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Plant notes

Members' personal experiences of plants in their mediterranean gardens

Almost every gardener will have a dictionary of plants on his or her shelf giving useful facts about flower colour, height of growth and soil requirements etc. so there is really no need for us to repeat all that. This plant list is a collection of ‘in the garden experience’, both positive and negative, of plants well-known to the authors. Members of the MGS are invited contribute to this page where they can share their personal experience of plants in a mediterranean garden.

(Plants arranged in alphabetical order.)

Aloysia gratissima
Syn. Aloysia lycioides, Lippia lycioides

In Southern Spain, in Cordoba the plant is called LA FAVORITA, and we saw it in many gardens during the AGM in Carmona. This semi green, 6 to 9 inches tall, irregularly upright to rounded much branched shrub is native to South Texas and New Mexico. The leaves are linear, oblong, elliptic or lanceolate. The flowers that come in the Spring are vanilla scented, racemed. It likes good drained soils. You can grow it on a sunny wall, in espalier, as the picture in the patio or cut it round. I love it, the way it smells in the patio, it is delightful.

Artemisia lanata
(Photograph by Louis Marcelin-Rice)
Syn. A. caucasica, A. pedemontana Evergreen/semi-evergreen low perennial from Central Europe
Cistus x argenteus 'Blushing Peggy Sammons'

These two plants have done exceptionally well without any summer water. As described in TMG 50, we are in the process of making a dry garden in Provence. The plants must get through even their very first summer without any watering, for the simple reason that we are not there in summer to help them. In November 2004 we planted various cistus cultivars. Of these, Cistus x argenteus ‘Blushing Peggy Sammons’ has done outstandingly well. It has quadrupled in size since planting and this year (2007) flowered profusely for more than six weeks in May-June. Another great success is the lovely silver mat-forming Artemisia lanata. A 4-inch plant in November 2004 now measures about 20 inches across and looks handsome and unstressed.

Berberis thunbergii cultivar
(Photograph by Fleur Pavlidis)

Small, deciduous shrub from Japan.
Despite its non-mediterranean origins this plant can do well with very little irrigation once established. The problem is that the red leaves, although attractive in their own right, can look fake if not integrated into the garden colour scheme. By chance I found that a B. thunbergii in a mixed bed reflects the blood-red flowers of a nearby rose and of a Cestrum elegans and makes them more vivid. It also complements a brown glazed urn and the shiny brown fruits of a Punica granatum variety. Its other quality is its prickliness - I grow it against a pinkish stone wall lining the pavement to deter graffiti artists.

Capparis spinosa - The tale of a caper

"Once upon a time in Languedoc…….no, better not. But it was a magical story!

One of our very good friends from the village turned up six years ago with two root cuttings. He said "You’re going to need this plant in your garden as you love to cook." So he planted them just where you can see them in the photo. Both the cuttings rooted, although we did give them a little tender loving care. The surprise was that the following year another "câprier" suddenly appeared in another part of the garden as if by magic, almost as if it wanted to support the new arrivals. Quite nice for us: we now have three beautiful specimens without too much effort."

Cistus x argenteus ‘Blushing Peggy Sammons’
(Photograph by Louis Marcelin-Rice)

See under Artemisia lanata

Crithmum maritimum - Samphire

Crithmum maritimum, a protected plant, derives its botanical name from the Greek word 'krethmon', used by the Greeks to denote a succulent plant that grew by the sea. Its English common name, samphire, in turn derives from the French '[herbe de] Saint Pierre', or St. Peter's herb - an earlier form of the name was 'sampiere'.  It will grow in pure sand. I've been growing samphire for the last two years. I love its decorative evergreen foliage and its greenish-white flowers that are produced all summer long, until October.

This umbelliferous plant, growing to a height of from 20 to 50cm, is one of the most characteristic species of the coastal flora of the Channel, the Atlantic seaboard and the Mediterranean. Because it tolerates soils with a high salt content, large populations are often found growing on dunes or rocks where the soil is salty and where the plant is exposed to spray from the sea. Its thick, fleshy, rather glaucous leaves are completely divided two or three times into narrow strips. They are sheathed in a thick, transparent envelope which serves as a very effective protection against drought. Sometimes cultivated as an ornamental plant at the foot of walls, between paving stones or in light soils, samphire does very well in soils whose sodium chloride content is no greater than that of ordinary garden earth. It is a forgotten wild vegetable whose aromatic, slightly piquant and salty leaves may be eaten raw in salads, cooked like spinach or pickled and served as a condiment. In past centuries samphire also travelled on long sea voyages, eaten by sailors to prevent scurvy.  If you plan to grow samphire, choose the planting site carefully for it makes deep roots. Plants should be spaced 40cm apart. Once or twice during the growing season you may add a good spoonful of salt.

Drosanthemum candens

I grow the plant on the photo at a position with full sun usually next to another plant which I water in the summer so the roots don’t dry out completely in the summer heat. During this time the plant doesn’t look very attractive but after the winter rain and when the sun starts to gain in strength around April/May a mass of beautiful flowers appear and the show will last for a couple of weeks ; thereafter the plant goes into summer hibernation and is still useful as a sort of ground cover.

Haemanthus albiflos
Shaving brush plant
Large bulb from eastern Cape, South Africa

Unlike Haemanthus coccineus, H. albiflos is evergreen with much smaller leaves and smaller white flowers. I was smitten by its daintier appearance and the fact that the leaves form a carpet beneath the stems with their striking umbels. This plant starts to flower much later in autumn here when Haemanthus coccineus is in full leaf and the blooms are long-lasting. Initially I was concerned to read in Anna Pavord’s Bulb that it is best treated as a houseplant, but I have found that the shaving brush plant survives Melbourne’s eclectic climatic conditions, as long as I keep the foliage out of the hottest sun during summer. It too seems to flower brilliantly when the bulbs are pot-bound.

Hardenbergia alba

Hardenbergias are a favourite because they bloom when so little is in flower here in Mallorca. They are a harbinger of spring like snowdrops and narcissus in the UK. They can withstand temperature extremes, lack of water and wind; amazingly, this one has just received 160 km/h winds a few weeks before flowering. I love the fact that their flowers mimic our larger flowered wisterias but are more suited to our climate.

Helleborus hybrids (photograph by Lindsay Blyth)

I love hellebores and about nine years ago I bought Helleborus lividus and H. 'Boughton Belle' which is a hybrid between H. argutifolius and H. lividus. I then sowed a packet of seeds of H. argutifolius and added them to the others on a shady bank. I now have many self-sown hybrids between them. Above them is a Dombeya adding a touch of pink. This year it barely got frosted so the group looked lovely together.

Hibiscus tiliaceus

This photo is of the flower of Hibiscus tiliaceus. I have had my shrub for a couple of years and this is the first flower it has produced.

Ipomoea carnea ssp. fistulosa

I have to confess to not knowing a great deal about this plant except that it is known as the Bush Morning Glory since it grows as a shrub rather than the more usual vine. I have only had it for a few weeks but it seems to have settled well and is already producing flowers almost daily.  I have placed it amongst the herbs outside the kitchen area so that we can see it from the kitchen window in the morning and it can get any spare water from the usual household chores. It gets some early morning sun but is in partial shade for much of the day as that part of the garden is to the north of the house.

Jacaranda mimosifolia
South America

Such a well-loved tree that we grow it even though we know that a hard frost will cut it back to the ground. Fortunately it will usually grow back from the roots if we are patient. Given the beauty of its leaves and its purple flowers, why this photo of it at its most miserable-looking just before leaf-drop in January? The answer is the scent. As the leaves turn brown they start to give off such a rich scent of sweetness and honey that you have to stop in your tracks. As I worked in the vicinity of this small tree I instinctively lifted my face every now and then for another wonderful whiff. Within a few days the leaves were gone but I have another two jacarandas which drop their leaves a little later so the pleasure continues.

Lagerstroemia indica
(Photograph by Fleur Pavlidis)
Crepe Myrtle, Crape Myrtle
Deciduous shrub or small tree from China

An ideal plant for a holiday home garden since it flowers throughout August and September. In its pink form it can be seen flourishing in coastal areas around Greece, and now it can also be found in a variety of reds and purples as well as white. The white variety pictured has a drooping habit whereas the other colours tend to be upright. The crimped crepe-like petals of the flowers have the same attraction as those of some cistuses. It takes a while to become established and needs some coddling initially, especially as regards soil. It refuses to grow in the barren rocky soil of Mt. Hymettos and objects to too much wind exposure but fortunately it is perfectly hardy and is happy in my mountain garden.

Nerium oleander  (Photograph by Irmtraud Gotsis)
Large Mediterranean shrub

Swimming not sinking
In mid June 2007 I noticed that a large oleander growing in a pot on my roof terrace was waterlogged. Waterlogging normally spells death by asphyxiation to plants within a few days. In the usual course of things I would have rushed at once to repot the oleander. However, my terrace is in full sun from 8 in the morning until sunset, and with temperatures in Athens reaching 45 degrees C (quite apart from the fact that the plant was too heavy for me to lift) I simply did not have the courage to tackle it. 'I'm sorry,' I told the oleander, 'I can't do anything, you'll simply have to sink or swim.' It swam. Having resigned myself to its death, I was surprised as I watched it day by day to see that it didn't die. At the very end of July I took advantage of a marginally cooler day, smashed the unliftable pot with a hammer whereupon a stream of stagnant water flowed out, opened up the tangled rootball with the same hammer and somehow summoned up the strength to heave the plant into a new, larger pot. It continues to thrive, its six weeks under water having apparently not bothered it at all.

Parkinsonia aculeata
Dry areas of America

As the strong summer northerly wind, the meltemi, blows remorselessly the parkinsonia reveals one of its strengths. While other trees and shrubs start to look ragged and bent, the narrow leaves and branches of the parkinsonia flow in the wind like green tresses. It’s a wonderful sight. Although delicate-looking, this tree is remarkably tough. It can stand drought, over-watering, heatwaves and snow; in the cold it will be cut back completely but will shoot again from the roots or trunk. In general the tree responds well to pruning to remove crossed and dropping branches. It will inevitably reward you by spiking you with its fearsome thorns, thus reminding you never to plant it too close to a path. It comes easily from seed, self-seeding discreetly around the mother plant. With its bright green trunk and delicate but abundant yellow and orange flowers in early summer and autumn this is an easy and jolly small tree for the garden.

Quisqualis indica

I saw this climber for the first time in Morocco in Rabat. It has beautiful flowers like Jasminum officinalis, which start white and then becomes dark red. It is fragrant at night and flowers during summer and autumn; it likes sun and light shade. It prefers good earth and good drainage.Climbs up 3 to 9 metres. Originally from Asia, it is also found in the Canary Islands. It was Maria Koechel who sent it to me from her garden center. I love plants that change colour, and this one is particularly lovely on pergolas. I grow it in Madrid on my sunny terrace.

Salvia microphylla, syn S. grahamii
(Photograph by Fleur Pavlidis)

Evergreen, small to medium-sized shrub from Arizona and Mexico.
This dense but sprawling shrub nicely fills in gaps in a jungly garden. It seems to flower all the year round – a few bright red or purple flowers, depending on the variety, at the tips of the stems – although in the true flowering season of late summer and autumn it is quite showy. The leaves have a sharp scent. It grows well in both dry heat with a weekly watering and winter frost and snow and has never shown signs of distress. Every couple of years the dead undergrowth has to be cleared out. It will also tolerate shade.

Scadoxus puniceus
African Paintbrush Lily
Large bulb from south and east Africa

My first acquisition was very fine specimen of Scadoxus puniceus. I was bowled over by its glossy green leaves with wavy margins on a tall stem. These appear soon after the flower has opened, and when I first saw it the ageing flower head was developing large red seedpods. I had to wait until the following August (the end of our winter) to appreciate its huge flower, emerging like a red waratah from the ground and growing upwards on a stout stem to resemble a red brush with orange bristles.Then came the leaves which had originally bewitched me and continue to fascinate visitors to my garden, even when they have not seen the flowers. This plant also survives well out of doors, but once the leaves die down in autumn, I shift the pot to a sheltered spot at the back of my courtyard, where it receives winter sun and little rain, until the flower cycle recommences towards winter’s end.
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