By Patricia Jordan
I had a late spring trip to the United States, to Pennsylvania in fact, where the ‘Groundhog’ which appears in Punxatawney on February 2 each year, had forecast a really long winter and that was exactly what they had! I have to add though that he is not always right! The snow had barely left the ground when we arrived in mid-May, but the weather warmed up, not to Cyprus standards of course, and the trees burst into leaf around three to four weeks behind their usual time. This was to our benefit, as everything was fresh, green and glorious.
Although the spring bulbs were over, the shrubs were wonderful and a relative of our Mediterranean Viburnum tinus, Viburnum opulus Sterile was in gorgeous bloom with huge pom-poms of white flowers. Its common name of ‘Snowball Tree’ is wholly descriptive. Also known as the Guelder Rose, it is able to be grown here between 500 and 1,200m, and although classed as exotic in Cyprus, it is native to southern Europe.
Another tree which I thought worthy was Robinia pseudoacacia, which was in bloom along the highways, among all the other trees, with huge pendulous white flowers reminiscent of wisteria. This very tall tree, a North American origin was introduced into Europe in the 17th century and grows here in Cyprus in abundance up to 1,800 m. It gets its name from the French botanist Jean Robin, a royal gardener to Henry IV of France, and was first planted in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris in 1601. Although too large for a domestic garden, it is certainly a show stopper in the right place and in the spring time you will find it in glorious bloom in the high mountains. Honeysuckle was everywhere, scrambling over hedges and walls and scenting the air with its sweet perfume.
Planted close up to the houses, German style, bright azaleas and rhododendrons were in bloom, both plants thriving in the acidic soil. As their flowers went over, along came big plantings of irises in all their glory. My trips are usually in the autumn, which comes quickly in those parts, so this was a real bonus for me.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN HIGH SUMMER
With temperatures rising rapidly and water in short supply, we can only hope that the few brief summer thunderstorms that we have had recently, which quenched the thirst of the plants in our summer gardens, will continue. Hopefully they will not be as devastating as those in May, which destroyed the fruit crops in the mountains. Any real gardening can wait until cooler weather returns, but it will help plants if you can get out there and dead head them regularly. Do this either very early while it is still cool, or in the evenings after the sun has gone down. I prefer the mornings as it is so fresh then and you can see which plants are suffering or have died and remove them. Water is such a precious commodity that to waste it is a crime. Someone I met in the USA remarked that water is the next oil! I think he is right.
At this time of year plants scarcely grow and it is not a good time to plant anything new if you can avoid it. There are always temptations on the garden centre benches and if you do succumb to buying plants, make sure that they are damp before you bring them home in your hot car and that they are well watered before you plant them later on. Always do any work in the evenings after the sun is off your garden. It is tempting to plant and work in the early morning when everything is relatively bright and rested, but the new plants will have to endure the heat of the day and may not make it through the summer. Lots of plants are looking dusty and going over, but if you have planted lovely bright flowers like zinnias in the borders, they will brighten it up considerably.
Keep the area under plants free of debris from flowers and leaves, as this will stop any water from reaching down to the roots where it does the most good. Either chop them up and put them on your compost heap or take them to the nearest dump. New plants in my garden have a cut-off water bottle dug into the ground behind the plant during the first summer and water is inserted through that. A system that will help fruit trees is called The Israeli Watering System where you set watering nozzles on the irrigation hoses halfway between the trunk of the tree and the leaf canopy. At each irrigation time the water will seep through the ground at those points and the fibrous roots will find their way to this vital source. It is an interesting fact that the skins of citrus fruits are thin when there is plenty of water and temperatures are not too high, while if the summer is hot and long, the pith becomes much thicker to protect the fruit inside.
Lots of bushes will benefit from a trim now, even in the heat of the summer. You can make things easier for yourself by using shears rather than secateurs for this job. Cut back lavenders, rosemarys, and those pretty grey leaved plants with the yellow button flowers called santolinas, which look boring when the flowers have faded to a dull yellow. They need a really good cropping. Not only are you tidying up your flower beds but you are making sure that water is reaching the vital parts of the plant. Gather in achillea and statice flower stems while they are still brightly coloured. If you want to dry them, tie them in bunches and hang them upside down in an airy place until you need them. They are so useful for winter flower arrangements. Collect seeds now and put them into old envelopes or bags, paper not plastic, or they will sweat. Write the name and year on the outside or you may not remember what they are when you come to sow them later on. Some seeds will last for years, as the National Seed Bank proves.
Figs are ripening fast now so check every day and pick any that look as if they are nodding their heads, which is a sign that they are ready to be picked. Vines, which always look so lush even in the height of summer, will have many bunches of grapes hanging down. Check the bunches and remove any fruit that doesn’t look perfect. Remove any of last season’s ripe citrus fruits and let the trees concentrate on the new crops that should be growing rapidly.
Don’t forget your potted plants. They can really suffer in the high heat of a Cypriot summer. Favourites such as pelargoniums can become very congested in the centre, making the right conditions for mealy bugs to infest. Some gardenias can suffer the same fate, so remove any leaves and stems to keep the interior airy and keep checking that there are no tell-tale white spots there. Soapy spray will not remove them, so it is a fingers job or spraying with an insecticide to remove these pests successfully. Gardenias prefer a feed containing Ferticit, as they are acid loving plants. Watch out for lots of different bugs around now like Stink bugs which, if you annoy them, will emit a dreadful stink – hence their name.
Plant of The Month Duranta erecta
Duranta erecta, a large sub-tropical shrub or small tree in the verbenaceae family, which was discovered growing in Florida, Brazil and the Caribbean Islands, is ideal for our Mediterranean gardens. Although it can reach four or five metres in height it is better pruned back to a couple of metres in a domestic garden, where it can be grown as a standard or against a south facing wall. There is also a lower growing variety with white picotee edging on the deep violet flowers, called Sapphire Swirl, making it a good ground-cover plant.
Duranta has many common names such as Sky Flower, Golden Dew Drop or Pigeon Berry, which describe the flowers and berries at various stages. The arching stems carry trails of sky blue flowers on their tips, which are so attractive to butterflies and they have a pretty fragrance as an extra bonus. The flowers mature into little strings of orange berries just like beads, which are great favourites of pigeons and other birds. Take care when handling this plant as the stems have long thorns on their undersides and the berries are toxic to humans if ingested.
Other good features of duranta are that they will grow in sun or part shade and are not too fussy about the soil they grow in, but they will wilt if not watered regularly. Duranta drop their leaves in winter but can tolerate winter chills but not prolonged frosts.