gardening | 544

The Summer is Here

The Summer is Here

The heat is in the air!
Here it is, long awaited summer that brought not only plenty of sunny days with it but also freedom of movement and pastime!
The summer season this year (2020) is getting off to an early start: due to lockdown we have gained a new appreciation of little joys and ability to communicate. Many people are trying to make up for lost time of their multi-day isolation from the world with renewed vigour now.

The nature is one of those things we missed a lot while we were sitting on quarantine. So, where can you start to commune with it again? The closest places are of course your garden, those few flowerbeds in the backyard or even the tiny spot with that carefully planted tree in front of your window, where your feathered friends are practicing their musical lessons every morning, local cats are chilling and cicadas are chirping loudly at night.

Gardening together with all that time we spent outside will give you peace of mind, bring joy and be a delight for the eyes while observing the results of your work.

We are inviting you to start your post-quarantined summer with the worries about your green pets that could be truly enjoyable. However for someone the summer is a perfect time for going on vacations, but this is exactly when your plants need your attention and help the most to “survive” another harsh period without any loss.

The island is sun-flooded, the daily temperatures are incredibly high, and the rain is something that exists only in people’s memories. Dry and hot Cypriot summer usually lasts from the end of April — the middle of May till the beginning of November. One of the features of the climate in Cyprus is that many plants wilt very quickly during the summer but grow and blossom even faster for the rest of the year comparing to their related species in the Middle and North Europe.

If you remember, the second half of the spring 2020 already managed to “please” us with sudden heat in the middle of May, so many annuals went out of bloom too early, just look at varietal irises or freesias whose flowering season is over this year.

We made our first stand…

Well, the summer gardening in Cyprus, as well as in the most parts of the Mediterranean, is not always carefree and easy hobby as it might appear first.
This activity turns into constant “fight” for water and shadow for your plants during summer heat.

Cyprus-style Garden

You will see the “standard kit” of plants in the typical Cypriot garden. Local gardeners used to decorate their little slices of paradise with species that will attract the amazing gazes, fill the air with fine scents and fruit no less than few times a year.

These trees are considered to be the classics of the local gardens:

1. Olive tree. It has been cultivated on the island for thousand years and believed to be “immortal”. Olive trees are planted both for practical and decorative use.

2. Plumeria. This decorative species became popular because of its golden white fragrant flowers [1]. It also comes in various shapes and colours: white, yellow and magenta pink.

Plumeria

3. Chorisia speciosa or Ceiba. A broad-leafed tree with thick spikes over its bark. Chorisia produces big white or slightly pink coloured unscented flowers. The fruits of the tree are valued for the fibrous fluffy matter contained in them widely used as cotton reminiscent for pillows, jackets, soft furniture stuffing etc. This material possesses of excellent sound- and heat-insulating properties.

Among other trees are: orange, lemon and tangerine trees, jasmine, fig tree (this one often grows wild in spite of everything in the most unexpected places). You will definitely find bright hibiscus and magnificent bougainvillea somewhere nearby — these two are big fans of sunny spots.

Bougainvillea can triple in size within half a year. The blooming comes in cycles; the plant usually achieves its maximal beauty after turning 4 years old.

Bougainvillea

The most part of hibiscuses species you will see in Cyprus are bushes and trees. The common colour of flowers is bright red; less often it’s yellow (I have had one exactly like that: yellow with red flashes on the inside of the big flowers).

Hibiscuses

The following plants are grown as hedges in old gardens, square parks and even as a traffic divider on highway:

Solanum rantonnetii (Blue potato bush) — is a lush shrub or medium tall tree (2-3 m) with purple flowers that is blossoming all year round. It can grow really fast, prefers sunny places, regular watering and needs to be pruned frequently (up to 5-6 times a year) for better look.

Oleander [2] — it is a beautiful evergreen shrub with a bright palette of white and pink colours. However the popularity of this undemanding (suits for sunny places, resistant to pests and diseases) plant dropped recently because the fact that its bark and sap are very poisonous and even the scent could be toxic too.

Another plant that is growing in many yards (as well as in the tiny front yards of townhouses and condominiums) is a wild grape.

So it’s not a surprise that talks about gardening take an important place in the life of Cypriots. They will gladly to discuss with you the assortment of their favourite flower shops and plant nurseries (fitorios), seedling prices or share a secret of making a perfect green lawn. If the gardening is not an empty phrase to you and you wouldn’t mind to contribute with your personal experience, it’s no doubt you will be always a welcome guest and known as a good person who’s nice to talk to.

Shrubs

Many of the garden bushes planted in Cyprus have beautiful flowers. That is often the main reason why Cypriots use them as hedges. The most common among them are:

Lantana: that shrub of medium size (up to 3 m tall) is number one for the hedges. It originates from South America and Africa, grows very fast and blossoms all year round. The bright flowers attract bees and butterflies and can change their colour over time. But please note that its sap, leaves and fruits are poisonous and could be dangerous to touch both for people and many animals.

Jasmine — is the most fragrant plant among the Cyprus flowering shrubs. Nice look and pleasant aroma are the features it is valued for. You will see many different kinds of jasmine in all their glory on the island: climbing plants and small trees are blossoming with big white, pink and yellow flowers.

Jasmine

Flowering Plants

Almost every plant is treasured in Cyprus, especially when we are talking about flowering plants — these are treated with love and awe (that proves the annual flower festival called Anfestiria [3], which marks the beginning of the summer season in Cyprus).

We will tell you about three most popular flowering plants and give some tips on how to care for them:

Asiatic lilies (about 1 m high) always add colours and sophistication to any garden. This plant prefers “light” soils not overloaded with fertilizers, regular watering, good drainage and light shade. Asiatic lilies look great when planted in groups as well as in flowerbeds and mixed borders.

Asiatic lilies

Geranium is the most popular and one of the most undemanding flowering plants in Cyprus. You will never have any problems with it: it grows in any environment and could be easily propagate with cuttings.

Geranium

Roses. There is a plenty number of species that grow on the island: some of them are quite demanding and need a lot of your attention (hybrid tea roses and remontant roses), the requirements of another ones are very modest (shrub and climber roses). Choose what you like the most.

The regular watering, morning is the perfect time for it, and using of granulated fertilizer are two “must do’s” during the summer. Try not to sprinkle the water on the leaves to avoid fungal infestation. Another useful practice is to add mulch to the soil: it prevents rapid expansion of weeds and keeps the soil wet for a long time. Remember that the roses that grow in sunny places are usually healthier and stronger than those growing in the shade.

Let’s not forget about the plants for which the heat is not a tough time but natural growing conditions. By the way the popularity of these “guys” skyrocketed on the island due to the recent climate change.

Succulents

The beginning of summer was already celebrated with pink and white flowers of echinopsis — a South American (Arizona) cactus that originated from South Africa, however its blossoming lasts only one day.

To plant the following creeping perennials could be a wonderful idea for those places of your garden that are exposed to the sun all day long: carpobrotus edulis [4] (the locals in Cyprus call it “Aphrodite’s tresses”) with its branching stems (up to 2 m) and aptemia. Both species have bright pink flowers that attract the bees.

Carpobrotus edulis

Vegetables: which one to choose, where and when to plant

It is better to know what kind of vegetables the climate in your region suits the most, when, where and how to plant them, what are the soil and watering requirements and what kind of diseases or pests you should be aware of.

So, take your personal decision based on pro’s recommendations when you choose a plant from the range available in your area. Soon you will gain experience trying to plant something new every season and as a result you will be able to make a perfect list of vegetables you are enjoying to care for and avoiding waste of money, time and energy [5] at the same time.

It would be better for the environment if you opt for organic and eco growing methods: for example you can use efficient watering methods to save water and eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers that often leads to ripening of fruits, which have no taste at all.

It is obvious that different species and kinds of vegetables require different climate conditions, so check for the most suitable for your local ones. If you are living near the seashore, somewhere with the sea breeze, which makes the summer heat milder — you are the lucky one because you will get a bumper crop of many different vegetables all year round.

If the place you are living in is located in the region with extremely high temperatures and quite dry summer months instead (add to this limited water supply), the assortment of vegetables you can grow is rather narrow. What is more, it would be better to plant them during the cold season.

Another important factor is the local soil fertility: the higher it is (so called “red soils”, Kokkinochorio region within Famagusta is known as one of the best in this regard), the more diverse is the number of different vegetables you can plant.

Please, note that planting dates of different kinds of vegetables usually alternate because of the various conditions mentioned above. They range between 1-2 weeks.

For example, if you want to grow some vegetables on sun-exposed place in a young garden with lack of shade and limited water supply, it would be better to gain your first experience by planting any kind of pepper: chili or green pepper is the best choice in this case. The hotter the weather, the hotter the pepper!

If you are not fond of having patches in your garden, there is another way: some gardeners prefer to plant seeds like cherry tomatoes, bell pepper or even zucchinis, let alone all kinds of herbs, in pots and containers that are left after replanting.

Pepper

Herbs [6]

Rosemary and Lavender

Rosemary and lavender are two evergreen bushes that love taking sunbaths all the year round, what is more they don’t need too much water. Rosemary doesn't like heavy soils, however it could feel pretty good even in such kind of environment. Both these species (no matter what plant variety you will choose) are growing fast. Rosemary is not only an expressive and fragrant element of landscape design but also a popular spice for culinary delights: it is excellent for stew, marinades, chicken (especially with lemon) etc.

Advice: combine lavender with other plants that will create a contrast background with their colourful flowers. The perfect match to lavender could be sage, nepeta, hydrangea, the noble yarrow or any other herbs also used for culinary purposes. We will give you more tips combining plants in the next articles.

A small nuance regarding lavender: it stems will get some kind of “bark” after few years and yet you can cut them without any hesitation; lavender will thrive and bloom next season.
When you notice lavender flowers becoming small and very few in number, you can replace it with young one or plant something else instead.

Basil and Lavender

Basil

Light shade is the best place for this plant. Veteran gardeners even recommend opting for wild basil instead of a garden one because it’s more resilient.

This literally royal (Greek word βασιλικος translates as “royal”) herb is inhabitant of many gardens as well as wastelands in Cyprus. It is well known for its gustatory qualities: both fresh and dried leaves are ingredients of salads, sauces, soups, meat stews, herbal teas and essential oils that are used in traditional medicine. Basil is a perennial that could be added to your collection of herbs planted in the garden; during the wet weather or right after the rain it is bursting with light pleasant aroma. Doubting which one to choose, “green” or “purple”? Make your choice according your taste.

European chefs for example prefer green basil and my Russian compatriots — purple. Se la vie as the saying goes… Another bonus feature is that basil is a honey plant, plus it keeps not only pests out of the garden but also mosquitos and other insects who want to taste the blood of the family enjoying the evening air outside after the hot day.

The flowering season begins in the summer what means that the concentration of essential oils in the leaves reaches its maximum point and makes them delicious and the taste richer. Do the “harvesting” in the right way: choose the young leaves from the top (for culinary purposes) or pick the big ones (for tea) by hand and try not to harm the plant.

Basil is a big fan of basking in the direct sunlight (it can also grow in the light shade in extreme cases) and light soils with a proper drainage. However it is better not to plant such annuals as basil on the same place every season: it will help you to avoid the fusarium wilt. Do not forget to flip your basil to keep the plant look nice.

Thyme

This plant is usually about 35-40 cm high and blossoms with small flowers that have a gentle delicate fragrance. Thyme is one of the universal and irreplaceable plants for the gardens of every size and style: about 50 different kinds of it are used for culinary purposes today (thymus vulgaris is on top of this list). The herb gives a special touch to the dishes and enhances the taste. According to the tips of landscape designers it is great for rock gardens (especially creeping ones as thymus citriodorus), borders and groups of flowers (thymus herbabarona) and is quite undemanding, so even the amateur gardeners can grow it.

Same as basil thyme also prefers a plenty of sun and a soil with good drainage. Water it only when the soil is dry (moist soil can cause fungal diseases).

You can pick up leaves and sprigs any time during the summer. Storage them in tightly closed containers. Another option is to remove leaves from the stems and dry them on a backing sheet or freeze them. To dry the thyme for the storage, pick the sprigs in early autumn, string them together and hang in some shady warm good ventilated place for drying.

Thyme

Oregano (sometimes referred to as wild marjoram)

This perennial is not only a honey plant but also a healthy ingredient of herbal teas and natural medicinal infusions, a spice for cooking various dishes and a “guard” keeping pests off that is also has significant decorative properties (30-70 cm tall plant of 20 different types).

Both oregano and lavender are herbs that keep the moths away when put in the wardrobe. Please, note, that oregano has powerful root system that allows it to spread through your garden, “conquering” new areas it finds suitable for growing. Oregano likes sunny places, however it can grow in any type of soil. What is more, if you are tending to forgetfulness and watering your plants on a regular basis is definitely not something you are good at, your oregano can turn into…a common weed and everything you can do about it is to replace it with a new one.

Preferably, the time for harvesting is during the blossoming: pick no more than 3 sprigs (up to 20 cm) from each plant. The sprigs are usually stringed together and hanged for drying or left on the backing sheets covered with paper. The stems are not edible, so they should be removed after drying.

That’s all about the herbs for now. Let us give you several tips about gardening in summer.

Useful Tips: things you should do while gardening in summer

The main rule we recommend to follow: if you are an amateur gardener and not sure what kind of plants you want to see growing in your garden, follow the example of the local gardeners. In case if it is still complicated for you to figure it out on your own and you have no acquaintance gardeners among your neighbours, you can always ask for advice at local plant nursery, I’m sure the staff will be glad to help you.

Working in the garden and taking care about the plants is not only a hobby that will make your surroundings look nice but it could also be good for your health and mental state. Doing as best as we can while planting and caring about our green “pets”, no matter if they grow in pots on a windowsill in the kitchen, in patio, on your balcony or outside, in the garden, you will always get an energy boost and a good mood for the entire day.

Alright, we hope that the experienced gardeners managed to do the following before the starting of the summer season: reseed, fertilize and propagate the plants (with cuttings or by layering) and sow the seeds. Because it is not recommended to plant any new seedlings in the open field in summer: it is hard for the plants to take roots at this time, because of the high temperatures that dry the soil very quick and too much sun, especially in July and August.

It is better to buy and plant the main part of the horticultures with the onset of autumn chill (in the evenings, in so called “velvet season”) or in early spring.

Many people decorate their patios with hanging pots and baskets with petunias and pelargoniums. These species need a regular fertilizing with Phostrogen every two or three weeks to keep the plants fit and beautiful.

As you might notice, locals don’t make the most of their gardens but try to keep the balance of “forces” instead and take care of the environment.

It will be nice if you, following the lead of the Cypriots, would prefer organic fertilizers and treatments against pests to the artificial chemical ones.

Protecting your garden from pests and people from annoying blood-sucking insects

So, how can you protect your garden from pests in the natural way without using too much chemicals? How to grow a good harvest and to provide the optimal conditions for plants and keep them fit and healthy?

According to the pros first of all you need to make sure that the soil contains enough humus and the moisture level meet the requirements.

Do not forget then to keep the area clean and well maintained: it is necessary to clean your garden from fallen leaves [7] (that could be a breeding ground for larvae, mildew and weeds and a perfect hiding place for uninvited guests) as well as garden tools, containers and utility rooms.

Furthermore try to identify all the sick plants and get rid of them if it’s already impossible to cure them. The right crop rotation [8] could be really helpful with maintaining healthy vegetables and greens in your garden and avoiding the risk of infection of specific species or kinds of vegetables. Apart from that it is always better to buy seeds and seedlings by proved dealers, whose assortment passed the essential selection and treatment, so the plants they offer are resilient to different kind of diseases.

Examine your green “freinds” from time to time when you are out having a rest or catching some fresh air in the garden; identifying a problem at an early stage will save you money and time [9].

Important note: some of chemical pesticides offered by various brands could be bad not only for pests but also for other beneficial or completely harmless insects that live in the garden.

It is known that you can attract different species of insects (ladybugs, mantises, parasitoid wasps and hoverflies) that provide a natural pest control by planting nectar flowers. Besides the veteran gardeners will remind you that the pests might be tricky because their ability to become immune to the chemicals [10].

Here are also some tips about how to protect yourself from bites or annoying presence of insects while you are working in the garden, having a dinner with your friends or family in the patio or balcony or leaving the windows open during the night.

The main types of insects that will “attack” you for whatever reason in Cyprus are following: mosquitos, flies, wasps and bees, hornets, spiders and big ants. Not all of them are harmless; there are several potential disease carriers among them. We would recommend you to take the protection measures in three ways: skin surface, clothes and the area (for example by placing a bed net or window/door mosquito net etc).

Clothing: choose loose fit clothes of light colours, preferably long sleeved and made of organic fabrics.

Perfume: avoid using perfume as well as any kind of skin care like aftershave or soap that have a strong smell. Be careful even choosing deodorants, favour those with light subtle scents.

Make sure it is possible to cover the food and drinks with a special net while you are feasting with your little party in the open-air patio.

What is more, you shouldn’t leave compost containers and garbage cans open for a long time during the heat.

Don’t walk barefoot all the time, especially outside, in the garden or on the terrace.

If you already noticed that there are a lot of flies and mosquitos every summer in the area you are living in, do not forget to use repellents from time to time, first ensuring you are not allergic to them, of course.

By the way if you need to use repellent during the daytime, do it right: first goes the sunscreen and then — the repellent.

There is a quite wide range of organic repellents: aroma lamps with few drops of eucalyptus, geranium, tea tree, citronella, lavender or rosemary are at your service (based on my personal positive experience). Hanging a bunch of mint or a bundle of garlic near the place you plan to spend time at could be also a good measure; they say it works wonderfully when it comes to scaring away blood-sucking species (of all types and sizes, haha). By consuming the vitamin B you can change (without anybody noticing including yourself) your natural skin odour so that the mosquitos would be not interested in you any more.

If you have any of those essential oils at home but no lamp where to pour them or you don’t use any skincare like creams you can add them to, there is another solution: few drops on a headboard or legs of the bed will be enough — no insects will disturb your sleep.

What is more, if any of these plants is growing in your garden or in the pot right under your window, a peaceful evening and a good rest are guaranteed to you [11].

In the next article we will tell you about the animals, insects and birds you can be friends with or at least not to chase them away, so your garden could be guarded from pests of all kinds (see “Garden friends” article).

 

Stay with us and till the next time!


[1] Another name of this tropical tree is frangipani, which it got after Italian perfumer, who was first creating a perfume of its flowers.

Plumeria is a popular scent that can be found in many different single-note fragrance collections: by British perfume house Ormonde Jayne, Canadian designer Ayala Sender, American Aloha Beauty and Terra Nova.

[2] It is not recommended to plant oleander trees anywhere near your house if you have small kinds or pets.

[3] Flower festival takes place in May in Cyprus: Cypriots celebrate the magnificent nature of the island with it. Traditionally at this time there are flower fairs, parades, carnivals and concerts in every city. However Pafos takes the main place among them.

[4] This plant is also used by gardeners in order to prevent soil erosions.

[5] Look for more valuable tips here.

[6] You can read about the most popular herbs that are grown all around the Cyprus and their main features in this article.

For those, who like Mediterranean cuisine and its spices but don’t have their own gardens, here is the website, where you can order them online.

[7] It is better to leave a certain amount of fallen leaves on the ground under the garden plants (especially when it is difficult to do seasonal cleaning on a regular basis or when you feel too lazy to do it), so they could be turned into organic compost with time. This process goes very quick during the rainy season.

[8] The are special companion planting charts of vegetables you can easily find on Internet that were designed to keep the plants healthy and avoid the exhaustion of the soil.

Here are some basic rules for you to follow:

  • do not plant one and the same species on the same place as before;
  • try to wait few years before starting to grow something else on that place you used for it last season;
  • plant green manure (plants that are able to restore the soil) on those areas that are “resting” from the gardening this year to enrich them with nutrients.

[9] Read more about it here.

[10] You can find the information about insecticides that are recommended to use as a protection from different kinds of flies, aphids and other pests on the special profile websites.

[11] Read more about protection from the biting insects during your vacation or while living in south countries/exotic places by clicking this link.

Author: Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Translation: Inna Guseva
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