By Patricia Jordan
Here we are in March again and so many old country rhymes refer to March as a windy month. ‘March Winds and April Showers’ and ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’, which I hope is the case this time, as we have a party of Austrian gardeners arriving in early April and I would rather not have my fruit blossom carpeting the ground, instead of oozing perfumes from the branches everywhere. In Cyprus, we can expect Coptic winds around the second week of the month. It’s amazing how accurate they can be, isn’t it?
Now there are no more excuses for not getting out into the garden. Think how good you will feel after a day’s work of weeding and planting! The days are getting longer and the clocks leap forward at the end of the month, giving us more daylight to enjoy our gardens. For that is what we should be able to do – it’s not ALL hard work!
My garden is at its prettiest in March and April, when all the bulbs give of their best and I can see my planting schemes come to fruition. This year our Jasminum mesnyi has been truly magnificent adding to the other glorious yellows in the countryside. The many lovely bulbs of Allium neopolitanium, naturalised in our banks, with their triangular stems holding up the lovely pure white umbels of flowers, and the red field poppies add a festive air to the garden. Freesias perfume the air and give joy as they burst into flower. I have to tell you that the most exciting time for a gardener is watching plants push through the earth and the anticipation of the opening flowers. That’s what it is all about for me!
Some bulbs, like the early flowering narcissus, will have gone over by now leaving rather a mess of leaves. However, don’t cut, pull them off or tie them in bunches, as they are helping the bulb to produce the new flowers for next season. Try to grow something near or around the bulbs that will hide the old foliage until you can remove them, although it’s possible to lift the clumps and sit them in a shaded spot if you need the space. This is the time to feed them after the flowers have died off, a good all round fertiliser will do the job – (equal numbers on the back of the box). I gave some daffodils in my front garden a good talking to last year and fed them. Lo and behold, they have some flowers this spring, which delighted me!
If you live in the Dhekelia area and you have any gardening problems that you would like some advice about, I shall be at CESSAC on Wednesday March 9 from 10 – 12 noon. I look forward to seeing you there.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Echiums can look quite dead by the end of the summer and indeed some stems do die back during the winter, but don’t be hasty to cut them off as they often sprout new leaves right on the stem tips and their brilliant blue flowers attract bees and Red Admiral butterflies in their hordes. Unfortunately, these shrubs, known to be short-lived, can demise after about five or six years, but cuttings are very easy to take. Just take a piece of ‘green’ stem and push it into the earth beneath the bush and it should make roots before too long. I love blue flowers. Delphiniums, larkspurs, agapanthus, cerinthes, irises and echiums are always part of my garden schemes. In flower arranging, blues can fade into the background but in gardens, they are a joy if grown in masses. Delphiniums just don’t do well here – I have tried several times, but agapanthus are a joy. I bought some smaller varieties last year including one called Charlotte, but the huge ones such as Agapanthus africanus, usually found in grand plantings, do not like too much sun on their fleshy leaves, which may burn, so try and give them some shade.
As annual seedlings like nigella, amaranthus and cosmos appear, thin them out so that the remainder have room to grow. This applies to vegetables and salad crops as well. Once all danger of frost is past, and this could be mid-April at higher elevations, then you can plant out sweet corn, which should grow well as the soil is wet deep down. I am very choosy about what I spend time, effort and water on these days, so I rarely sow veggie seeds any more, other than broad beans. The season between sowing the seeds and having them grow large enough to prick them out is so short here, that I have found that buying plugs is a better way of ensuring that they come to harvest. If you use the same area for veggies all the time, give it a rest for a month or so during the high summer. Rotate your crops so that you don’t grow the same thing in the same space every season, as this avoids problems with some brassicas.
Keep feeding your roses and other flowers now. There are various good rose foods on the market, but choose those with a low first number on the box or you will have lots of floppy foliage. Once roses are growing well, watch out for greenflies, blackflies and brown flies on any new foliage and other plants as well. Spray with Neem Azal, which I wrote about last month, or a soapy solution, or even run your gloved fingers up and down the stems to get rid of them.
If your garden is a veranda or patio, then annuals for pots and bedding, are already in flower in garden centres, bringing with them not only bright colours but heavenly perfumes. If you choose stocks or wallflowers, which are really biennials (sow one year, flower the next) they will augment the heavily perfumed hyacinths and other spring bulbs. Polyanthus (Greek for many flowers), in their stunning jewel-like colours, are in abundance everywhere. Some plants just seem to go on forever and pelargoniums are one of those. They are a very popular plant for verandas and are available in many colour combinations. Have you ever seen those pretty Alpine houses where trails of ivy-leaved pelargoniums drip down the front of them? Scented pelargoniums are another ideal choice and their leaves are often used for making healthy tea. At this time of year, any potted plants that you have already will need a change of soil to refresh them and some slow release fertiliser to buck them up. Composts are available in much smaller bags these days, so even if you live upstairs you should be able to do this job and the plants will greatly benefit from the new soil. Always remember to turn the compost out of the bag, onto a piece of plastic sheeting and break up all the lumps allowing air into the mix. I know I have said that a hundred times but it is very important! It also gives you a chance to scrub the pot and saucer to eliminate any diseases!
More and more people are having lawns these days and they suffer winter and summer alike. If you have grass then now is the time to scarify it with a thin tined rake. You will be surprised at all the rubbish that has been lurking around the root area. Gather it all up and then using a garden fork go all over the lawn with it to depth of the tines if possible, especially in areas of heavy wear. This will allow air to penetrate and you will be able to see any bare patches, which you can re-seed. There are all sorts of seeds available here nowadays.
Santolina chamaecyperissus is a short-lived herbaceous plant in the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, that grows in Mediterranean regions, and is most suitable for our gardens. This dwarf evergreen and intensely aromatic shrub has narrow, silver, dissected leaves and produces pretty, bright yellow, button-like flower heads on long stalks. Santolina is a super plant for hot, dry gardens preferring to grow in full sun. It is not fussy about the soil it grows in as long as it is well drained. Do not over water, especially when first planted out though. Indeed this is a frost hardy plant as well, which is a bonus when Cyprus suffered such low temperatures as those we have had this winter.
Growing to only about 30cm it is useful as edging for flower beds, providing a lovely contrast to other greenery in the garden and it was a popular plant in the 16th century when knot gardens were in fashion. If you are looking for ground cover, then santolina is your plant, as it will spread into a rounded low bush. Santolina dislikes too much humidity, which can cause fungal diseases. Taking off the flowers as they die, will encourage lots of fresh growth. This plant needs both autumn and spring pruning to keep it in trim, and to minimise the stems splitting in the centre. Santolina is fairly pest and disease resistant as well as drought tolerant, and encourages many butterflies and moths to your garden.