This is the month when we see great changes in the garden. There are swathes of bright yellow in the countryside, a foretaste of the sunny weather to come. Not everyone likes the early yellow flowers of oxalis, which can take over your borders and flower beds given half a chance! These plants, also known as wood sorrels, not only grow profusely here but in other parts of the world too. You may not like them in your flower beds and they are the devil to get rid of. It is no good just pulling off the leaves and flowers, you need to get the bulb out too or they will flower more profusely next season. The oxalis that grows here has bright yellow flowers, but in other countries they sometimes have pink flowers. 

I am sure that you will be checking your garden irrigation system before you need to use it – it’s amazing just how the pipes can be covered up with soil from the winter rains. The nozzles may also need cleaning or replacing to ensure even watering later on. Lawns may also need some attention like aerating any damp patches, which you can prod over with a garden fork. Use a thin-tined garden rake to remove any moss and rubbish which may have accumulated around the roots of the grass and always feed with a proprietary lawn feed after such remedial work. Check your roses too, as they may benefit from a feed now. I hope that you managed to prune them last month and that new growth is appearing on the stems. Heritage sweet peas will soon be putting out their heavily scented flowers and if your early seedlings are well rooted and are large enough, they can be moved into your borders.  

Early flowering trees like Cercis, known here as the Judas Tree and in other parts of the world, ‘Red Bud’, will be showing their bright red flowers on bare stems, well ahead of the leaves. Sometimes you can see them bordering the highways here, but they can grow rather tall and perhaps wouldn’t be suitable for your garden. A pretty, smaller tree, originally from New Zealand, called Photinia Red Robin will be showing its first bright red leaves, which will brighten up any dark corner of the garden. Sadly, these trees are short-lived but give much pleasure in the meantime. If you garden on a veranda then a similar plant called Eugenia, a sub-tropical plant in the Myrtle family, has early brightly-coloured leaves too and can be grown in a large pot, although it can become quite tall. Regular trimming would keep it as a suitable plant for a veranda. 

olympus digital camera

Leonotis leonora

 

Other potted plants like cannas, which also grow well in gardens, will need some attention now as their paddle-shaped leaves are often torn in any winter storms. Do be careful removing old stems and leaves as there may well be new growth coming up inside the old ones, as well as from the base of the plant. At one time here all you would see were bright red cannas in large clumps in village gardens, but there are many colour variations nowadays, some with freckles on the flowers and sometimes different coloured edges to the petals. The Joker is a particular favourite, as well as Durban, with pretty, striated leaves. Others have very dark green leaves and very red flowers, while others still have yellow flowers with lighter green leaves – such a choice! Do remember to remove the dying heads as you don’t want the plants to make seeds. Cannas are usually available in garden centres as potted plants or you may find them in cellophane bags, in which case get them into the garden quickly for them to start to grow. As the strelitzia flower heads die off, remove them as well as any torn leaves and keep the base of the plant clear of any debris, as old petals and leaves from other plants tend to congregate among the stems. Chasmanthe, wrongly known here as Monbretia, will be putting up huge flowers stems now. Last year they reached almost 6 feet high, scattering their seeds everywhere, which are germinating all over the garden.  

Other climbers are beginning to put on growth too, now that temperatures are warming up. A now large wisteria growing below our veranda has long since taken over the upstairs veranda railing, giving us privacy as we sit out during the warmer days. There are always plenty of new runners, some of which we remove while others are wound around the railings. Once established they need very little attention and in Spring their gorgeous flowers scent the whole garden giving delight not only to us but passersby too. Some gardeners prune their wisterias while others just remove any apparent dead stems. Another favourite climber like the summer jasmine, Jasminum officinale, probably needs some hard pruning back now in order to have those lovely scented white flowers all summer long. It does sound rather drastic, but the thin trailing branches need to be cut right back to the wood, so that the new growth will give you flowers later on. If you don’t do that and leave last season’s stems on, the flowers will wither once temperatures rise and remember that we have been having quite hot spells in April over the last few years. Plumbago also benefits from a trim now if you didn’t do it before the winter. You can be quite brutal with it and cut it back to around six inches and before long you will be rewarded with new growth and bright blue or white flowers. 

Before it gets too hot, plant out any cuttings that you managed to take in places where you would like them to flourish. A favourite plant of mine is Argyranthemum Summer Melody, which never fails to please me and I take cuttings every year. It is commonly known as a marguerite here and has bright pink double flowers, while there are other marguerites with white and yellow flowers. Other cuttings I took over the winter included Leonorus leonotis, a South African native known there as Lions Tail. This can be grown from seeds too but it will flower earlier from cuttings. This worthy plant can withstand our summers and attracts bees and butterflies – what more could you want from a plant? If you grow agapanthus in tubs make sure that they are well-drained and remove any dying leaves. Known as The African Lily or Lily of the Nile, they flower for such a long time in shades of blue and sometimes white. What would we do without our plants from South Africa? 

 

Plant of the Month – Matucana sweet peas 

matacana sweet peas

Matacana Sweet Peas

 

You probably know the history of the Heritage Sweet Pea Lathyrus Matucana with its heavenly perfume and wonderful dark red and mauve flowers and how it grew in popularity. Apparently, it was monk Father Francis Cupani who first discovered them growing in Sicily and sent some seeds to his friends on the mainland around 1699, where they seem to have flourished and very soon found their way to England. He is also known for Lathyrus Painted Lady, which has pink and white scented flowers.  

How they came to grow in Cyprus I do not know, probably introduced by early settlers. Heritage and Heirloom varieties, as they are known, are often blessed with the intense fragrance, although their flowers are much smaller than the blooms found in modern-day hybrid varieties. As they are early flowerers here, they grow best in our warm Spring, while others in more northern climes will grow throughout the summer season, provided that the blooms are picked regularly and the plants are not left to go to seed. There are also more blooms on the longer stems making them suitable for cutting, whilst Matucana, with shorter stems may only have three or four flowers. You may see Matucana and Painted Lady growing in older village gardens here and if you are lucky, you might be able to beg a few seeds, as I haven’t seen seed packets in garden centres here. The seeds germinate easily in pots or directly in the garden, where they tend to ramble instead of climbing up supports. You will not be able to resist them once you have enjoyed their wonderful perfume.