As temperatures drop, plants take on a new lease of life
By Patricia Jordan
How did your garden survive this fierce-some summer? With all the extra foliage around as a result of that lovely winter rain, there was so much to look after this year. If nothing else it goes to prove that annuals are plants for early in the year and again in the autumn, as their tiny roots are so near to the surface that they are burned by the relentless sun. Most shrubs, with deeper root systems, can generally cope with some watering around the base area, even though the top of the foliage may look a little singed just now. Cyprus certainly puts all our gardening skills to the test each summer. Hopefully we will have much cooler temperatures to go with those welcome showers of rain last month.
You may well find that as temperatures drop, plants take on a new lease of life and some of those that looked absolutely dried out and dead during the last couple of months now start to put out some new green growth at the base area. Don’t cut off the burned bits yet, as they can shield the new growth from the heat of the midday sun. There is one virtue that good gardeners have to have and that is patience! You wait for things to pop up and nurture them into maturity, hoping that they will survive the summer… It’s rather like having children or pets!
September here in Cyprus is connected with Passiflora caerula, the blue Passion Flower, a native of South America and part of the Festival of the Holy Cross, which is held in several places here including Stavrovouni and Omodos. These scented flowers are said to represent the Passion of Christ and if you look closely at them you will see that there are three stigmas, said to represent the three nails that were driven into Christ whilst he was on the cross. The five anthers represent the wounds he received and the ten petals are ten of his disciples, except Judas and Peter. Passion flowers bloom on new stems, so cut them down to the base of the plant at the end of the summer. Keep an eye on them during the winter and if necessary bring them indoors if there are low temperatures where you live. New shoots will start to sprout in the early spring again. Growth can be as much as ten metres in a season, so do give the plants something to climb up and through. Pollinators include bees, wasps, bats and some butterflies. Some passion flower plants bear fruits and they are sometimes available in the fruit shops. The subsequent orange fruit is edible but bland, but a tea can be made of the flower and is said to relieve stress
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Stop watering your amaryllis now and let the bulbs die down and rest until after Christmas when you can start to feed and water again. If you want your Christmas Cactus to bloom over the festive season, pot it up a size now and start to moisten the soil. Proprietary cacti and succulent compost is available in garden centres nowadays. Whilst you are doing that you could re-pot another good succulent, Stapelia, as well. Mine has flowered for such a long time and put on so much growth that it has become top heavy. Take off some of the stems and let the cut ends callous over for a few days before you pot them up.
Towards the end of this month you may find spring bulbs appearing in the shops and garden centres. The packets are full of promises of bright, colourful flowers to brighten up those lengthening days as the garden comes alive again in the New Year. More and more varieties have been appearing, but I wish that importers would include tiny fritillaria bulbs, as they are natives of this area of the Mediterranean and would make a welcome sight in our early spring gardens. I have seen Fritillaria imperalis for sale, but they are very ‘iffy’ plants and the huge bulbs have a strange smell. They do not like to be in wet soil and the best way to plant them is to put them slightly on their sides so that water cannot penetrate the crown of the bulb. I have tried them a couple of times here, without much success. Do select your bulbs carefully, as they often come in plastic bags which makes them sweat and go mouldy. Test each bulb for firmness and even if there is even one bulb in the bag that doesn’t feel good, leave that bag alone! Some bulbs are in net bags, a much better idea and I noticed more and more loose bulbs last year. There were some particularly pretty small gladioli last year that grew very well in my garden. My advice about buying them that way is to keep them in separate paper bags with the name of the bulb on the outside!
Tulips are fickle bulbs and can look amazing in drifts of bright colours but rarely do they give a good show a second year, so it’s best to start again next season. Narcissus on the other hand will flower and flower each year until the group gets too crowded or you haven’t fed them, so remember to do that after flowering. Don’t worry about the time to do it as I will remind you. If your daffodils haven’t flowered for some time, you still have time dig them up carefully, separate them out into groups of five bulbs and replant them, remembering that they need to be at two to three times the depth of the bulb for best results. Over the years they seem to creep upwards, but in fact the cause is the soil compacting or being washed away in winter rains. Last year I tried some tiny narcissus called ‘Minnow’ which I planted in urns and they were exceedingly pretty. Other I tried for the first time were disappointing, particularly ‘White Lion’, which had a complex head so heavy that the stem couldn’t hold it up and consequently they were felled by the continuous rain that we had in the spring. I like old favourites like ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Cheerfulness’ as they do so well here, and ‘Paperwhites’, natives of this region. They start to grow as soon as they are planted and do as well in pots as in the garden.
If your vegetable plot has been resting during the heat of the summer and you grow in the same area all the time, start to make preparations for sowing winter vegetables by digging in some garden compost or even some bags of potting compost if you don’t have a heap. It is too warm at the moment to plant out plugs but you can plan your plot. Try not to grow brassicas (brassicas include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts and broccoli) in the same area year after year as this can cause club root, so change the position each season and alternate with something like Broad Beans or potatoes.
As leaves begin to fall add them to your compost heaps or bins to make dry layers as well as wet ones, which would include salads and raw kitchen waste. The contents need to be turned several times so as not to congeal and make a smelly mess. Once it is ready for use it shouldn’t smell at all and can be dug into your plot to enhance the growth – much better than chemicals!
Plant of the Month – Gazania Hybrids
These drought-resistant South African annual or perennial plants from the Asteraceae (Daisy family), make ideal ground-cover plants in our hot gardens from spring into summer, as their bright showy flower-heads follow the sun, closing when a cloud passes overhead. Even drought-resistant plants like a little moisture at times, but not a drowning! Although they are not at all fussy about the type of soil they are growing in, an occasional feed will encourage many more flowers to appear. They make an impact if grown together in banks or the edges of paths. The dark-green leaves are lance shaped with deep lobes along the edges. The undersides of the leaves are felted, protecting them from the hot earth. The flowers always appear in very bright colours and are sometimes multi-coloured with dark centres. The grey-felted leaved gazanias generally have yellow flowers, which contrast well with the silver foliage and are extremely drought-proof. Deadhead them often to encourage new flowers to appear. Propagation is by seed or softwood cuttings taken from the base in late summer. Sow seeds in pots in springtime, covering them with a thin layer of soil. Water only lightly as the seedlings appear and carefully transplant into pots to let them grow on until they are big enough to plant in the garden. Gazanias are generally bug and disease-free when grown outdoors.