By Patricia Jordan
As one hears of relatives and acquaintances passing, the catch-phrase around nowadays ‘Live for the Day’ comes to mind. Unfortunately, we gardeners can’t adopt that attitude, as we are always looking ahead and planning the garden for the season yet to come. Autumn, Fall, Herbst or Harvest – whatever you call it, the season of fruits and mellow fruitfulness is here again. In many parts of the northern hemisphere as daylight hours become shorter and night temperatures start to drop, leaves begin to change colour and the first winds and heavy rains of autumn will cause them to flutter down and rest in a thick rusty-golden carpet on the ground below.
With cooling temperatures here and hopefully some rain in the weeks ahead, we can look forward to planting spring flowering bulbs and some winter veggies. I always maintain that October is the start of the gardening year here in Cyprus. New green growth appears on stems that had seemed to be dead and hard to the touch, and tiny shoots appear from the dry soil with the promise of flowers to come. Seedlings from annual plants like cerinthe and nigella, which dropped their seeds last spring, may start to show in your borders. The plants from these seeds, which have already acclimatised to the growing conditions here, will be more resilient to the vagaries of the winter weather and flower much earlier in springtime than seeds sown now, which perhaps were bought from a local garden centre. With that in mind, give the seeds in the packets a brief winter in your fridge before sowing. You will notice a big difference in germination. Molucella laevis, commonly known as ‘Bells of Ireland’ is a particular plant in mind here, and even though it is a native of Turkey and Syria, it still needs that little extra chill.
Pyracantha bushes will be full of colour now, a result of the abundant flowers in spring. I am always being asked when to prune this plant and it is really up to you to decide. In theory, you should cut back pyracantha immediately after it has finished flowering in spring, removing all the old shoots to encourage new growth for the following spring. If you don’t do this it can get seriously out of hand. However, if you prune then, you won’t have any glorious berries for the birds to feast on in October. Spring or autumn pruning? You have to make that decision yourself!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Make sure that the soil in your veggie beds is dug over and include any home-made compost to enrich it. Choose your plugs with care – don’t buy any that have dried up on the garden centre benches or are very leggy. Select compact plugs even if they are on the small side. Before you plant them ensure that the soil is moist. If you like to grow broad beans soak the seeds overnight and plant them directly into the soil or into small pots, whichever you prefer. Remember to leave a good space between the rows as they will quickly grow and may need staking later on. Watch out for Cabbage White Butterflies which will alight on your brassicas (cabbage family) and lay their eggs on the leaves. The caterpillars that emerge will have voracious appetites and your greens will be in tatters!
Start to trim the burned leaves on bushes and hedges as new growth appears. Once the heavy seed pods of Caesalpinia gilliesii have been removed, prune back down the stem and always water well after any drastic action. This is the time of year to split any over-large herbaceous plants (those that come up every year) and get rid of any dying bits in the centre. This way you always have the freshest part of the plant around. While you do this, also take off any dried stems that may injure you during the winter. However, leave planting new trees and big shrubs for a while yet until the ground is thoroughly wet.
There is a weather window here in which to take cuttings of plants and because the compost is still warm, they will make roots quickly. It is far easier to keep cuttings going through our winter than wait for the spring, when the young plants will have to endure a hot summer shortly afterwards.
By now the spring flowering bulbs will be in the garden centres. Many of them come loose these days so take along some Post-it labels on which to write their names on the bags, so that you don’t get them muddled up. Check for mildew or softness and choose only firm bulbs. You must wait for the ground to be damp before planting or the bulbs will not make roots. As a general rule, plant bulbs 2-3 times their height, but some bulbs like amaryllis and Paperwhites like to have their heads and shoulders above the soil. I always dig up my freesia bed after all the leaves have died down and save all the biggest bulbs to replant. Daffodils and hyacinths can grow on for several years but as time goes by they will reduce in size. Tulips will only give of their best in the first year, despite your best efforts and they are often grown in tubs because of this. Small bulbs like muscari have very dainty blue flowers, but reproduce themselves everywhere, so beware! Before long, tiny cyclamen leaves will be appearing in shaded areas to charm us as we approach winter. Many are natives of this end of the Mediterranean and have been tucked away from the heat all summer, to emerge and give us cheer in the coming months.
Pecans nuts are ready for picking, so watch out for local crows that know when the outer pods will burst open and they can wrench the juicy nuts from inside. We have no nuts here this year, though. Our tree cropped so heavily last year that it is having a rest this time round. This sometimes happens with other fruiting trees as well. The best way to combat this is to remove some of the fruits early on, to allow the others to mature. At least we are saved from the crows this year!
Collect up any leaves from underneath plants and bushes and if they are free from bugs and then pop then into your compost bin as a dry layer. I use plastic dustbins with holes drilled into the sides and bottom to allow for any excess liquid to escape, otherwise I would have a very soggy and smelly mess inside. I keep my compost bins going all year round with veggie and fruit leavings. I have mentioned before that any dry layers, which are essential, are now composed of our private shredded papers. It is necessary however, whether you use bins or heaps, that the contents are rotated often so that the compost doesn’t harden and become useless smelly garbage. Three bins are ideal – one being filled, one ‘cooking’ and one ready for use.
Potted Chrysanthemums, known as ‘Pot Mums’ are available now to brighten up the autumn borders. They come in such wonderful colours and grow well in pots if you do not have a garden. They may even survive winter and continue to give you pleasure later on. Other winter hardy plants include heathers, which are available in various colours and are quite robust. Petunias are year round plants brightening up a veranda or pots and if they are regularly dead headed, will last for ages.
Plant of the Month Albuca nelsonii
These perennial bulbs have the common name of Slime Lily and yet they are such a wonderful attraction in our spring gardens. Why such an awful common name? – I can only think it is because the leaves are sappy and become slimy when they are dying off. Albuca belong to the Aparagaceae family, in a sub-family division called Scilloideae ,whose plants are found in countries with Mediterranean climates including South Africa, Central Asia and South America. There are quite a few species of Albuca available, but Albuca nelsonii, named after a British nurseryman who first collected the species, is the only one available in Cyprus as far as I am aware. The attractive white-striped green blooms, grown on long stems which can grow to 60-120 cm above the leaves, make good cut flowers and are sometimes night scented. Later, their shiny black seeds are encased in a round or oval capsule. Propagation is by off shoots from the mother plant or seeds.
Albuca nelsonii grow well in dry shade rockeries as well as in pots, although they may become pot bound after a time. The bulbs are usually planted with their shoulders exposed, rather like Hippeastrum bulbs, and may be frosted in very high elevations, so best grown not above 300 metres elevation. An easy bulb to grow, with wonderful flowers to admire.