By Patricia Jordan
This year, for the first time in absolutely ages, I am going to miss the TV coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, as I will be in the USA, where their major show in Philadelphia is held in the middle of winter! I have actually been to Chelsea on several occasions. In fact, the most recent time was long before Cyprus Airways went under. You could fly out of here with them early morning and arrive back very early the next morning. It was day trip, and I was able to bring back the newest trends to Cyprus tout suite. Fares were much cheaper then and it was a pleasant day out. The first day of the show is something special when everything is still fresh. The celebs are there in force, preening for the cameras, champagne glass in hand whenever possible, along with the lucky members of the Royal Horticultural Society, who are supposed to be the only ‘public’ allowed in on the first couple of days, having cosseted their much sought after tickets since the beginning January.
Chelsea is the grandest show place for all that’s new in gardening – new accessories and new plants are specially brought on for the show. A new chrysanthemum named for Princess Charlotte was on one of the stands this year. Plants for all seasons are brought together to show just what can be grown. Can you imagine how tense it becomes for the growers as warm weather brings plants on too soon, or the cold weather with night frosts at the beginning of May in the UK this year delayed the opening of flowers. When the RHS brought three shows to Scotland in the 90 s in which I was involved, the weather was so bad one year that a special collection of begonias from Glasgow Botanic Gardens was in grave danger of being totally destroyed. The next year, my own National Collection of Hostas didn’t put on as much growth as we had hoped due to a very cold spring, and on the staging day we were digging up plants from the garden in order to complete the display. Flower Shows are not for the faint hearted and yet some growers spend the summer travelling around from show to show.
It is always a disappointment for first time visitors that there are no plants for sale, only peripherals. Plants can be ordered for dispatch later, but not until the last day, when everything is looking a trifle jaded, are the exhibits sold off. The show gardens are something else and cost so much these days that they are always sponsored. It’s great to see what can be achieved starting from a blank sheet – several years on the drawing board and three weeks of planting out. Water features, with tumbling torrents over mountain rocks and fountains and waterspouts supplied by endless of supplies of water, are not for the likes of gardeners in Cyprus, but some ideas can be adapted to fit in here. The Chelsea atmosphere is the thing that inspires. Sitting on the grass with a glass of Pimms in your hand, listening to the band and watching the gardening world go by, is perhaps what you go for!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
MANY of the larger trees have flowered by now and are casting their petals and seedpods everywhere. My under gardener dislikes the four jacaranda trees I planted here in year 3 and threatens to cut them down each year. I love them for the beautiful colour that they bring to the garden, as we peer down onto them from the upstairs veranda. Other large trees such as grevillea are also messy, but I wouldn’t plant them in a domestic garden, as they can grow far too tall. Here we are too far above the coastline humidity to grow favourites such as frangipani and Delonix regia, although I admire both the trees, which bring back memories of our early married life in the tropics. The flowers of the Caesalpinia gilliesii tree with its interesting yellow flowers and long red stamens are Cypriot favourites and grow well. Take off the heavy seed heads as they appear or they will weigh down the thin branches and the ripe seeds will ping off all over the garden and germinate quickly everywhere!
Irises should be finished by now and their leaves turning brown. Now is the time to cut down the leaves to about 10cm, pulling the outer ones off along the rhizome. This allows the rhizome to be baked in the sun for the rest of the summer, and hopefully give you flowers next year. Lever the rhizomes up using a garden fork and remove any rotted bits. Split up the rhizome and you may get several pieces from each one. Replant facing into the sun and feed with a slow release fertiliser or bone meal if you can get some.
Many South African flowers that we admire so much are coming into their own now, with hemerocallis and tulbaghias to the fore. I grow my agapanthus in pots, making it possible to move them into a shady spot when it gets too hot. Despite the fact that they too come from South Africa and grow abundantly in Australia and New Zealand they really do not like to be in full sun in the midst of our summers, when their fleshy strap-like leaves can easily burn. Feeding them after flowering and again in the spring, will encourage lots of new flowers to appear next time round. A fertiliser with a low first number is what you are looking for here or you will get lots of leaves and no flowers. Dead heading is essential as the plant can then concentrate on making the flower for next year, instead of seeds, which take such a long time to come to anything.
Now that the foliage of freesias had turned brown, dig them up too. The bulbs can become congested and all the little bulblets will only produce foliage for the first few years. Overcrowding causes them to flop over in the beds, as the growth is very fast in the spring. Grade the bulbs and throw away any tiny ones, while keeping the remainder in a dry place until it is time to replant in the autumn, when the soil becomes moist. The bigger bulbs will give sturdier flower stems and better flowers next spring.
The summer jasmines are coming into their own now. The first is usually Trachelospermum jasminoides, whose delightful perfume will enchant you as you walk around your garden. Commonly known as ‘Star’ jasmine due to the shape of its flowers, this beauty should be planted near to open windows or doorways so that the perfume will drift indoors. Flowers of Jasminum grandiflorum appear on new growth, so having pruned them hard back in early spring, the flowers that appear on the new growth will give much pleasure in the coming months.
Plant of the Month Chasmanthe floribunda
THIS striking plant, often misnamed as Monbretia in Cyprus, is a member of the Iridaceae family, along with freesias, gladioli and crocuses. This particular part of the iris family, Ixiodeae, mostly originated in Africa. Known sometimes as the African Flag, Chasmanthe has a flattish corm, which can be as large as 6cm in diameter. Once planted, they dislike disturbance, although as the clumps expand they need to be dug up and replanted again after a few years. This will result in a lack of flowers until the corms have settled down again, usually after a year. The appearance of tubular orange flowers on the tall stems occurs in early spring and once the temperatures start to rise above 30C the plant starts to fade and the grass-like leaves with their distinctive central fold, begin to turn brown. While they should be cut down here when that happens, in the wild they are usually burned off in veldt fires. In our Cypriot gardens, the corms are tucked down in the earth, thus surviving the great heat of summer.
The seeds that form along the stems are usually very fertile, and will germinate where they drop around the plant during the next spring, although it will take some years before they produce flowers. When lifting the corms to replant you will notice a net-like casing around them and a hardened base plate. Carefully lever these off before replanting. All chasmanthe plants like to grow in free draining sandy soil in full sun, so replant any small corms and new seedlings in the same conditions, away from the main grouping, until they are several years old, when they may flower. Once the autumn rains begin to fall, the new shoots will quickly appear to start the cycle over again. As chasmanthe will eventually reach over a metre in height, staking the group then will keep them upright.