In bloom now
Text and photo by Francisco Javier de la Mota Daniel
Rhodanthemum catananche is a beautiful plant for a mediterranean-climate garden. It displays showy peach-coloured aster-like flowers in spring and early summer. The flowers last for a long time and tolerate well the vagaries of spring weather. Even if this plant didn't bloom, it would still be worth growing in our gardens just for its delicate, silvery foliage.
Due to its origin in the High Atlas mountains in Morocco, this plant is at its best in a garden with a distinct winter season and with cooler summer nights. It should be planted in very well-drained soil in full sun. Hot and humid conditions make it an easy prey for phytophtora.
Here in our garden in the mountains of central Spain, because of this year’s warm weather in February and March, it started blooming a couple of weeks before its usual flowering time in early May.
Text and photos - Jean Vaché
This modest winter-flowering clematis was given to us a few years ago by Olivier Filippi when it was still a minute plantlet. For a long time, it seemed simply to slumber on without any desire to climb into a nearby hedge, then suddenly this autumn it woke up and produced a profusion of flowers at the tips of its woody stems.
In the picture, one can notice the four large delicately goffered petals, in a shade of pale creamy yellow (the word cirrhosa means 'yellowish'), as well as the carpels in the centre of the flower, with their feathery tops surrounded by many stamens.
This clematis is a beautiful wild plant which loves to scramble up and into hedges and bushes in the mediterranean regions from Portugal and Morocco to Asia Minor and further on to the Himalayas. Because of its winter blooming it deserves to be better known to mediterranean gardeners.
Also to be noted is the fact that, like the medick, this clematis sheds all its leaves when it becomes dormant in summer.
Botanical details courtesy of Tela Botanica:
Text and photos - John Joynes
The leaves of Bauhinia acuminata are more deeply divided than the typical 'Camel's Foot' of its relative B. variegata. The flowers are more delicate-looking with narrower petals. While B. variegata is in glorious bloom in the spring B. acuminata waits until the heat of summer, July and August. This means that you have to catch them early when they open as by around 9-10 o'clock they are wilting and shrivelled by the sun. The tree is not as commonly grown here in Cyprus as B. variegata, possibly due to the fact that the trunk and branches are covered in tiny, vicious thorns. Also, while my B. variegata trees produce an abundance of seed pods each year, the 2 B. acuminata have never produced a single seed even though I grew them both from seed.
Text and photos - Cali Doxiadis
Does anyone know why they have disappeared? Except for the ones in my garden, I haven't seen any violets in years. It used to be at this time of year that they were sold at street corners in most European cities and towns, in small purple sweet-smelling bunches surrounded by their heart-shaped leaves and tied with black sewing thread. Not even in Madrid, which raised a statue to a famous 'Violetera' in a central part of town, are any to be had these days. Our street vendors are selling unwanted cellophane-wrapped travesties of roses.
A home-made bunch.
Volunteer wild violet on trunk of Phoenix canariensis.
Text and photos - David Bracey
The mediterranean garden may seem drab during the winter. Here are a few ideas to liven things up.
The red form of Swiss Chard, offers a unique dark brown colour during winter. It has another advantage in that it can be eaten.
Nandina domestica gives interest round the calendar, not least with its autumn colours which last through the winter and its bright red berries. Set against grey shrubs, in my case feijoa Acca sellowiana, Nandina is an outstanding plant.
Another winter foliage plant which is rarely used on a decorative basis is Arum italicum. There are many different varieties today with a range of leaf markings and variegations.
Finally another plant which performs well and gives winter interest is the Hellebore, Helleborus niger. This is a plant generally grown in temperate gardens but many varieties live quite happily here. They do prefer some shade during the summer.
Calendula arvensis is in bloom now in my garden - nothing to wonder or boast about since this humble plant is able to flower in the South of France almost all year round. This annual has a medieval Latin name, calendula, which might be translated as "small calendar". Its French name is "souci": this is a "faux-ami" for the name has nothing to do with "care" but rather derives from the Latin word solsequia ("sun-follower") since the flower opens when the sun is up and closes in the evening. The flowers of C. arvensis are an orange yellow, paler and much smaller than those of the regular garden marigold, C. officinalis, which can grow really big. But the real reason I love this plant is because of the sweet, lemony fragrance it exudes when I brush my fingers against it.
Senecio angulatus, or creeping groundsel, a native of South Africa, is one of the last flowering plants in the garden. It is normally cut down with the first hard frost which occurred in Uzès, Languedoc, at the end of November. It sprawls and will re-root and will spread if allowed. It is a good plant for rough land or to hide ugly areas.
Who complained that nothing interesting flowers in a mediterranean garden during the summer months?
I will make a plea for Bupleurum fruticosum, a remarkable evergreen shrubby tree, a member of the Apiaceae family, which grows wild around the Mediterranean Sea in France, in southern Europe and in Syria, as well as in western Africa. Its rigid multiple stems can reach a height of two metres; its tough evergreen leaves end in a short sharp point and have a visible network of veins and a narrow transparent border. The hundreds of almost flat umbels are a shade of greenish yellow and form a bright summer decoration in my garden.
The common English name for this plant (hare's ear) is a mistranslation of its Latin name, derived from the Greek Bupleuron, whose enigmatic meaning is 'ox flank'. The Spanish name keeps the reference to the ox: 'matabou'. I wonder if the English name might not be a misapprehension of the common French name 'buplèvre', where the second syllable has been taken for the word 'lièvre' (hare). But I may be wrong.
The abundant blue flowers of Melia azedarach, now in bloom in my garden, are just one fascinating feature of this quintessentially mediterranean tree. On a windless evening in May or June, when we dine outside on the terrace, the fragrance surrounds us, incredibly reminiscent of the smell of the Virginia tobacco cigarettes I used to smoke when I was young. Being anglophile and a student of English, I felt it behoved me to smoke an English brand of cigarettes, I think they were called Players No. 1. So now, many years later, I enjoy the luxury of a Proustian flash of sensorial memory thanks to this member of the Meliaceae family, while remaining a dedicated non-smoker. The other advantages of this tree are its light foliage which encourages delicate plants to grow under its shade, the fact that it grows rapidly, that it likes being pollarded, that its fruits provide food for birds in the autumn and winter.
I saw a bush of Daphne sericea for the first time in my life during a recent trip to the mountains of Turkey, organised jointly by the UK Cyclamen Society and the MGS under Alisdair Aird's leadership. It was a case of love at first sight. I first spotted the graceful rounded shape of the bushes from the minibus' window but didn't dare ask the driver to stop for identification. I was rewarded later on when we reached a natural park by a mountain lake: the bushes were on both sides of our footpath, in full bloom and exuding a delicate fragrance combining the carnation and the hyacinth. The bunches of waxy flowerets first appeared to be bi-coloured, light pink and yellow; but I noticed that actually the yellowish flowers were simply the pink ones but older, in the process of withering, an interesting combination. The leaves were dark green and very glossy. I am told they are evergreen.
I guess that the sericea part of its name points to the silky texture of the underside of its leaves. As for Daphne, it is the name of the nymph who dared to shun Apollo's advances and was turned into a bush, but some versions of the legend vary… Did she end up as Nerium oleander (rhododaphne in Greek), or as my Daphne sericea? I know the answer but will reveal it only to those MGS members who send me their contributions to the 'In Bloom Now' page.
Every year in my garden the bright yellow coronets of Coronilla valentina are faithful harbingers of the return of warmer weather. These true mediterranean inhabitants continue to bloom for many weeks. Their royal umbels of 6 to 12 flowers exhale a sweet sugary fragrance which attracts many bees and other visitors. Their very attractive leaves consist of odd numbers of elongated leaflets, dark green above, pale green underneath.
I collected this underbrush shrub from the wild many years ago, and it continues to seed itself capriciously everywhere. Plants will usually last a few years and disappear, but always to reappear in some other corner of the garden, a behaviour I particularly encourage in my garden.
Holiday wreath of mediterranean plants
Cypress, Rosmarinus, holly oak, wild rose hips, Pistacia lentiscus, P. palestina, Myrtus communis, olive, gorse, heather, Laurus nobilis, Viburnum tinus, Cotoneaster.
All the plants are from our land in Corfu, picked on the same day. The base ring is made with twined strands of English ivy. Unusual this year, because of mild temperatures so far, is the flowering rosemary, and the absence of Smilax berries which were still green.
I've had this small tree for years and thought it was an Abutilon (Flowering Maple). Recently, with the help of Caroline Harbouri, I reached the conclusion that it is a single Hibiscus mutabilis. All those that I had seen before, here in Corfu, were double. (Mine was bought in a nursery in Athens, as an unspecified autumn flowering hibiscus). The flowers are white when they open and gradually turn dark pink before dying 2-3 days later. See The Mediterranean Garden No. 40, April 2005, for an article on this Hibiscus by Meye Maier. If anyone disagrees and still thinks it's an Abutilon, please let me know. I'm only 98 percent convinced.
This is one of the many humble wild plants that invite themselves into our gardens without asking permission.
In spite of its Latin name, fennel is never vulgar and always welcome in my garden. It is a delight in the spring when its first young green stalks start to sprout, in the autumn when its dry umbels full of aromatic seeds wave in the wind, in winter when its bare stems create graphic vertical lines against the snow, but especially in the high summer when its hundreds of tiny lime-green flowers attract swarms of wild bees.
A member of the Apiaceae family, it is, like its cousins celery and parsley, useful in the kitchen, where it goes well with grilled fish. Its name in most European languages is derived from a Latin root, faenum, which means ‘hay’: Fennel, Fenouil (French), Fenchel (German), Venkel (Dutch), Fonoll (Spanish), Finocchio (Italian). In Greek, by contrast, it is called Marathos – the place name Marathon being derived from this plentifully growing plant.
Ptilostemon chamaepeuce is in bloom now in my Languedoc garden. I first saw this extraordinary mediterranean plant at Sparoza where it grows to the proportions of a small tree, with handsome striated bark resembling that of the pine tree. The narrow leaves, green above and whitish-grey underneath, complete the resemblance to a member of the fir family; even the name ‘chamaepeuce’ means in Greek ‘low-growing pine tree’ but of course it is no such thing, it belongs to the large Asteraceae family.
This citizen of Crete is a newcomer in our region. In my garden, the shrubs in the picture are still young, in their third year. They looked wonderful under the snow last winter. I probably planted them too densely, not realising that they would grow so well on this non-irrigated slope. They are blooming profusely for the first time; I promise to collect the seeds and give them to Chantal Guiraud’s Seed Bank. You will want to grow this quintessential mediterranean plant.
On a rocky hillside between the ancient temple of Artemis at Vravrona and the sea, we suddenly came on the most wonderful natural spring garden. The ‘permanent planting’ consisted of Euphorbia acanthothamnos, dressed in lime green, Phlomis fruticosa or Jerusalem sage, just coming into flower and Pistacia lentiscus red with berries, while the ground beneath them was a multicoloured display of annuals and small bulbs. The brightest were the Anemone coronaria pictured here; the carpet was of daisies (Bellis, Anthemis and chamomile), buttercups, Silene colorata, vetch and clover. Here and there were the other anemones, A. blanda and A. pavonina, as well as Ophrys lutea and O. ferrum-equinum the Yellow and Horseshoe orchids, the white flowers of Gagea graeca, Ornithogalum umbellatum (Star of Bethlehem) and Allium, and, growing straight out of the rock to prove their name, tiny rock roses, Helianthemum. With any number of other delicate little flowers, it all added up to the most enchanting garden imaginable − and without a weed, defined as plant in the wrong place, to be seen.
Photo by Davina Michaelides
"Tell me a plant to fill in a gap quickly and to flower in winter" was the question.
Buddleja officinalis was the answer. Growing quickly up to two metres or more, this lovely bush is covered in white buds, standing out against the grey/silver leaves, from December onwards until in late January the pale lilac flowers open up and fill the air with a sweet honey smell. If there is no snowfall, the flowers will continue all through February. Plant it somewhere you'll pass frequently even in the cold months.
Photo by Davina Michaelides
Gold and Scarlet Flowers
Practically all year long, I enjoy the elegant, variegated foliage of a clump of Ajania pacifica in a corner of my garden. But in late October, and this year in November, the plant offers me a multitude of golden corymbs which attract the last busy bees of the season.
In my garden, it grows near a Salvia elegans, which this year bloomed at the same time, and whose bright scarlet red flowers provide a vivid contrast with its companion.
The first AGM my wife and I attended was Tuscany 2003. Part of the programme involved us being let loose in Florence for half a day. This merely served to whet the appetite and we resolved to return one day for a more leisurely visit. It took 5 years but in June of this year we made it. Along with Florence we spent time in Pisa with the Leaning Tower as the primary objective but also intending to visit the Orto Botanico, one of the oldest in Italy dating from 1543. June is probably not the best time to judge any garden in the Mediterranean and the Botanical Garden was pleasant if not spectacular until we rounded a bend and were confronted by a tree covered in a mass of white flowers. The information plaque identified it as Aesculus parviflora and it turned out to be not so much a tree as a small copse of suckering stems. The photo is a close-up of one of the flower panicles.
Flowers of May Wreath
In Greece on the morning of May 1, we make a wreath of all the available flowers to hang at our front door for good luck. It stays there till St. John's Day (June 23), when it is traditionally burned in a bonfire, and the children jump over the flames three times. No doubt it's a remnant of pagan midsummer rituals. These days, especially in the cities, you can buy ready-made wreaths at florists, but the home-made ones are the best. Mine has a base of woven ivy branches. I tried to include everything that was in flower on that day, though I ended up leaving out those wildflowers that wilted or lost their petals when cut, like the many different kinds of cistuses.
FLOWERS OF MAY WREATH 2008
Allium, wild, white and pink
Antirrhinum, various different
California poppies,white, yellow and orange
Lavandula ‘ Goodwin Creek Grey’
Lilacs, white and purple
Ophrys, 4 different
Orchis (Bee orchids), various different
Pelargonia, various scented
Roses, various different old varieties
Rosa Banksiae yellow
Rosa Banksiae white
Serapia, 2 different
A member of the Alliaceae family formerly known as Ipheion uniflorum, the small whitish-blue Spring Starflower makes a good companion to the clumps of Iris unguicularis in my Languedoc garden. It starts flowering in March when the Algerian irises cease to bloom, proclaiming the arrival of spring. It self-seeds freely.
Euphorbia veneris (Aphrodite's spurge)
Euphorbia veneris (Aphrodite's spurge) is a perennial herb, 15-30cm tall but with a tendency to a prostrate habit. Its yellow-green flowers appear from February to June. A Cyprus endemic, it is fairly common on rocky slopes, in forests and open garrigue in the Troodos massif area of the island. The Troodos mountain range occupies a large part of western Cyprus and was created by pressure caused by the collision of the African and Eurasian lithospheric plates. At its highest point (Chionistra peak) it reaches 1,952 metres above sea level.
The Agricultural Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment are currently conducting trials to assess the suitability of E. veneris for garden use. Although in its natural habitat it occurs between 600-1,700m, my plants appear to be quite happy at a mere 30m above sea level.
Photograph by John Joynes
A Winter Companion
Iris unguicularis is a perfect winter-flowering inhabitant of my garden in the Languedoc. I do not recollect ever having planted it; birds probably brought it for it grows wild in the garrigue around my village. The common English name of this Mediterranean member of the Iridaceae family is Algerian Iris, while in France it is known as iris de Provence or iris d'Algérie. Once established in a garden it will thrive and spread by itself. I recently learned at Sparoza how to use two forks to uproot clumps that have become too big and then divide them by slicing through them with a large knife. Over the years, this iris has proved a faithful provider of winter colour in my garden.
Resilience and abundance in nature
Participants in the MGS Symposium in Athens saw a striking stand of Crocus
goulimyi blooming in the MGS garden at Sparoza, but the group that carried on to a tour of the south west Peloponnese were entranced by this mass display. James Cable the photographer writes:
I thought you might like this photo of a lovely display of Crocus goulimyi on the outskirts of a small town in the Mani. The area had been damaged by fire and this was a moving sign of nature's resilience.
A surprise find
Growing in a courtyard in Pigadia, the capital town of the Greek island of Karpathos, this frost tender Plumeria, probably Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia is a surprising sight and wonderful specimen. The flowers are delicately fragrant and long lasting. A native of South America, in non-tropical climes the Plumeria loses its leaves in winter. Heather Hartshorne notes in Plants for Dry Gardens*:
“An open, angular deciduous shrub 2-4 m high with exquisitely perfumed flowers and a desperately ugly appearance in its winter bareness.” An excellently frank description. She goes on to recommend it as suitable for dry gardens “…it has plain cultural tastes being content with any well-drained soil and routine summer irrigation. It thrives in a sheltered northerly aspect with protection from frost. Its seasonal nudity is best camouflaged by shrubs like Melianthus major whose leaf cycle alternates with its own.”
* Plants for Dry Gardens by Heather Hartshorne, Allan & Unwin, Australia 1995. ISBN 1-86373-971-8
Photographs by Frances Pavlidis
It's Elderflower time again so I would like to share with you a well tried and tested recipe from Hedgerow Cookery by Rosamond Richardson; perfect for hot summer days, and so easy to make.
20 heads of elderflowers (washed)
1.75 kg sugar
l.8 litres boiled water, cold
50 grams tartaric acid
2 sliced lemons
Put all the ingredients into a large pan and stir periodically for 24 hours. I added the sugar just as the water was cooling to help it to dissolve. Strain and bottle. What could be simpler?
Dilute to taste with water or mineral water. It is ready to drink immediately but will keep for several months. Mine has kept perfectly in the fridge for 12 months.
Sambucus nigra – European elder
An Easter Bouquet
Bearded Iris (unknown bicoloured variety widely naturalised in Corfu)
Bearded Iris (unknown yellow) cultivated.
Lupin (unknown variety, blue, wild or naturalised in Corfu).
A Central American senecio
The photo is of Senecio confusus just coming into flower. I believe the name very roughly translates to ‘confused old man’ – pretty appropriate for me, I guess. As the name suggests, it is a lax, ill-disciplined climber, though it’s too lightweight to be a real thug. The flowers are scented and it strikes very easily from cuttings. My plants grow up frames in dappled shade as I’m not sure that they would withstand the full heat of the sun in summer.
A delicate flower for the autumn
What do I say about the Hibiscus mutabilis? I sent the photo as the plant is in full bloom and the two flowers together looked such a nice shot. It featured in a past issue of The Mediterranean Garden (No 40) with an article by Meye Maier. I've had my bush for several years and it blooms profusely in both spring and autumn. A native of Southern China it is frost tender and produces a very lax, spreading bush/small tree. My plant has a double bloom that opens pure white, gradually blushing pink before becoming deep red as it closes and falls.
A Summer Stalwart
Just a short watering once a week will ensure that the South African Tulbaghia violacea keeps producing its pretty violet flowers throughout the hottest months whilst expanding into an attractive evergreen clump. The plant's unfortunate garlicy smell will not be too apparent if the clumps are distributed around the garden rather than massed. When the MGS visited the gardens of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2002 where the whole area around the azalea maze was mass planted with Tulbaghia, it was whispered that the designer had only subsequently discovered the plant's 'scent'.
Photograph by Davina Michaelides
A lovely plant in July as yet unidentified
Can anyone identify the plant illustrated below? It was purchased in Crete but I have also seen it in Cyprus. It is a perennial sub-shrub with long, narrow, lance-shaped leaves. In my pots it reaches a height of 50cm or more in moist soil, in sun or partial shade. The dark green leaves are up to 15cm long and about 5mm wide, with rather beautiful slightly asymmetric veining, starting from stems with short segments that have a faintly succulent look. The young stems have reddish striations. The tubular, five-petalled flowers, produced in summer, are of a good clear mauve colour (neither royal purple nor pale lilac) and are 4cm long, expanded at the mouth to 4cm in width. They have a fragile, papery texture and are held singly on fine, wiry pedicels, giving the plant a delicate, airy look. The flower buds are cream-coloured. The plant self-seeds profusely and tolerates low winter temperatures.
I'd be grateful to anyone who can put a name to this plant.
Flavio Zanon, Iraklion, Crete, Greece. From The Mediterranean Garden No 34 October 2003.
Many thanks to those of you who have identified this plant as Ruellia brittoniana.
Photograph by Cali Doxiadis
April in Corfu
Text and photographs by Cali Doxiadis.
Traditionally poppies grow in wheatfields, but in Corfu I came upon a spectacular display in an onion field. The site is a terrace surrounded by giant olive trees overlooking the interior of the island near the village of Pelekas, home of our Web Manager, Jon Watts. The campanulas are unidentified, possibly a local Corfu variant of Campanula drabifolia.