It’s that time of year again when those who live here year round escape to cooler climes, even if it is only the coast or the mountains. For those left behind and the holidaymakers, frangipani is flowering away, but don’t try growing it in your garden if you live above the coast, as it needs humidity to grow well.
You will see the ubiquitous multi-coloured oleanders and hibiscus everywhere, enjoying the heat and you may even espy the first of the Hibiscus mutabilis, which does well in more humid gardens. Flame trees (Delonix regia) are blazing away in larger gardens with a wonderful show of fiery flowers among the fernlike leaves.
Around the airport car parks, Albizia julibrissin (see Plant of the Month) will be shaking its silky pink, sweetly-scented tassels to welcome visitors to the island. Jasminum officinale and Cestrum nocturnum scent the night air and if they are planted near a window or door, then their perfumes will drift in on the evening breeze.
However well you look after your garden you can’t care for it when you are far away and you will probably have to rely on neighbours or friends to help out, so make it easy for them. Group potted plants together on gravel trays in a shaded spot, which makes for easier watering. Potted plants can suffer greatly during this period unless some water retaining crystals were used in the compost mix. The nutrients in potting compost are quickly used up, so a liquid feed of perhaps half a capful of a liquid fertiliser (something like ‘One’) in 10 litres of water every other week, will keep the plants nourished.
Hanging baskets could be lifted down and perched over a bucket or similar container. Most large gardens with trees have watering systems and some even are computer-controlled, which make watering easier for those who maybe aren’t used to dealing with large areas. Switch the controls to night watering, so as to really benefit the plants.
With the best will in the world, preparations can go awry – a pipe could burst or outlets become blocked, so double check everything before you leave home. Lock away movable valuables including expensive chairs and tables, or if that is not possible mark them with your postcode or something like that and enjoy yourselves!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN HIGH SUMMER
While the garden holds its breath during this time 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 on fruits to be able to penetrate and if any of your new season oranges or grapefruit are colouring up at all, they will be targetted. Their other favourite fruits are nectarines and peaches. So change any yellow sticky cards as they become filled. Watch out for Oriental Hornets as well. They feed on sap from pecans and almonds and then look for water to drink, which may be from your swimming pool.
Potted cycads may look rather strange at this time of year as their outermost layer of leaves turn brown. No need to worry about that as it is a natural occurrence and if you look inside the plant you will see a new crown of leaves emerging from the centre. It’s alright to cut off the dying leaves. If your cycads are as big as trees than you may have to saw the branches off. There are some specialists about who could do this for you. The same goes for palms, which may be too tall for you to reach. The lower leaves of Yuccas can look a sorry sight too when they die off, so smarten them up by cutting them off and cleaning up the trunk, but watch out for the needle-like points on the ends of the leaves as they are sharp and will fight back! Aeoniums can look weak and tired while the heat continues, as they use up all the water inside their stems and leaves to keep going, but come the autumn they will fill out again in time to show off their attractive flowers in late winter.
The garden centres are full of climbing plants at this time of year for you to try. Hoya and stephanotis are soaring skywards, as are the lovely pink Mandevilla splendens. These will be followed by Pandorea jasminoides, an Australian woody climber with delicate trumpet-shaped flowers in white or pale pink. These plants would be eminently suitable if your garden is a veranda, provided that you give them some support so that they climb away. Although you wouldn’t want to try Campsis radicans, known as the Trumpet Vine on an apartment veranda with its mile-a-minute growth leaping up the nearest power pole.
I am always hearing that supposedly ‘drought proof’ plants disappoint and keel over. Sometimes it takes several months or even years until a plant becomes completely drought proof even though it says it is on the label, so you have to help things along. When I planted up a steep bank in our garden some years ago I didn’t want to have to water it by hand every day, as it was too far from a watering point. Each plant had a cut off water bottle plunged into the soil behind it and I did water them by hand for the first two years, and during some of that period we had little or no rainfall. However, they have become established and I do not water the bank at all now that they have all settled in.
Chrysanthemoides, a grey felted-leaf plant, has spread giving good ground cover in a huge area while the favourite Carpobrotus edulis known here as Aphrodite’s tresses, gives bright green areas of cover too. Leucophyllum frutescens, a desert plant, whose grey felted leaves protect the lovely pink flowers that only appear when it is rained on or where there is heavy humidity, was another good choice. The popular shrub Plumbago auriculata from South Africa grows well too, with blue or white flowers. With all the winter rain this year this has put on lots of growth and when the first flowers are finished and before the sticky seed pods appear, it’s best to cut the flower stems right back and you will be blessed with another flowering in a short while. Lots of rosemarys and lavenders do well here with very little attention now that they are established and that is what I am looking for. Various clumps of Aloe vera and echium, although the latter is rather short lived, give height while the frontage comprises groups of Iris albicans, originally found growing in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and otherwise known as the white flag iris. Apparently, Iris albicans is thought to be the oldest iris in cultivation,
Plant of the Month – Albizia julibrissin
This fast-growing, deciduous, semitropical or tropical tree belongs to the Mimosa family and produces its seeds in pods. Originally found growing in China and Iran, it needs heat to grow well but can tolerate a little cold. Used mainly as an ornamental tree, it is drought tolerant and can survive strong winds. Not fussy about soil types, albizia can grow just as easily in sandy free-draining soil as in clay, and the roots have nitrogen fixing abilities. The tree can be trained into a canopy, making it an attractive asset in the garden and providing dappled shade.
The sweetly scented flowers appear in mid-summer and are most unusual, having no petals, but clusters of 10 or more long stamens, resembling silk threads, hence the common name of Persian Silk Tree. These are generally pink, or pink and white and are extremely attractive to bees, moths and butterflies and in some countries even hummingbirds. The foliage, resembling that of mimosas, has around twenty pinnate leaflets. Although albizia can be propagated from seeds, for quicker results it is better to buy a young tree from a garden centre or nursery.