By Patricia Jordan
According to a magazine that I read recently, it’s a great year for roses in the UK and the same could be said for Cyprus. I have never seen such wonderful displays of roses in all the village gardens where I live. Tumbling over walls and supports, or assaulting buildings with great vigour, they have given a wonderful display this year. A friend who visited Agros recently, the home of Damascena roses and all the products that can be made from them, reported that there have been so many wonderful blooms there this year that the company have been overwhelmed by the abundance of them. The Rose Festivals have been a blooming success! Apparently, Bulgaria is another country where Damascena roses are grown, as well as Iran, where the rose is highly revered. It is thought that rose petals were first distilled there around 7th century AD. Among the many souks I have visited in different countries at this end of the Med, I have always found huge bins of rose petals and buds in the spice markets, and although ancient in history, their essential oils are still used in many modern day pharmacological processes.
Rosa x damascena is a hybrid rose, a cross between Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata with maybe another rose involved in the parentage. It has a very short flowering season and the petals have to be picked quickly, and by hand. Some attribute their appearances in western gardens to Crusaders bringing them back to England; others give the Romans the credit, while Henry VIII was said to have been given a present of a rose by his physician in 1540. Whichever way they travelled around Europe and the Middle East, their fragrance and beauty are enduring and much loved by all. If you inhale the scent of a damascena rose, you will be able to enjoy those ancient musky perfumes.
Considered the rose of beauty and love, with its heavily fragranced double or single flowers, the damascena rose is greatly admired. This prickly-stemmed shrub can grow to around 2 metres in a sunny spot and flowers early in the season as it dislikes direct hot summer sun. The leaves drop in autumn and their somewhat lanky stems may blow about in winter winds. So reduce them after flowering by a half to avoid this, and always check that the bush is firmly in the ground. Take out some of the old wood each year to encourage new growth and feed with a proprietary rose feed several times a year. Greenflies may feed on the new leaf and stem growths in the spring, and later the flower buds can be targeted by pollen beetles, while rust may appear on the reverse of the leaves, but these nuisances don’t detract from their beauty. With luck and good care, your Damascena bushes may last for 25 years.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN SUMMER
Still on the subject of roses, summer pruning of them is always a matter for discussion. As I only grow Banksia and Damascena roses, this isn’t a problem for me, but for those who grow bush and HT roses, their first flush of flowers here is in May. Then comes a resting period so that a prune after the first flowers have died or been picked seems a good idea. This means the plant is not straining to survive in the summer heat and come the cooler weather in late September and October, you may have many new blooms to welcome.
Along the coastline, trees with frondy leaves like Delonix regia and Albizia julibrissin (used around the parking lots at Larnaca airport not only for the pleasant appearance but because they like the conditions there) are well able to cope with hot and humid conditions. This fast-growing drought-tolerant sub-tropical or tropical tree belongs to the legume family, meaning that it produces its seeds in pods. Found mainly in China and West Asia, it needs heat to grow well but can tolerate some degrees of winter cold. Grown mainly as an ornamental tree, it is also known as the Persian Silk Tree or even the Chinese Silk Tree. The sweetly scented flowers appear in mid-summer and are most unusual having no petals, but clusters of perhaps ten or more long stamens resembling silk threads, hence its common names. They are generally pink or pink and white.
Plumeria (frangipani) grows along the coastline as well, revelling in the humid conditions, but inland these trees will not survive. Members of the Bignoniaceae family, Campsis radicans and Tecomaria capensis, come into their own during the summer months and the latter will flower through to the autumn. A near relative, Pyrostegia, such a useful plant, will start to make flower buds and will later flower during the winter. This is a rampant plant and can cover a wall or shed in no time. Although these trees and climbers can cope with heat and humidity, don’t forget to water them occasionally.
At ground level, my favourite plants, agapanthus, although from hot climes, cannot take our summer sun on their fleshy leaves so are best grown in a slightly shaded spot. Only the very tall Agapanthus africanus were grown here until recently, but now shorter varieties are available, which are much more useful for smaller gardens. They do well in tubs too. Plumbago, another blue-flowered plant and sometimes available with white flowers, needs a haircut after the first flowers have finished and then you may have another show of these lovely flowers later on. Tulbaghias, with their pinky-lilac flowers are out.
I decided to try gladioli again this year after a break of several years and the sword-like growths show promise. I decided to sort the bulbs from the multi-coloured packs into bulb colours. Rather like hyacinths, the skins of bulbs denote the colour of the flower – red hyacinth bulbs usually denote blue or even red flowers, so I am hoping for some good blocks of colour in my beds.
Always water plants in the cool of the day, directing the water at the roots of the plants rather than over the whole plant. In the case of trees and large shrubs, a reminder that the feeding roots are not around the trunk, but between the trunk and the canopy of the tree. If you mulch potted plants, ensure that the soil is wet first, or the dry soil will be sealed in, and the plant may perish!
Save the first cold shower water from the tank in a bucket or watering can and if your shower is in the bath, put the plug in to save the water and use it along with any washing up water to water plants. You may find that this ‘grey’ water will also deal with any insects! However, don’t use grey water for vegetables or salads! Group your potted plants together in the shade during periods when you will be away so that they all can be watered at the same time. Remember that any garden hoses and filled watering cans left out in the sun at this time of year will contain very hot water, which may scald you or the plants, so take care.
Plant of the Month Tradescantia sillamontana AGM
Tradescantia sillamontana, a xerophyte plant with the common names of White Velvet, White Gossamer Plant and Cobweb Spiderwort, is endemic to north eastern Mexico. Xerophyte means a plant that is able to adapt to dry, arid conditions and survive on very little water. In fact, watering should be kept to an absolute minimum as too much can harm the plant and it requires no watering at all in winter. A well-drained gravelly soil along with a feed of low-level nitrogen is ideal. The leaves and stems are completely covered in white hairs, giving it the appearance of a most attractive silver plant. The stems can eventually grow to 30-40cm and as they lengthen, they will become prostrate and layer along the ground. The hot sun in Cyprus can be too strong for this handsome plant and burn the leaves, even in a pot, so choose a well-lit spot, away from bright sunshine.
The result of all this care will be abundant, delicate, pink-petalled flowers in the summer, a wonderful contrast to the silver ovate leaves. Typical of other Tradescantian plants, the flowers appear in the axles of the stems with the same shape of other flowers in that family. Remove dead flower heads regularly to promote more flowers. This may not be the ideal plant in gardens at higher elevations, where winter temperatures drop below 10C but with careful husbandry, it can survive our winter climate. Propagation is by seed or cuttings, by removing the bottom leaves and inserting the cuttings into a pot of prepared gritty compost.