I wonder if you have heard of ‘Borrowing the landscape’! It’s a Japanese idea practised for centuries there and called ‘Shakkei’, where features such as far off mountains and hills in the distance could enhance your garden. This borrowed scenery, which could also include trees and rocks should be linked with and reflect the foreground of the garden.
Some gardens are not complete without some outside additions to the perimeters, like mine for instance. When we came to live here we inherited a tall myoporum hedge needing constant attention and shedding leaves, flowers and seed-heads throughout the year. It gave us privacy from our neighbours up above us, but deprived our garden beds of water and nutrients. Over time it was thinned and some trunks taken away, which left us with a sparse collection of large bushes that had outlived their lives and were eventually felled. We then had a very uncultivatable exposed area deprived of much growth, except for some aloes and agaves that I had planted to hold the bank, along with some Carpobrutus edulis, which spread upwards and outwards over time along with oxalis and other native plants in the springtime here.
Our neighbours liked their privacy too and as the hedge became more sparse, they planted several callistemon (bottlebrushes) trees and some lantana bushes, which I thought wouldn’t give either of us much in the way of privacy. Over the years of course the trees have grown and the colourful lantanas have blossomed, sharing their pretty bright-coloured flowers with us as they grew along the fence line. Now they are tumbling down over the fence and down the bank, bringing colour and life to our side, linking in with the flowers that grow abundantly in the garden beds now that the hedge has gone. I can also share a view through the gaps of the lovely slender Cypress trees in the distance that gently move in the summer breezes, fronting the forest trees and the Troodos far beyond.
So, if you are planting up a new boundary line, take a good look into the far landscape and try to incorporate a tree, a hill or even a mountain view into your distant viewing points. It will make your garden much more interesting.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Some would say as little as possible, which seems a splendid idea when it has been abnormally hot and all you want to do is laze around the pool or be at the beach! How quickly the months have passed this year and, whilst tourists are flocking to enjoy the Cyprus sunshine, those of us with gardens know that this is a time of high maintenance.
Watering should be done in the cool of the evening and if you have a computerised irrigation system, set the timer for during the night when it will do best. Wells sometimes run dry around this time and as a result some watering may have to be done by hand using expensive and precious town water, along with any that you are to save from jobs indoors. Potted plants can be linked to your watering system with ‘spaghetti’ feeders, but generally speaking you are going to have to water them by hand. Move them if you can, under trees is ideal or if you don’t have trees, find a sheltered spot for them. Keep the first cold water from your shower in a bucket in your bathroom and use that for watering. It will be invaluable for your house plants too, as your living room or veranda may also be very hot.
Some garden plants can look after themselves during this very hot period having stored water in their fleshy stems and leaves. Aptemia is one of those ground cover plants that can conceal areas that need some cover and its pretty flowers started to appear last month. Those plants with silver leaves also do well as the hairs on the reverse of the leaves cool the plant. The botanical name for this is hypoleuca, meaning a dense covering of woolly hairs protecting them for the hot earth underneath. Gazania, natives of South Africa, also have felted leaves and are often planted earlier in the year as drought-tolerant ground-cover plants with their large flower heads of brilliant yellows and oranges.
Even though the garden is barely ticking over and growth is slow, there are bugs out there to wage war on. Lots of Med Flies are looking for somewhere to lay their eggs, they need soft skins to penetrate and lay them, with apricots, peaches and nectarines favourites at this time of year. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis really does attract those nasty mealy bugs, so keep a close eye on them. Like many tropical plants hibiscus flowers last for only one day, so removing any dead flowers on a daily basis will encourage new flowers to appear and allow you to check for mealy bugs that lurk underneath the leaves and stalks. If they are just appearing you can squash them between your finger and thumb, but in recent years there have been many more serious infestations around the island, so that more drastic measures may need to be taken.
In the coastal towns the bright yellow flowers of Tecoma stans have been in flower for some time now. In my garden at 300 metres, they tend to come into bloom much later, sometimes as late as October or November. However, they didn’t have an annual leaf drop until very recently and as a result I have lots of brightly coloured flowers this year, but lots of leaf debris.
Everywhere you will find the ubiquitous oleanders and hibiscus in their many colours enjoying the heat and you may even see Hibiscus mutabilis, which grows well in some parts and not at all in others, needing around six hours of sunshine daily and not too much watering. Jasminum officinale and Cestrum nocturnum scent the night air and if you have planted them near a window or doorway you will be able to enjoy their perfumes wafting in on the evening breezes.
If you live in a rural area, keep a look out for any snakes during these hot summer months. They like to lie on warm stones and drowse in the heat. They can also lurk under bushes and shrubs, as we found here recently when a two-metre long Montpeillier snake sloughed its skin on our driveway! Where had that been hiding I wonder and more importantly where has it gone to! I have been told that it is a ‘nice’ snake. Nevertheless, by keeping the area under plants free from debris, it will deter others from hiding there. More importantly, it will allow water to reach down to the roots of plants where it is needed most.
Main crop figs are ripening fast now, so check every day and pick any that have nodding heads, which is a sign that they are ready to be picked. Vines, which always look so lush even in the height of summer, will have many bunches of grapes hanging down. Check the branches regularly and remove any fruit that doesn’t look perfect.
Enjoy the summer and don’t try to do too much. It can all wait until the weather cools down, which according to folklore here should be after Maria’s Assumption on August 15.
Plant of the Month – Acanthus mollis
Acanthus mollis, commonly known as bear’s breeches, was introduced into cultivation from Italy in 1548. The name Acanthus is derived from Acantha, a nymph loved by Apollo who is said to have turned her into a flower.
The shape of the enormous deeply-lobed foliage has inspired many architects over time to fashion marble replicas with which to decorate fine building and columns, making striking architectural features. The tall flower spikes, which can reach over one metre in height, are clothed in white flowers in mid-summer with a hood-like purple bract and are much sought after by bees.
It’s a perfect plant if you have lots of space at the back of a border. This plant does grow into a large clump and is relatively trouble free unless you want to move it! If you decide to do that you may find that you are unable to eradicate if from its original spot, as the roots are so deep that it is hard to remove them all when you want to dig the plant out of the ground. These then quickly grow into new plants, which can also prove impossible to get rid of! Plants can also be raised from seeds, but need plenty of warmth to germinate.
This Mediterranean native thrives in moist well-drained soil, in full sun to partial shade. Cut back the stems after flowering and eventually remove dying foliage. The large leaves of bear’s breeches are prone to powdery mildew in dry weather, so make sure that plants are kept well watered. If clumps are too congested then divide them in the spring.