By Patricia Jordan
Wow! What a hot summer we have had and it is not over yet. According to those who ‘read’ the weather conditions for the rest of the year by the clouds and amount of sunshine in the run up to Maria’s Assumption Day on August 15th, the forecast is that we will be having a hot September and October, as August 3 and 4 surpassed all records for heat. Even coastal towns like Larnaca were extremely hot and unpleasant. We are told that this extreme weather was caused by a ‘hot weather dome’ over the Middle East. To my great disappointment many plants that I was nursing along succumbed during this heat, but maybe I shouldn’t have been trying to grow such unsuitable plants here. Some plants I can’t resist though. I waxed lyrical about the new roses I bought in June. Alas one died due to heat exhaustion but the other four have made it through so far. Being the experienced gardener that I am I know that you really shouldn’t be planting roses as late as I did, but they were so charming on the garden centre bench that I couldn’t resist them. I think the main problem was that they were full of fresh green foliage and very vulnerable to heat.
I don’t usually look back on successes and failures as early as this but this year has been full of surprises. All that lovely rain we had during the winter brought dormant seeds to life and I have had several amaranthus plants growing away in one bed, although it is many years since I planted the seeds. Amazing! Some plants have disappointed me greatly like hemerocallis which I love, with hardly a flower, but I will feed them up and maybe they will flourish again. Sedum spectabile, which is generally speaking an autumn flowering plant in other parts of Europe but which usually flowers much earlier here, is only just colouring up. I don’t mind though as they add colour to an otherwise dark corner of the garden. Agapanthus africanus (a misapplied name), with huge blue or white flowers did well, although they only have one flower stem per plant. Some newer shorter varieties had lots of flowers and I think that although I like the stateliness of the larger flower heads I will grow more of the smaller varieties as they flower over a longer period. ‘Charlotte’ was the name of one and the other was called ‘L’Amour d’Été Blue’, but of the two I prefer ‘Charlotte’. I shall feed them up, along with some pots of amaryllis that didn’t do well last year, with Plantafol 5.15.45, which is a high potassium feed and hope for abundant flowers next year.
Only two stems of flowers appeared on my chasmanthe plants but that was because I hadn’t split them up for some years and they really do need to have this done on a more regular basis. When the foliage died off I dug them up and relieved them of the old growths on the bases by prising them off with a garden knife. Out of the original two clumps of 5 corms I harvested over 50 corms, some of which will be replanted when the weather becomes cooler and before they begin to shoot.
I changed my watering regime during the July and August heat and got up very early in the mornings to water those parts of the garden that aren’t on the irrigation system. In previous years I would have done this in the evenings, but it was still far too warm then and I think this new timing paid off. Not only had the plants made some recovery during the night from the humidity but benefitted from watering before the sun got to them. It was a good time to be out there in the relative cool listening to the dawn chorus and cocks crowing in the far distance.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
There are a lot of things that you shouldn’t be doing until it gets considerably cooler. Many shrubs have been singed by the burning sun but resist cutting them back for the moment or you could expose new growth to the sun and lose that too. Be patient – everything comes to he who waits. We have been lucky here in that we have not had large infestations of mealy bugs this year here due to the vigilance of the under gardener who keeps his eye out for them while dead heading the hibiscus hedge every morning. However, I did find some clinging to the seed pods on a Caesalpinia gillesii bush and also on a datura plant on the front porch. They are no more but I would be interested to know if the mealy bug infestation on the island has subsided or not, so please get in touch on [email protected] if they are still a problem in your area.
Potted plants suffer during these hot months and need your constant attention. We all love pelargoniums from South Africa as they are such good plants to grow here. They too can suffer from mealy bugs if they become congested, especially the zonal ones, so remove some of the thick growth in the centre of the plant to let in some air. Continue feeding them once a week with a soluble feed. Ivy leaved pelargoniums which trail so beautifully down walls or the front of verandas also benefit from a weekly feed. Deadhead them regularly as you don’t want them to make seeds. If you look along the stem to where the flower stem joins the main stem, the old stem should break easily without having to use scissors or secateurs, and not leave hard stalks, which may cause injury next time you are working there.
Keep picking figs this month as the main crops ripen. There is nothing quite like a sun kissed fig for breakfast or dessert. You may like Prickly Pear fruit although it is not a favourite of mine but regarded as a delicacy here. Be careful if you pick or prepare them yourself as they are full of horrid little hairs which are the very devil to extricate from your skin. You will notice that most Cypriot people wear heavy gloves and collect them in tin cans attached to a long pole. I believe the answer to preparing them without damage is to do it under water. I am always being asked if it is possible to grow Bramley apples here and the answer is no. However one of the local apples called ‘Kathista’ is in the shops now and is somewhat similar to Bramleys, and a friend grows ‘Anna’ which is an early cropper and can be used for apple pies.
I shall be replanting my herb bed soon. Some of the herbs like mint and aloysia have survived this year but I will have to have a major replanting soon. Luckily there will be plenty of herbs to choose from.
Plant of the Month Datura inoxia
Common Names – Thorn Apple, Moonflower, Devil’s Trumpets
This attractive, showy and usual annual ornamental plant, discovered originally in Central and South America, is now grown in other parts of the world, including Europe. The attractive leaves as well as the fragile stems are covered in soft silver hairs, making it a suitable plant for hot gardens. The white trumpet-shaped flowers, known as ‘vespertine’, grow in an upright fashion and later turn downwards as they go over. Vespertine just means that they generally come into bloom in the evening (vespers) but fade quickly the next morning. The seed capsule starts to grow quickly after this. Within a couple of days it will have a hard green crust with protruding thorns (hence the common name Thorn Apple). This will eventually ripen, when the capsule will burst open ejecting the seeds everywhere. These seeds sometimes catch on animal hairs as they pass the plant and are dropped further afield and can lie dormant for years. Eventually when conditions are right they will spring into life! This is unfortunate as everything about the plant is poisonous and animals and humans may die if any part is ingested.
The flowers have an intense night fragrance, which helps attract night-flying moths and sometimes butterflies during the brief period during the day when the flowers are still in bloom. Datura plants can be grown in the ground or in pots as long as they are in well drained soil. In the garden they prefer a partly shaded spot but do need watering often. Sometimes fungi can appear around the root area, which probably means the end of that particular plant. Datura belongs to the classic ‘witches’ weeds’, along with deadly nightshade, henbane and mandrake and great consideration should be taken before planting them if there are children and animals in your household.