Whilst Cyprus enjoys an Indian summer, (or even a Cypriot summer for that matter,) the UK is plunging head first into winter. Having just spent a glorious week in 26ᵒc Paphos, staying with friend Naomi – how thoughtful of her to relocate to such a lovely home – it was quite a shock to the system to return to dreary 13ᵒc London. (Feel guilty now saying that, as if being disloyal to a family member!) However, I actually find myself to be more acclimatised to the cooler weather, spending so much time as I do outdoors. Who would have thought it ! In fact today we are experiencing a lovely crisp sunny day in Finchley and I feel invigorated as I pick the last of the windfall apples from underneath our ancient tree. For some reason they are the size of cricket balls this year so quite glad I wasn’t underneath when they fell.
Excuse my ignorance but until our recent visits to Cyprus I had no idea just how close to the Middle East it was, and how that impacted on its flowers. Plants that we treat as annuals here grow into shrubs and trees over there! Lantana: neighbour Anne nurses her cherished lantanas over the winter like delicate invalids, but Over There they grow into huge hedges with stems as thick as your fingers. The collective fool’s errand of trying to grow lavender successfully in the clay soil of the Hampstead Garden Suburb (henceforth to be referred to as The Suburb) is in deep contrast with the robust dense aromatic shrubs thriving in the thin stony soil of the Med. When visiting mountainside Monastery Neophytos we were captivated by the sunken courtyard garden, viewed from its ancient cloisters. Colour and vigour on a grand scale. Huge clumps of ginger and canna lilies, brugmansias growing into trees, Ali Baba pots of bougainvillaea and oleander, all surrounded by characteristic *Cypress trees. And the roses! We shouldn’t be surprised by their presence amongst all this exotica, considering their origins:
The first known paintings of a rose are actually frescoes, the earliest example of which was discovered in Crete around 1600 B.C.
Crusader Robert de Brie is often given credit for bringing the Damask rose from Persia to Europe sometime between 1254 and 1276. It takes its name from Damascus in Syria.
(*As to the reason why its Cypress trees and not Cyprus trees, I just don’t want to know.)
Bearing in mind that this is a gardening blog, I shall make my next paragraph brief: Second only to the flora, Cyprus means Cats to me. Cats at Naomi’s apartment complex, cats around your ankles at bars and restaurants, and above all, due no doubt to the significant British ex-pat community, cat sanctuaries, the largest of which Tala Cat Sanctuary, run by two Brits, has at present over 750 cats. For those of you feline phobics I make no apologies for including a photo of feeding time, a frenzy reminiscent of piranha fish! There is a tenuous link to horticulture here – feral cat communities thrive in the shelter of oleander and lantana hedges planted in raised beds all over the island!
And so to our return. I had imagined that autumn would have turned to winter in our absence and that I would be able to run amok with the secateurs, cutting everything back. I’m tired, I wish everything would die so that I can come indoors and have a rest! But what do I find? Salvias in full flower, a rainbow of colours; no way was I going to dig them up, having waited so long for their finest hour. Leaves still stubbornly sticking to their branches so no point raking until they are all down. Ergo, no chance of applying mulch to borders yet. (How daft are we? We rake off leaves then apply mulch. Why not just leave leaves to rot? Looks messy. Expensive intensive counterintuitive step!)
Still, there’s plenty to do in the meantime. In the Control Room (aka greenhouse) the salvia, fuchsia and penstemon cuttings I took last month are flourishing in their propagator (as is the electricity bill.) I’ve been so encouraged by my success that I have taken cuttings of coleus Campfire, and, fingers crossed, so far so good. I suppose now that the aforementioned cuttings are sprouting new leaves that means they’ve rooted, so I need to pot them on now, do I? Or do I wait until spring? Decisions, decisions!
And I shall not be idle outside either. (Why not? Please, can I be idle soon?) For the two large terracotta pots flanking the rustic arch into the fernery (now doesn’t that sound grand) I have bought a pair of cornus Alba Sibirica and half a dozen ophio-watsit black grasses to surround them. Now I come to think of it, some white bulbs would make a good contrast so I might just have to go to the nursery again; what a hardship! In the two black planters outside the front door I’ve planted Madonna tulips, Pueblo, Minnou and Falconet species narsissi, topped off with evergreen ferns and white cyclamen. Quite uncharacteristically tasteful for me.
Last Christmas I treated myself to six T&M hyacinth Midnight Mystic bulbs for a festive display in our front porch. Having carefully lifted them after flowering, I transferred them to the greenhouse to dry off, finally removing their dead foliage and roots ready for storage. I must have got bored or distracted because there they sat in a 6” plastic pot under the staging all through the rest of this year until I accidentally found them when tidying up in October! Still, they felt firm enough so I potted them up in shallow terracotta bulb pans and put them in a dark cupboard for a couple of weeks, and hey presto, they produced shoots! Now happily ensconced in the porch once again, they are sprouting away with visible buds. Amazing resilience!
There are some strange combinations going on in the borders right now, no doubt due to Mother Nature’s seasonal confusion: Late summer flowering Salvia Black & Blue with early spring flowering Coronilla valentina glauca ‘Citrina’ (or Bastard Senna – who knew?) It’s mortal outside but with no frosts and plenty of bright sunshine I feel like the grim reaper pulling up the annual container displays on the patio.
And whilst we talking of odd weather conditions, don’t ever moan to me about the vagaries of the British weather. Whilst In Cyprus it was too hot for me to sit in the sun during the day, but as soon as the sun went down, out came my suede fur lined jacket (travelling attire – I come from a bygone generation who still dress up to travel)) for evening excursions!
And as one of our favourite celebrated gardeners would say: whatever the weather, enjoy your garden.