Gardening with Patricia Jordan
During these next couple of hot months I like to get out in the garden very early in the morning to do any jobs that need to be done – usually seed collecting, weeding, dead heading and cutting back growth. It’s a lovely fresh time of the day and so much can be done before the sun rises well above the horizon and making such jobs impossible! I love to hear the buzz of the hundreds of bees around the Leucophylum bushes (see Plant of the Month) as they fight to get their share of the goodies there; the cockerel crowing in the garden down below us; the twittering of the sparrows in the trees and the faint chimes of the village church bell in the distance. It’s all very rural! Most of the hard work in our garden has been done by now. Rosemary bushes that died during the cold wet winter have been dug out and new ones are ready to replace them when the time is right. It’s no good planting new plants in the middle of summer, despite the garden centres being full of choice plants. It’s better not to plant now, but if you really have to, then do it in the evening and water them in well so as to give them a chance.
With the high temperatures of the last few months many herbaceous plants will have gone over and it is good to have something to fill the gaps. Luckily, we can grow wonderful tropical and subtropical trees and shrubs to help us get through this period. From South Africa came Carissa macrocarpa and Plumbago auriculata. The latter can cover unsightly fences or walls in no time. Some people don’t like plumbago however, as the seeds are very sticky and you have to remove them from your clothes. However, this is the way the plant propagates itself in the wild, as animals scratch off the seeds stuck to their hides and furs and they germinate where they fall. Carissa’s glossy green leaves, contrasting so well with the heavily scented white flowers exude a lovely evening perfume on the air. Beware though of the very thick thorns tucked in underneath the stems.
Albizia julibrissin, known as the Persian Silk Tree or the Chinese Silk Tree because of its lovely tasselled ‘flowers’, came from tropical or sub-tropical areas so does well along the coastline. Drought tolerant and able to survive strong winds, albizia can grow just as easily in sandy free-draining soil as in clay. The sweetly-scented flowers appear in mid-summer, but have no petals, rather clusters of perhaps 10 or more long stamens, resembling silk threads. They are generally pink or pink and white and are extremely attractive to bees, moths, and butterflies. The light sensitive foliage, which closes up at night, has around twenty small pinnate leaflets.
At this time of year Delonix regia, is looking vibrant. It is known otherwise as the Flame of the Forest tree, because the crown of flowers, which towers above other trees, looks like it is on fire. These trees can tolerate drought or grow in salty conditions, so again are very suitable in more humid gardens, although they do need a lot of space. Originally from Madagascar, this tree forms an umbrella shape that is quite pleasing to the eye. Although it is fast growing it may take up to ten years before any flowers appear, so be patient.
Tecoma stans, a member of the large Bignoniaceae family, is much used in roadside planting in coastal towns as it doesn’t grow too tall, and its brilliant yellow flowers dance on the breezes amongst the bright-green leaves, under our wonderful blue summer skies. Feed this lovely tree with an all-round fertiliser in spring.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN JULY
If you like blue flowered plants then agapanthus would suit you. These sun-loving South African summer bulbs (Agapanthus africanus) are flowering now atop tall stems in pots as well as in the garden. Known as the African Lily or Lily of the Nile, they are also popular around the world. As well as blue flowers there are also some white-flowered varieties and newer smaller plants with blue and white striped flowers are being introduced as well. There are lots of myths attached to growing agapanthus. In New Zealand, they thrive by the roadsides without any obvious treatment, but elsewhere they are sometimes called ‘iffy’ plants as they don’t always produce flowers. Crowding them together in a pot doesn’t always help either, but a feed with a high potassium fertiliser in August may aid flower production. (Rose or tomato fertilisers are high in potassium). If you feel you need to move them into a larger pot only go up one pot size at a time and even this might inhibit flower growth for a season. Most of the agapanthus for sale here are evergreen, which suit our coastal gardens and those who live in lower elevations, but if you live in the mountains you may have to afford the top of the plant some protection during the winter. If you are going to buy a plant make sure it has a flower stem on it, so that you know that it has reached the flowering stage. I don’t advise buying them if they are in a packet.
Tulbaghia is another worthwhile South African plant flowering during our summer. It is sometimes mistaken for chives as the foliage is very similar and its common name is Gentleman’s Garlic, but it is not as pungent as the garlic that we know. This plant likes a sunny spot and lovely star-like flowers will appear about the slender stems. Tulbaghia violacea is widely available in Cyprus. Although the foliage and roots smell very garlic-like the flowers have a delicate hyacinth-like perfume. They will grow equally as well in pots as in the garden.
Potted hydrangeas, known as Hortense here, are in the garden centres now, although I find they are difficult to keep growing from season to season here, but they can reach enormous sizes given the right conditions. They are easy to care for providing that you keep the soil moist, yet over-watering can kill them. They prefer to be grown in a good bright light. If you manage to keep them going over the winter, then come springtime you can cut the stems down to an outward facing growth and they should shoot from there.
This year after I dug all the bulbs from my freesia bed and graded them to keep them in a dry place until the autumn, I decided that the empty bed looked boring. It is in full sun all day so I decided to grow a zigzag row of sunflowers. I chose ‘Russian Giant’ seeds as the label said that they would grow to 10 feet high and have 12 inch flower heads. I had a high germination rate and all the plantlets were planted out in my garden. Knowing that such tall plants would like watering often, I dug a plant pot beside each plant, so that I would give each of them lots of water every day. Well, they grew to just above 6 feet and the largest flower heads were the about 10 inches. A slight disappointment but fun!
Plant of the Month – Leucophyllum frutescens
Leucophyllum frutescens has many common names such as Texas Ranger, Texas Sage, Purple Sage, Silver Leaf, White Sage, Ash Bush, Sensia, Wild Lilac and even the Barometer Bush, as it reacts to humidity and moisture after rainfall, when a profusion of flowers appear on the stem-ends, causing the local bees to have a feeding frenzy! You can even encourage this to happen by spraying water over the top of the bush!
This lovely, hardy, drought-tolerant shrub is a welcome addition to the summer garden. The pink flowers growing at the ends of the silver stems look like miniature foxgloves, which open as the insects dive inside. Originally the shrub came from Mexico and the desert regions of Texas, but it is widely grown in other hot parts of the world nowadays. The Texas Ranger prefers uncultivated soils and doesn’t need feeding at all. Surprisingly it also does well in damp humid conditions. The plant can withstand salt sprays, which makes it a good choice for seaside gardens. It can even be grown in a pot, making a wonderful addition to any patio or veranda.
This lovely showstopper likes a very sunny spot, becoming somewhat straggly if it is grown in shade, which may cause you to think that it needs water. Treat it as a desert plant and it will reward you with lots of flowers. Give it an annual spring prune and use the softwood cuttings to propagate new plants. It is such a good-value plant for dry gardens and the leaves and flowers make a pleasant tea, which is mildly sedative.