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Gardening: A time to take stock

By Patricia Jordan

Although we are still in the growing season here, it is good to reflect on how well the garden performed this year, despite the lack of any real rain last winter and the very high temperatures during the summer. Lots of reports have come in to me of leaves on trees and shrubs planted on the south side of gardens being burned by the hot sun. This has been an islandwide problem this year, caused by the relentless summer temperatures that we endured. We have had this problem here too and fear for a particularly lovely Photinia ‘Red Robin’ and my favourite Rosa damascenas along the hedge line. I know that they are susceptible to scorch in full sun, but I didn’t expect to lose them altogether! I shall mourn their loss, but I fear these very high summer temperatures may be what we have to expect in the years to come.

On the other hand, at this time of year we can enjoy plants from South Africa, which would be flowering in their summertime. It’s surprising just how many plants that grow here successfully started life down there. I spent the summer finishing off a book I started some time ago called Flowering Plants for Hot Gardens, which should hit the bookshops in time for Christmas. I detailed the background of all the plants and was surprised to see just how many originated from South Africa. In flower at the moment in my garden, I have nerines and Paperwhites, freesias popping through the ground, chasmanthe and zantedeschia (Calla lilies) showing promise, and of course pelargoniums – what would we do without them! Plumbago is flowering away still and the lovely bright orange flowers of Tecoma capensis brighten up a dull corner of the garden, and there are many more!

Those holidaymakers who only visit Cyprus in the summer wouldn’t recognise the verdant verges and fields everywhere now, the result of the first winter rains. Of course, this brings out those devilish native flowers, oxalis, the scourge of many a gardener. How do you get rid of them? It is well nigh impossible, as they have long white roots that go way down in the soil and unless you manage to extricate all of them they will just grow back each season. Come the spring they will fade away, so you may just to have to love them whilst they share their pretty flowers with you.

A new coffee shop has opened in our village and the owner asked if I would like the coffee grounds for my compost heap. He could offer me a drawer full every day! I thought about this, but declined. Coffee grounds have little or no nutriment, but can be used as deterrent against snails if spread around vulnerable plants. However, in the UK it is illegal to use them as a pesticide or deterrent, without approval from the relevant authorities! Meanwhile, I read a report on the BBC that a bio-fuel has been created, by blending oil extracted from coffee grounds and mixing it with diesel. This is to be used on London buses to reduce emissions. Apparently, 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste is produced in London every year and it takes just over 2.55 million cups of coffee to create enough bio-fuel to run a London bus for a year, so drink up folks! Just think how much more is available worldwide, with coffee shops springing up on every street corner, especially in Cyprus!

I remember writing this time last year that poinsettias are not in the top ten favourite Christmas flowers in the UK any more. Talking with Harris Solomou of Solomou Garden Centre recently, he told that they were still firm favourites in Cyprus with their Christmas colours of green and red and he should know, so I think it will be some time before they are out of favour here. I noticed that there were other plants with red flowers on sale like cyclamen, anthuriums and azaleas, so I don’t think that the Christmas colour scheme will change yet awhile. Planters and tubs of plants around a central small evergreen tree, seem to be popular this year, especially for those who don’t have time to plant them up, and pretty wreaths were on show. Huge holly trees were also available, but at over €200, they are rather pricey. They are amazingly drought-tolerant and grow best in a semi-shaded spot with well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

 

WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH

Among all the Christmas preparations do find time to feed your fruit trees as they haven’t been fed since May. This time use 20.10.10 fertiliser and spread it around the root area of the trees, but not next to the trunk, the feeding roots are usually half way between the trunk and the edge of the leaf canopy. The winter rain should water it in for you. If you have picked your olives already, then give the tree a good prune followed by a feed. Some olives, especially the small ones, will not be harvested until January, so leave those for the time being. Now that most leaves have dropped, it is the time to look at your prunus trees and reduce the height if they are too high to crop the fruits easily. Pecans need a severe prune once their leaves have dropped, as well as figs. These leaves can be gathered up and put on your compost heap. Citrus trees lose their leaves all the time, so look for any crossing, diseased or dead branches and remove them. Don’t worry if you are away or too busy just now, as you can still do this job next month.

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You may find some annual flower seedlings starting to push through the earth. If you live in a cold area then they may not survive the winter, so it is always best to have some spare seeds tucked away. Bulbs planted in October may already be showing through the earth, so look out for them when you are weeding. I usually grow Paperwhites in pots, but having heard that they will grow well and flower in the ground, I decided to try this way, with great success! What a pretty sight they are!

While rosemary plants are already in flower, much to the delight of the bees, take the shears over any lavender plants and santolina as well, both of which may be looking rather tired. This will revive the plants and you will be able to look forward to more flowers next year. Leucophyllum frutescens, that lovely desert plant that grows so well here either as a stand-alone shrub or as hedging, had an extra burst of flowers after the first rains, which the bees had a feeding frenzy over, but the later storms brought off all the lovely pink flowers and scattered them around the base like a gorgeous pink carpet. Other plants needing a re-pot or protection from the elements are succulents. Top off their pots with some gravel or pretty stones to help keep them from getting too wet!

 

 

Plant of the Month Euphorbia pulcherrima

This small tree from Southern Mexico and Guatemala, once considered a weed, is not the potted variety called poinsettia that adorns every home worldwide around the festive season but an elegant addition to gardens in tropical or sub-tropical climates. Originally found in tropical forests or wooded ravines, it is now regarded as an invasive escapee in parts of Africa, India and the Canary Islands. The plant was named after Euphorbus, a Greek physician at the Court of King Juba II of Mauretania, who used the milky sap contained within the stems and leaves for medicinal purposes. Beware though, as this same sap may also cause rashes and dermatitis to those who have allergies.

This very attractive tree adds colour to gardens in the northern hemisphere around Christmas time when the bracts show off their vivid scarlet colour. The tiny yellow flowers, called cyathia, encased inside these bracts, seem not to have a purpose and do not attract pollinators. Growth can be around 4 metres in favourable conditions and the branches are stout and hairless. The lobed green leaves have pointed tips on long stalks and can be 18cm long. If a leaf is broken off, sap will exude from the wound, so take care not to get it anywhere near your eyes and always wash hands thoroughly after touching the plants.

Care should also be taken when watering as root or stem rot can occur if too much is given. Neither is the shrub frost tolerant, so choose the planting position carefully. Whiteflies, mealy-bugs, red spider mites and scale insects may cause problems. It is quite rare to see them growing outside, but they are around, if you know where to look for them, usually in warmer coastal gardens.



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