare the garden for spring, which is just around the corner.
PLANT OF THE MONTH Hemizygia ‘Candy Kisses’
Given to me by a nurseryman here who sang its praises, I am wondering just how hardy it is. It belongs to the Lamiaceae family and has been re-catorgised Syncolostemon – isn’t that pain? This fast-growing velvety-haired shrub, eventually producing many branches, can reach nearly 2 metres when mature. The variegated leaves are strongly and pleasantly aromatic as you would expect from a plant in the Lamiaceae family. The showy, two-lipped tubular flowers are mauve pink. In South Africa it grows wild in the Northern Drakensburg Mountains. I am told that it re-grows after fires and very cold wet spells, so we shall see after this winter if it lives up to its promise. It looks to be an interesting plant that can be used as a hedge or stand alone plant, preferring a sunny to partially shaded position in well-drained soil.
Pollinated by bees and other insects, it is generally disease free. A little fertiliser in the spring may help it along but there is no need to prune this plant in the growing season. However some winter pruning will encourage lots of flowers later on. Propagation is by seeds or cuttings.