By Patricia Jordan
WAY back in the middle of the summer last year, I was approached by a local travel company to see if I would allow some Austrian gardeners to visit my garden as part of a tour this spring. I am always delighted to show off what I can grow successfully here, so was pleased to say yes.
I decided to plant up some of my beds with what I thought would be pleasing displays of spring bulbs, including a bed of blue camassia among yellow species tulips and I watched the bulbs gently thrust through the soil with great anticipation. I carefully tended and fed other beds, including my huge fail-safe clump of calla lilies and the iris beds, planted out and protected from the neighbourhood cats by netting. Last autumn, having discarded all the tiny freesia bulbs, I planted over 150 of the larger ones for a pleasing and highly scented display of them in spring. After the coldest winter we have had for a long time, and with minimal rain, lots of our showy plants were zapped and even now are only just beginning to recover. Many of the bulbs didn’t thrive, as the rain couldn’t penetrate the dry soil to encourage them to grow into their real beauty. True, the freesias were wonderful but due to the high temperatures at the end of March and early April, were well over before the visitors arrived. Quelle domage! My fail-safe callas, never known to fail before, had not one single flower this year and the aforementioned heat caused their dramatic leaves to tumble in on themselves. One night when we had very low night temperatures, the new growth on the hibiscus hedge, which my husband guards with his life against the mealy bugs, succumbed to the frost and was zapped, as was the bougainvillea that adorns the front of the veranda railing. The early heat brought out the wisteria flowers and the Banksia roses but by the time the visitors arrived, they were finished. However, the new soft green leaf growth clung to the railings in their place.
This all sounds like doom and gloom but there were those plants that gave of their best, including the various succulents that I grow. The many plants of Aloe vera were proudly showing off their tall candles of yellow flowers everywhere. There was still a trace of the tiny blue echium flowers, much loved by butterflies and bees, and the polygala along the front path was giving of its best. Carpets of osteopermums were being visited by many Cyprus Meadow Brown butterflies as they darted about from plant to plant gorging on the pretty flowers.
What’s the Scottish saying again? ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley’.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Now that the weather is getting warmer, and we have had temperatures in the mid 30s already, ants and other pesky insects start to appear in the garden. You may notice little piles of fine soil around holes, which shows just where the ants are nesting. Pouring boiling water down the hole may solve that. They are a real nuisance when they get into flowerpots. The best way to get round that problem is to cover the drainage holes with a piece of old nylon stocking or fine net before you fill the pot with compost. Later on you may find them invading your kitchen cupboards and we have found a good way of dealing with those. Mix together 1 tablespoon Peanut Butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon BORAX (from a Pharmacy) with 1 teaspoon water. Spread spoonfuls on pieces of card and place them where the ants are invading. You may be alarmed by the number of ants that are attracted to this mix, but their greed means their demise, as they scamper off with pieces back to the nest!
Other pests are greenflies and blackflies that may appear on rose stems and new citrus leaves and these are reasonably simple to cope with. Deal with them as soon as they appear, as I think I have mentioned before that greenfly are born pregnant – so before long there will be millions of them among your plants. A spray of water with a drop of washing up liquid added to it should kill them off before they disfigure the leaves. As the season progresses then along will come the mealy bugs and scale insects to join the green flies, all of which we are now dealing with by using Neem Azal-T/S. This is a biological treatment so reasonably safe, but do protect your eyes and skin while using it and wash your hands afterwards.
In case you can’t read the Greek instructions for Neem Azal-T/S here are the dosages for the various pests. Aphids -30-50ml in 10 litres of water when pests are first seen. Repeat after 10-14 days if necessary. Mealy Bugs –50ml in 10 litres of water. If a high number of pests are seen, spray at 7-10 day intervals, several times. The same dosage may be used for leaf miners. Remember to spray under the leaves and stems as well. Among other bugs that may infest your garden this month are aphids called Cinara cupressivora, which infest hedges or topiaries shaped from conifers. In fact, they can cause such die-back that you could lose the tree or hedge altogether. You could try Neem Azal for this as well.
After all that early heat, there’s a lot of dead heading to do. If your osteospermums, pansies and other early flowerers are looking rather bedraggled, cut them back and feed with a good all round fertiliser and they should recover and bloom again. Don’t let your plants go to seed or they will die off quickly. Pruning the dead heads of roses down to an outward facing stem each time they die off and feeding them every three or four weeks with a good rose feed during the season, will ensure lots more flowers. Dig those weeds out before they can make seeds as well, or they will spread everywhere!
In order to sit back and enjoy the garden later on there are still some jobs to be done. Stake up any tall plants in case they are blown over in the summer breezes. Winds from now on will be warm, which can have a drying effect on plants, so getting out there with a watering can in the early morning or evening will help revive them, once the wind has died down.
Pot plants, which should have had the soil refreshed by now or even re-potted, benefit from regular feeding. Remember that even decent potting composts have only a limited amount of nutriments in them – six weeks at most – so if plants are going to be left in pots all summer long, then they will need something extra in the form of a slow release fertiliser. Most plant foods have feeding recommendations on them and potted plants can easily be fed with a soluble feed like ‘One’, mixed into the water in the can.
Plant of the Month Oenothera speciosa
This very showy ground cover plant originally from many of the southern states of the USA and Mexico, Oenothera speciosa (speciosa means showy) is a plant you will like to have in your garden or you will hate it, as it tends to take over and spread everywhere. With the common name of ‘Mexican Evening Primrose’, it is not surprising to learn that one of the countries that it grows in is Mexico, while another name for it is ‘Pink Ladies’. Whichever name you prefer, it is a most attractive member of the Evening Primrose family, showing off its pretty pink flowers during the day as well as during the evening. Growing only to about 50cm in height, its place is at the front of the border as taller plants will mask its charm. In the wild, it grows in woodland, roadsides and areas where the soil has been disturbed. It is drought resistant preferring loose, free-draining soil in full sun, where it will colonise into large clumps. Nevertheless, it is an eye-catching plant and when in full flower you can forgive its roaming habits!
The fragrant blooms are fully two inches across and the softest shell-pink colour with some yellowing at the throat. Insects love them, especially the little Cyprus Meadow Brown Butterflies, early on in the season. Although most other evening primroses tend to bloom during the evening and night, this little beauty beats them all by flowering all day long over a very long period. Propagation is usually by rooted plantlets carefully removed from the main plant in the spring. They should be watered in well, until they are established. After the first year, you can reduce the size of the clump to the size you would like it to be!