With the arrival of May expect the riot of colours in your garden to continue
Once May arrives most of the hard graft in the garden has been done and although there are a few jobs still to complete, they should not be as onerous as those in the mad rush of spring! It is all so glorious now and the air is still full of fragrance from the citrus trees, humming with bees among the flowers, as they go about their work. High above them, the dainty lilac flowers of the melia tree gently wave in the breezes, while their stunning blooms also perfume the air. It’s a pity about the resulting yellow fruits, which hang from the branches for the rest of the year. The birds will not touch them because of their narcotic properties, but in the days before fridges, melia leaves were used to line food cabinets, because of their insect repellent properties.
Jacarandas are always the last deciduous trees to lose their leaves and the new ones don’t appear until mid-April, later than other trees. Those that haven’t been watered during the winter (other than by rain) will have flowers first, while those that were cosseted, will have their leaves first, and then the flowers. If they are reluctant to flower then the old remedy of giving the trunk a whack might chivvy them along! When in full flower, their lilac panicles shower petals downwards onto the garden below, about which my under-gardener complains every year! Sweet peas scramble up posts and fences and clamour to be brought indoors to be enjoyed there. Unlike those grown in northern Europe, their season here is short, so enjoy them while you can.
For me May means the start of the main flower shows in the UK, Chelsea being the most prestigious of course. Having participated in many flower shows I know the anguish that the growers go through, trying to get the flowers to perfection for just a few days. Some of them open too quickly, while others drag along and you wonder if they will ever open in time. Plants react to being in marquees quite differently from growing outside, so some may wilt by the time the show opens, but there are usually substitutes behind the scenes to make quick replacements. For the hobby gardener this would take most of the fun out of gardening, but if you are a commercial grower and your livelihood depends on gaining acclaim with your exhibit, there is so much status to be obtained from winning a Gold Medal for a perfect display!
Are flower shows what gardening is all about? To me, they are rather like those old Dutch-Flemish paintings featuring flowers grown by Dutch nurserymen at different times of the year, but painted in a vase together. Every plant should have its season and in your garden, you can enjoy them at leisure, as they show off their flowers in turn. When they fade, others naturally come into flower to take their place, which is as it should be. The real joy of gardening is the anticipation of what comes next.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
There is one major job left to do before you can relax completely, and that is to give the fruit and nut trees their last feed until December. 20.0.0 fertiliser is impossible to buy now, so use 20.10.10 and scatter 900g around the feeding area of large trees and 300g for smaller ones. Solomou Gardens is selling bags of sheep manure, which I understand older Cypriot gardeners prefer, but a word of warning about using it. Try not to breathe in the dust or you may have respiratory problems!
With all the attractive new foliage around, green flies and black flies appear daily and may descend upon your trees with a vengeance. Later on that other menace the Asian Citrus Leaf Miner will appear. A tiny moth lays its egg on the leaf, which when hatched, burrows its way inside, distorting it. Spraying the leaf at this point will not kill the grub, as it is secure inside. The old remedies, lighting fires under the trees to deter the moths, hanging mothballs among the branches or spraying with human urine are not great deterrents either. My under-gardener suggests that squeezing the grub inside the leaf before it gets a chance to mature, is a more effective method.
‘Peach Leaf Curl’ when the leaves become distorted and blistered may start to appear. This will cause the leaves to fall prematurely and may mean that the fruit set is poor. The treatment is usually spraying the leaves with a copper-based fungicide mixed in water, as the flower buds start to swell, and then again two weeks later as long as the flowers haven’t opened. If you have had this problem before, then it might be an idea to spray again in the autumn. Take care when spraying and wear eye protection and gloves, and wash skin thoroughly afterwards. It’s lovely to be able to pick fresh fruit straight from the tree, but there are many problems along the way.
Weeding and deadheading among the flower beds are ongoing jobs and osteospermum flower heads especially go over almost every day. They have been flowering for such a long time that eventually some of the plants become weakened and straggly, so look for new growth towards the bottom of the stems and cut back to there. This will give them a new lease of life and you may get some new flowers appearing before it becomes too hot.
Carissa and plumbago flowers will be emerging now and as they come into bloom, and as the flowers on rosemary and lavender bushes continue to go over, they may need a trim to remove the dead heads. If you have grown those bright yellow-flowered shrubs that herald spring here, like medicago and winter jasmine, now is the time to prune them back. Topiaries, which are rather expensive items due to the time it takes to make them attractive, may also need a trim at this time. I know that I said that most major jobs should have been completed by now, but by doing this trimming you will make the garden more attractive.
Tomato and lettuce plugs are readily available in garden centres, so just buy a few at a time or you will have a glut of produce all at once. Leave a couple of weeks between each planting. There is such a choice of plugs these days that you can replant at any time of the year. It certainly removes the hit and miss that comes with seed sowing. Some veggies like carrots, beetroot, peas and beans still have to be sown straight into the ground though. They need to be thinned out, rather like annual flowers, as that will allow the strongest to grow to maturity. I have tried runner beans, which are my favourite vegetables twice, and managed to get one crop each time. However, runner beans, originally introduced into Europe for their flowers and not the beans, need deep trenching and lots of water. They cannot cope with temperatures above 28C, so unless you can get them started off in early spring, when they may not like the colder weather, you will have to make do with the frozen variety!
Plant of the Month: Moluccella laevis
This spring and early summer flowering annual, a member of the mint family, is an ideal plant to grow in our Cypriot gardens. Do not be misled by its common name of Bells of Ireland, as it was originally found growing at this end of the Mediterranean – Turkey, Syria and the Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea), and a long way from Ireland! It is thought that the common name came about because of the green calyces (sepals), which surround the tiny white flowers, reminiscent of green Irish gardens.
Used extensively by florists for its longevity in floral displays, this is also a good border plant. Beware of the thorny foliage though, as some people can have allergic reactions to being pricked. If the stems are to be used in floral art, it is better to remove the leaves. Moluccella is equally attractive when dried, when it turns a light beige colour. The small number of tiny seeds, tucked deep down in the dried calyces, are awkward to remove and sometimes very slow to germinate. Try putting the seeds into the fridge or freezer for a few days before sowing, as this can sometimes stimulate them into growth.
The upright and sometimes branching stems can reach upwards of one metre in ideal conditions of well-drained, fertile soil, but they are not fussy at all about the soil content. While they may grow well in a sunny spot in northern Europe, some shade in the hottest part of the day is preferable in our summer gardens. These plants do not like humidity at all, so are best grown away from the coast.