By Patricia Jordan
In my book The Cyprus Orchard, I included a quote from John Tradescant, the great plant hunter, which reads – ‘Even a King new come to his Kingdom cannot hunt deer and eat fruit in the same month. They each have their season’.
How true that is. Although many fruits from around the world are available throughout the year in shops nowadays, they each have their seasons for us to be able to harvest them from our own gardens. We have been eating locally grown strawberries since last November, but even now, they lack the sweetness they will have later on from the warming sun. Fruit trees each take their turn to flower. The almonds are usually the first and the almond harvest depends on whether we have rain or high winds when the pretty blossoms are on the trees early on in the year, and if any honeybees are about. I am always surprised that we have any nuts at all in our garden, as we only have one tree but there are many others close by, with which our flowers are cross pollinated. In almond orchards in parts of the USA, where the local economy depends on high harvests, thousands of hives are imported into the region when the trees are in bloom to achieve a high pollination rate.
March turned out to be a very windy month although we had little rain to fill the dams. Normally by this time, the fields are beginning to turn golden as the grain crops ripen but the lack of rain during our wet season has produced stunted growth in many areas. In gardens too, growth has been erratic – cold weather and lack of deep rain caused some bulbs not to produce flowers this year. So perhaps it is time to prepare for a hot dry summer by checking irrigation pipes, especially if they were installed some time ago, as the nozzles may be furred up with lime scale and need cleaning. Remove them and after soaking them overnight in malt vinegar, scrub them with a toothbrush kept especially for the purpose, or if they are past their best, just replace them with new ones. Check that spaghetti feeders and their supports are still upright in your borders after the March gales – they will only flood the beds when you turn on the water, if they are left lying on the ground.
With all the talk about nasty mosquitoes invading parts of the world, do a check around your garden for any stagnant water lying in pots, saucers or watering cans. Mosquitoes breed in a very quick cycle and female mosquitoes can lay up to 100 eggs at a time, which will hatch into larvae within 24 to 48 hours. The larvae soon grow and float on the surface of stagnant water. After seven to ten days they emerge as adult flies and whilst the females feast on animal blood, the males feed on plant nectar and die shortly after mating. Larvae cannot survive without water, so make sure there you don’t make a habitat for them. People who live near the Salt Lakes are particularly vulnerable to mosquito bites but the local authorities usually spray the areas to deal with them. When we lived in Singapore many years ago, Army Standing Orders were that fire buckets containing water should be changed every 7 days to rid them of any mosquito larvae.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Plant up hanging baskets now or if you don’t have the facilities to do that, then garden centres have a wonderful choice. Hanging baskets is a misnomer these days, as most are made of plastic. Previously they were made of wire, which would be padded or lined with moss or a thick material into which you could make holes to insert small plantlets. Of course, these open baskets would leak when wet, so if you don’t want a mess, then the plastic ones would suit you best. They sometimes come with a saucer attached to the bottom to catch any drips. Watering baskets can be a problem especially if they are hanging high up. Lift them down carefully and dunk them in a large bucket or bowl of water is one way to do this job. Remember that they can double in weight when watered, so ensure that the hook or rail it is hanging from is secure and not likely to bring the support down. There is such a choice of plants that will grow in hanging baskets including mixing and matching different varieties. Ivy-leaved pelargoniums look amazing as they tumble over the sides of the basket and petunias in various colours make a pretty picture.
Roses greatly benefit from a regular feeding routine from now if they are to flower all summer long. Rosa banksia is looking gorgeous at the moment, and is a trouble free rose. Others, like the sweetly smelling Rosa damascena sometimes have rust on the reverse of their leaves. Hollyhocks also suffer from this. Try this remedy to deal with this problem. Add 1 tablespoon of Baking Soda and 1/2 tablespoon oil to a cup of warm water and stir until the soda dissolves. Mix into just under 2 quarts of warm water and after removing the worst affected leaves and spray the affected plants in the morning, before the sun is too hot. There are many fuchsia plants around this year as they become more popular. However they cannot cope with our summers, unless grown at higher elevations, where it is not as warm and humid as the coastal strip. You would be lucky to keep hydrangeas going as well, as they take a rest in the high summer too.
Don’t sow any more seeds or take cuttings from now on until the autumn. The resulting plantlets will struggle to cope with the increasing heat. Annual plants show off their best in the spring and fade and die as soon as the temperatures soar. This is why you need shrubs and perennial plants to fill the borders when the annuals have finished. You can of course plant summer salads, tomatoes and sweet corn now that the danger of low night temperatures has passed. Sweet corn plugs should be planted in grids, as they are wind pollinated.
Many sweet peas are in flower already. If yours are just coming into growth and have three sets of leaves then pinch out the growth point, which will make the plants send out new shoots from the base area. I love growing heritage sweet peas like ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Matucana’, which are very close to the wild sweet pea and probably brought here by British gardeners at the end of the 1800s. The dainty, highly scented flowers of crimson and violet are delightful. All sweet peas like to grow in rich, well-drained soil.
Now that the weather is relatively warm, watch out for green flies and black flies on your plants. If you grow the silver leaved artemisia you may find swarms of black flies have landed on the stems. Early roses are often affected by greenflies, and they may be found on some citrus leaves as well. If you are not squeamish then you can take them off with a rubber-gloved hand or use a soapy water spray. Obstinate pests may need chemical treatments, which I am always reluctant to use if there is an alternative. If you would like to receive my leaflet on natural remedies, email me on [email protected] and I will get one off to you.
Plant of the Month Eremophila nivea
Common Names Silky Eremophila, Emu Plant
Eremophila nivea is a small shrub in the Scrophulariaceae family, growing to about 1-1.5 metres high and originally from arid areas of Australia. The very hairy stems and foliage give the plant a distinctive silvery appearance, almost white, hence the descriptive name, nivea. The abundant soft, lance-shaped, narrow leaves grow to about 30mm long. The tubular mauve or lilac attractive flowers are about 20mm long and attract bees and butterflies. Flowers appear from late winter to early summer.
This plant, commonly known as Silky Eremophila or Emu Plant, is most suitable for dry gardens, which have very little, if any, humidity, so it is best grown in gardens above the coastal plain, as it also dislikes salty conditions. Eremophila enjoys full sunlight and can endure temperatures down to minus 7C. Ideal growing conditions are in an open sunny position in well-drained soil, as fungal rot can occur in wet soil. Once settled into a garden or dry bank, the plant requires little, if any, watering. It looks very delicate but in fact is extremely hardy. Seeds are likely not to germinate and cuttings can rot off in the usual misting conditions that most plants need to grow roots. The only reliable way is to graft stems onto Myoporum rootstock, and that is something for the experts!