Are you ready for spring?
You could be forgiven if you thought otherwise in mid-February as snow fell almost everywhere leaving a blanket of white just when the freesias were about to open their fragrant flowers. The huge calla leaves looked like variegated plants as snow settled in the folds of the leaves. What a mixture of weather we had in February -- snow, frost, hail, rain, biting winds and some sunshine, which was just as the man from the mountains forecast in the Minayallia last autumn, even to the day! How did he know? Some magic there I think! Other men from the mountains can tell you exactly where there is water on your land. My husband can divine water using two bent wire coat hangers, but he doesn't know the depth that it is to be found.
During the cold weather this winter someone asked me what the difference is between ground frost and air frost. This, of course, was because lots of us who live above the coast lost plants from this rare weather condition in otherwise sunny and warm Cyprus. There is only a matter of a few inches between the two. Air temperature is measured at a height of 1.25 metres above ground level so that when it falls below 0C then it is regarded as air frost, which caused the tops of trees like jacarandas and hibiscus to burn.
For gardening purposes, it is important to record the temperature at ground level and most weather stations set at least two thermometers to record these with a grass minimum thermometer set in contact with short grass. As you would expect when the temperature is 0C on the grass then that is a ground frost. Frost will appear on grass and vulnerable plants like bedding and many others with soft foliage will be affected. So there you have it, an air frost can be just as damaging as a ground frost.
On another subject entirely, in a gardening article I read recently the writer claimed that you couldn't be a proper gardener if you wore gardening gloves. What a lot of tosh! I regard myself to be a proper gardener and wear different gloves for different jobs and have always done so. The writer obviously has had a charmed life so far. There are all manner of hazards in a garden and care should be taken to protect ones hands as well as other parts of the body. If you use animal manure then there is always the danger of tetanus but one should keep that jab up to date. Cats are another problem especially here where any turned soil makes an ideal toilet place for them. Surely we all know by now that cats' faeces can be very harmful to humans and they just don't mind where they do it, which could be in a child's sandpit or some such place!
Other hazards are thorny branches and it's a good idea to wear protective eye glasses and gardening gloves with gauntlets. Before you put them away clean the blades of secateurs and tree loppers using Scotchbrite scourers so as not to transfer diseases between plants. I use latex gloves for seeds and seedlings when potting on, although it is sometimes necessary to pick up the tiny seedlings with bare fingers. Marigolds are ideal for digging, while really heavy gloves are needed for pruning jobs such as bougainvilleas which should be done by now! Hopefully other pruning is all finished because with rising temperatures and slightly longer daylight hours, sap starts to rise! If you prune when that happens, then the trees are likely to 'bleed'.
WHAT DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
Although many Aloe ferox have wonderful red flowers, some have orange flowers. Mine, which I have waited for years to flower, disappointed me when they turned out not to be the brilliant red that I had hoped for. Nevertheless they have had many spikes of these striking orange blooms. As they fade then Aloe vera with its healing properties begins to flower. The larger aloes are ideal for planting on banks where nothing else will grow and I have planted among them some Agave americana 'Variegata' which contrast well with the bluey shade of the aloes.
Aloe ferox with orange flowers
I have a group of echiums, polygala and Viburnum tinus in the garden, which look striking at the moment. Polygala is such a good plant to have although it is messy, always dropping leaves and spent flowers everywhere. It has flowers almost all the time, while the others are really late winter plants, attracting the bees when nothing else is out. We hear such awful stories about bee colonies dying out that we must encourage them into our gardens.
Garden centre benches are a delight to the eye this month and the air is filled with their heavenly fragrances. But be warned that delicate plants such as camellias which you see a lot of these days, do not like cold temperatures. So be as choosy about the plants you buy, as you would have been in northern European garden centres. Delightful as they all are, they are grown in a protected environment away from winds and frosts, as they are brought on to almost the peak of their beauty. I know that you want to see the colour of the petals but choose plants which have lots of flower buds coming from the base area too. Polyanthus are bright and beautiful at the moment and make gorgeous displays in pots or plots. I noticed lots of new colours in petunias, one was a particularly luscious chocolately colour, which I admired. Climbing plants like hardenbergias with purple or white flowers and orange pyrostegia from the southern hemisphere are in glorious flower, although the latter doesn't like cold temperatures as I know to my cost. I have seen a house in nearby Pyrga where it has clambered all over the walls and looks very comfortable there.
This is probably the last month for planting or moving trees or shrubs so get those jobs done while the earth is still damp. I understand that bone meal is now available in a garden centre in the Coral Bay area. Bone meal gives the roots of plants such a good start in life in your garden. Remember to tease out the roots, especially if they are wound round inside the pot.
If you have had shrubs in pots for a long time check them out especially their root systems which might have tried to escape the pots by thrusting out through any drainage holes. I discovered to my horror that several cycads in pots around the pool edge (because they don't shed leaves all the time), had done just that and it was exceedingly difficult to remove them from the inner pots! Also look at the plant saucers underneath pots which may be full of water. Only marginal plants like to have wet roots and more plants die because of being over-watered than those that aren't. I have a poinsettia from Christmas which is still going strong as it likes the position it is in indoors and only has a little drop of water occasionally.
Sowing annual seeds in the ground this month is okay as long as the soil is warming up otherwise they will rot off. Watering them with slightly warmed water will not be such a shock to the little seedlings, so keep a watering can in a sunny spot to take the chill off it. However if the water is not used up they are the ideal spot for mosquitoes to breed, so change the water every week.
PLANT OF THE MONTH Bulbinella frutescens
I wrote about a member of this plant family in my article last October, but I couldn't resist mentioning this member of the same family, especially as I saw it for the first time in a garden centre recently. While its relative flowers in late summer, this little beauty growing to about a metre in height shows us its star-burst yellow flowers on tall stems in February and March and is a joy to behold. Looking quite fragile, it adds daintiness to the cold 'end of winter garden', which other more positive plants don't. Each flower has six stamens. The seeds are shield-shaped and there are one or two seeds in each chamber. The green strap-like leaves, looking rather like succulents but are not, grow to around a metre in height.
This member of the Asphodelaceae family is quite at home in a garden but in the wild it grows in the same conditions in scrub land as the wild ones do here. Commonly known as Cats Tail, Ross Lily or Maori Onion, you can guess where some of them originated from -- parts of New Zealand and Southern Africa. They prefer full sunlight or partial shade in any soil and need to be watered sparingly during dry periods. They do not require much attention when fully established in gardens and propagation is by seed or division.
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