By Patricia Jordan
Wow! What a hot summer we have had and it is not over yet. According to those who ‘read’ the weather conditions for the rest of the year by the clouds and amount of sunshine in the run up to August 15th, the forecast is that we will be having a hot September but rain in late October and November and hopefully a wet winter, which we need to fill the dams and aquifers. This month it is still difficult to work up enthusiasm to do more than maintenance, but there is always clearing up to be done under trees and bushes as they begin to shed their leaves. Whilst this would normally be regarded as mulch or an addition to otherwise poor quality soil in other countries, here it may block irrigation points or harbour nasty insects amongst the dry leaves. Watch out if you put your hand under bushes to clear them out as there may be young snakes hiding there, away from the heat!
Whether you managed to get away to somewhere cooler or stayed at home you may find your potted plants are in a poor state. Pelargoniums may have very short leaf and flower stems at this time of year as the plants are under stress in mid-summer, as well as mid-winter. Take off any dead heads and leaves and cut back any very long stems. Give them a good feed – a generous capful of Phostrogen or indeed 20.20.20 in a 7 litre can of water will feed several pots and they will eventually recover. Even in shaded spots plants may look jaded but the same feed mixture might just perk them up a bit.
It is too hot and too early to plant out winter vegetables this month, but you can prepare your plot. If you have been making compost all summer from your salad leavings and other matter now is the time to dig that in, although you may be surprised by what pops up as well. One year we had a bed of melons from the seeds in the compost bin. I left to grow on and we enjoyed them a second time round! Tomatoes also grow easily from garden compost. There may be some rain as what are known locally as the Coptic winds come through during late September, so ensure that your garden furniture and any gazebos and planting structures are secure. Very often these winds only affect the western part of the island at this time and blow themselves out before they reach inland. Most of my herbs, except mint, die down in the summer months so I shall be replanting my herb bed soon. Luckily there is always a plentiful supply of popular herbs in the garden centres.
I don’t usually look back on successes and failures as early as this, but this year has been full of surprises. Some plants have disappointed me greatly like hemerocallis which I love, with hardly a flower, but I will feed them up and maybe they will flourish next year. Only two stems of flowers appeared on my chasmanthe plants, but that was probably because I hadn’t split them up for some years and they really do need to have this done on a more regular basis. As the foliage died off I dug them up and took off the old growths on the bases. Out of the original two clumps of 5 corms I harvested many more corms, some of which were replanted in the late spring. I look forward to many more flowers next year. On the other hand Agapanthus africanus, grown in large pots, exceeded themselves this year with countless mop heads of huge blue or white flowers.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
There are lots of things that you shouldn’t be doing until it gets considerably cooler. Many shrubs have been singed by the burning sun but resist cutting them back for the moment or you could expose any new growth to the sun and lose that too. Put off planting anything new until the temperature drops considerably, even if the planting place is sheltered. You really need to give the plants the best conditions to survive. Annuals only last for a couple of weeks anyway, and this year herbaceous perennials (those that come up every year) were short lived too. All this makes me wonder that if we have less and less winter rain and more of the high temperatures that we have seen last year and this, will it mean the end of these lovely additions to the garden that we look forward to each year.
Towards the end of the month spring bulbs should be appearing in the garden centres. Buy them now by all means, before the favourites sell out, but wait until the ground is moist enough to plant them or they won’t make roots to sustain them in the months ahead. Choose them with care, even if it means taking every packet off the hook or shelf and turning it over to check that the bulbs are firm and not showing any signs of mould. One year I tried snowdrops, which I love, but apart from the first year when they flowered reasonably well, they did not reproduce. Mauve and yellow crocuses do well, but the birds love these pretty bulbs too and peck at the flowers. So be warned! Two potted Amaryllis bought last year, had wonderful flower heads, but again were very short-lived. I have been watering and feeding them all through the summer, but have stopped now to let the leaves die down. In about a couple of months’ time, watering can be started again, when they should delight us with their huge blooms at Christmas and into the New Year.
It’s interesting to reflect that tulip bulbs started out life in this area of the Mediterranean and were taken to Holland as early as the 16th century. Nowadays, these bulbs are exported mainly from Holland. The Dutch grow fields of them but not for their flowers, which are removed from the plant and used to decorate flower floats, or even end up as compost! Each bulb can yield at least two or even three bulblets each season, which is what the grower is looking for. Daffodils were natives of Spain and Portugal; the heavenly-perfumed freesias were originally from South Africa, North Africa and even China, as were ornithogalums (Star of Bethlehem). I love the early flowering ‘Paperwhites’, Narcissus papyrus, which started life in parts of Greece and as far as Portugal and along the northern coast of Africa. How amazing that we are able to enjoy so many of these international flowers!
Plant of the month – Canna Lily
Canna Lilies came from tropical or sub-tropical America and the bright orangey-red flowered variety can be seen in gardens all over Cyprus. The cannas available here are grown in soil, although some species in other parts of the world prefer to grow in water. They like a sunny spot where the soil has been enriched with some compost and will flourish if there is a regular supply of water. They will grow equally well in pots, but need to be split up every couple of years or so in order to flower.
Plant height varies according to variety and can range from 45cm to 1,5 metres. They can grow into huge clumps ‘walking’ across the garden as they send up new shoots away from the centre. Cannas are excellent garden plants flowering over a very long period as long as the dead flower heads are carefully removed in order to let further growths appear from down the stem. Cut off any seed heads or the plant will think it has done its job for the season and there will be no more flowers. Cannas will winter outside certainly up to 350 metres, although they don’t like very low temperatures and in mountain regions should be protected from frost. Plant them about 10-15cm deep – not too deep or they won’t flower and not too shallow or their tall stems with their huge paddle-shaped leaves could be blown over in gales, as the leaves are surprisingly tender and can be torn by winds.
Leaf colour can be dark mauve or light or dark green and some varieties even have striations which are very attractive, but those prefer some shade. The lovely flowers can be red, orange, yellow, pink, peach and cream with some, like ‘Lenape’ having spots and ‘Lucifer’ has a most attractive colouring,
Over-moist soil may cause Canna Rust in which case they should be taken up and burned but that shouldn’t be a problem here. Some of the leaves may fall prey to ‘Canna Leaf Rollers’, which as their name suggests cause the leaves to curl up around the insects. They can be uncurled and the insect destroyed. Other than that they are remarkably pest and disease free plants.