Gardening with Patricia Jordan
As the year fades away I would like to share some of the successes and failures in my garden this year. Winter was not as cold as it can be here in Mosfiloti, with the result that I had another wonderful show of freesias in early spring. I think this is because after digging them up once the foliage has died down, I replanted only the largest bulbs, plus some new ones bought in the autumn. The tiny ones I scattered around the wild banks and areas of the garden where in the fullness of time they will mature and bloom.
Annuals started to push up early, especially those from the previous year’s seeds dropped haphazardly where they grew before another wonderful show of Flanders Poppies revealed themselves in the early spring. Alyogyne huegelii (Australian hibiscus) with pretty mauve flowers in the top garden caught the attention of visitors, but the spring show-stopper this year was the wisteria wrapped around our upstairs veranda, now ten years old and well worth the wait. This display caused passersby to stop and drink in the wonderful perfume that drifted everywhere on the spring breezes. Banksia roses started to flower really early and even though ours has been in the garden for around 16 or 17 years it never fails to delight me. Albuca nelsonii, a new plant to me and bought the previous year to see how it fared in our climate, exceeded all expectations with it’s interesting chincherinchee-like flowers, so I bought some more to go on my dry bank, as they like these conditions and are also eminently suitable for gardens with Mediterranean climates.
The now regular late April heatwave caused many early plants to go over quickly and this is where those valuable shrubs like plumbago, hibiscus and lantana come into their own.
Bougainvilleas, the staple of many a Cypriot garden, grew to enormous heights again, despite being pruned back every late winter by my brave husband, with arms covered against the many thorns out to damage him. This annual pruning is necessary when yearly growth can be up to 10 metres. Oenothera speciosa is under-planted under one in the orchard and never fails to be admired in late spring.
After the usual hot summer where temperatures this year didn’t exceed 40C, although my new HT roses all demised it was a delight to welcome autumn flowering bulbs like Sternbergia lutea and Nerine bowdenii for their freshness. The best was yet to come in that the displays of Lycianthes and Leucophyllum frutescens encouraged by the first autumnal rains exceeded anything else so far. It was far too dangerous to get near to the latter for the hundreds of bees, head down in the flowers and eventually when they had had their fill, the pretty blossoms dropped to the ground making a mirror image carpet underneath! Just a heavy mist or watering from a hose or even rain will cause them to burst into flower several times a year. This is a plant well worth growing in our normally dry gardens. The bush or small tree formerly known as Blue Potato Vine, now Lycianthes rantonnettii is still full of delicate violet-blue flowers and the perfume should be bottled. This has delighted me in the end months of the year.
I had some losses of new shrubs like buddleja, bought this spring, which didn’t flourish. I grew them from seed years ago, but those are long gone. I have tried Pakistani Nights (Cestrum nocturnum) and Hibiscus mutabilis, the changeable rose, on several occasions, but have now accepted that at 300 metres elevation there are certain plants that will not grow here. Besides which there is little or no humidity that one would find in coastal regions. It takes a while to learn just what your garden will grow, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment once in a while.
What to do in the garden this month
Feeding your fruit and nut trees is top priority this month. They need a fertiliser that will feed everything and hopefully the winter rains will wash it all into the roots for you. Mature trees need 900g of 20.10.10 fertiliser (3 medium mugfuls), while young trees need 300g and the fertiliser will nourish the roots, fruits and leaves of the trees. If you have small trees in pots then use a liquid fertiliser. If you would like an up-to-date Feeding and Pruning Chart, you can download it from my website (www.gardenclubofcyprus.com).
Choose a still day if you feel you must spray your fruit trees so that the spray is not blown everywhere. If you don’t like to use a chemical spray, then hang those sticky cards tucked in among the branches. Mediterranean fruit flies will be about now that the fruits are ripening with the skins much softer for them to probe and lay their eggs inside, although lemons and limes are usually safe.
Our other enemy the snails will be out in force after any rain and I have discovered many laying eggs in my flower beds. They make a little hole in the ground and lay the eggs into that. The eggs incubate after six weeks or so when dozens of tiny snails are released into the garden, born with voracious appetites. I read somewhere that if you can’t bear to kill snails you must throw or take them at least 100 metres away from your garden or they will come back, such is their homing instinct.
Prune hedges and shrubs while the new growth is fresh. Topiaries, so fashionable nowadays, can easily lose their shape. They are expensive to buy, so watch them carefully and snip out any rogue growth. Skimmias are generally available for sale at this time of year as pot plants, but they do not transfer well into the garden.
Early spring flowering bulbs will be surging ahead especially in areas where the winter is mild and paperwhites, should be giving off their lovely perfumes as well as any early narcissus. In higher elevations care should be taken with Calla lilies, which have been showing above ground since early November in some parts as they could be frosted in low night temperatures. My favourite nerines are showing their bright pink flowers now. I wait all year for their dazzling flowers to appear. I also enjoy the beautifully marked leaves of all my tiny cyclamen plants, each one so different from its neighbour.
Shops and garden centres will be full of poinsettias this month although they are not everyone’s favourite Christmas plant. Fast falling out of flavour with some gardeners they are still very popular here and do bring some Christmas cheer with their bright festive colours. When you get your poinsettia home, carefully remove the wrapping and stand the pot in a bowl of water for about half an hour. Lift the pot and let any water drain off before placing the plant in its final container. Only water them when the top of the soil is dry. Should you wish to use a flower stem in a floral arrangement, remember that poinsettias belong to the Euphorbia family and when cut, the stems will bleed a milky sap that can be an irritant on skin. This can be sealed over a flame.
Plant of the Month Anthurium
Anthuriums are usually grown as pot or veranda plants here. Some species are known as epiphytes, meaning that they grow on other plants, while others grow in the ground. They are easy to care for as long as they are placed in indirect sunlight, as full sun would burn the interesting leaves. However, if the place is too shaded, then this may lead to fewer flowers. The red, heart-shaped flower of Anthuriums atop a stem of perhaps 30cm is really a spathe or a waxy, modified leaf flaring out from the base of a fleshy spike where the tiny real flowers grow.
Anthuriums need a free draining soil with perhaps some Perlite or orchid soil added to the potting compost. Originally from around the Caribbean and the north of South America, and with the common names of Tail Flower, Flamingo Flower or Laceleaf, they are used to a certain amount of humidity and they might thrive better in a bathroom where there is more during the wintertime. It would be a pity to confine them where no-one can appreciate them, so try placing the pot on a tray of small pebbles and keeping the pebbles moist which might help the plant along. Rather like poinsettias, they do not like to grow in draughty areas or places where the temperature fluctuates. A little fertiliser with high phosphorus (second number on the box or bag) occasionally will help the plant along. A warning though that Anthuriums are poisonous and the sap can be irritating to the skin and eyes