By Patricia Jordan
Cyprus, as a small island with its semi-subtropical climate, is not dissimilar to other outposts of the former British Empire, where temperatures varied enormously from place to place and season to season. In the long distant past governments, realising that the (usually) British civil servants would not be able to work in very high summer temperatures, removed to the hills for the summer. Examples of this occurred here, when officials and their entourages moved up to the Troodos, where summer temperatures were more reasonable. In the Indian sub-continent, the government moved en bloc to places like Simla, and the former Malaya was governed from Frasers Hill and the Cameron Highlands. Even abroad, the British love of gardens went with them, and wonderful gardens were created in these outposts.
Today, gardens play such a large therapeutic part of our lives that we still have the urge to create them wherever we lay down our heads. Here, there are no stately homes that share their spaces with us and give us ideas that we can adapt to our own much smaller areas. Many people, who choose to live out their retirement here, don’t realise the temperature changes that can occur within such a small island, with its lack of rainfall for most of the year, and low night temperatures in some areas. What a critical role all this plays in what can be grown successfully! Seaside or mountains gardens and indeed in between, can have such varying temperatures within them that it sometimes difficult to know which plants can survive.
However, some of us don’t have the luxury of moving out of the excessive heat or cold, so we have to plan our gardens for any eventuality. While coastal gardens with their high humidity can support trees like Delonix regia and frangipani and even bananas, it would be difficult to grow them in gardens that are more elevated. Prunus and apple trees need cold winters to produce summer fruits, so they tend to be grown away from the coast, while cherries need the highest elevation of all to produce luscious fruits.
A good yardstick is to look around the area in which you have chosen to live in before planting anything. This will give you a guide as to the likely conditions and temperatures in that area. Winter sunny days usually mean cold nights and in some areas frost. While we can grow plants from sub-tropical places successfully some just don’t like to be cold at all and may suffer as a result. Once you understand all the nuances of the climate in your area, then you can enjoy your gardening and it will no longer be a chore.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN MARCH
March is a great month for getting out into the garden. Plants are sending up new shoots and bulbs are out in force. Echiums are shooting skywards and seedlings pushing through the soil and growing daily. Winter can be shrugged off, as the sun lifts your spirits, as well as making the plants grow and with the extra hour of daylight from the end of the month, there is even more time to spend out there. Deadhead any early bulbs and give them a feed with a balanced fertiliser (something like Growmore 7.7.7), as this is the time that they are making the new flower for next season. Only remove the leaves when they are quite dead!
You can still take cuttings of herbaceous plants and shrubs and they should quickly form roots with the added warmth this month. Any cuttings you took in late autumn or earlier should be showing fibrous new roots through the holes at the bottom of the pots by now. These can be moved into their own 10cm pots now, and as they grow, either into the next size up or directly into the flowerbeds. Remember that each change will halt the growth temporarily, but they will soon start to grow again. It is still possible to transplant any shrubs and plant new ones this month, but hurry as time is running out before the ground will start to dry out.
Summer bulbs should be in the garden centres from now on. Remember that plants like dahlias need lots of water, so if it is in short supply where you are give them a miss. The same goes for Canna lilies, although they are great favourites nowadays and are now available in many flower and leaf colours. Agapanthus, with white or blue flowers, are lovely plants, but it is better to buy them already in pots, as those in packets take ages before they attempt to flower. A smaller plant, Tulbaghia violacea, blooming all summer long, has a slight oniony smell but rather lovely flowers, and there are always gladioli with their upright flowering stems in various bright colours.
You should be able to sow some annual seeds now, as hopefully the ground will have dried out somewhat. It’s no use sowing seeds when the conditions are cold and wet, as they will just rot off. If your garden is sheltered, some annuals should be in flower already. Annuals really don’t like to be moved once they have rooted, so make sure you sow the seeds where you want them to finish up. Sow them in drifts rather than singly, so that there will a mass of colour.
Plants in pots will need some attention after the cold wet winter and the soil may be stale. Take the plant out of the pot if you can do so easily, and check it over. You may need to trim the stems and roots back and replant in fresh soil. If the plant is too large to take out of the pot, then scrape off as much soil as you can, adding fresh soil to the pot on top and around the sides. I always recommend that you plant into a plastic pot before setting it inside an expensive ornamental one. This saves breakages when you come to re-pot, as you just lift out the inner pot. Don’t use potting compost straight from the bag. Not only is it cold and compressed after its long journey from other parts of Europe, but it will be very lumpy as well. So turn it out of the bag and break up all the lumps, letting some air into the mix. If your pots are destined to be out on the veranda or patio all summer, add some slow-release fertiliser, Perlite and water retaining crystals to the mix. Once the plants are settled in and have been watered, then cover the soil with small pebbles or shells to help keep in the moisture.
Polyanthus plants will be in the garden centres now and look so pretty, growing in baskets or tubs, bringing the freshness of spring with their very bright, jewel-like colours. Their name comes from the Greek – poly meaning much or many, and anthus for flowers. They cannot survive our very hot summers though so enjoy them while you can.