Summer colour-fest

The title might be an over-estimation. Summer colours in our garden can be spectacular – the bougainvillea in the hedge, the May-flowering Jacaranda tree – but I wouldn’t say it is the best time of year for a garden in Egypt.

Now, however, as we gear up for the start of summer after yesterday’s “Spring Festival”*, we have some glorious colours on the pergola and in the herbaceous borders, in all shades from salmon pink to deep, luxuriant crimson:

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It is likely that the weather will continue hot and dry for the foreseeable future. That said, we can never be quite sure: A week ago, we had a heavy, overcast day, the light ominously grey tinged with orange, followed by  a night of spectacular lightning and thunder and a downpour that soaked everything.

The climbing rose (variety uncertain – no label when bought) is adorned with beautiful blooms, as you can see in the slideshow above. It climbs from the right of the pergola across the front where it is met by white jasmine (J. officinale) and honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Behind, the poor Ipomoea (Morning Glory) ripped by an unfeeling gardener from its original position while still in the pot, tearing I don’t know how many precious roots, is clearly recovering well (below left).

While the honeysuckle on the pergola isn’t flowering yet,  it is well away along the green fence nearby, with lovely flowers scenting the air:

All these honeysuckle plants, and many more besides in the Jasmine Garden, originated as layered branches from the mother plant, bought from a nursery several years ago. Other “descendants” are to be found in a garden elsewhere in New Cairo, and on a balcony in Alexandria!

The bottle brush (Callistemon citrinus) is particularly lovely right now, the brilliant red stamens of its flowers tipped with yellow:

The bottlebrush originates in Australia and is not uncommon in Egypt, although it is something of a specialist shrub; there are specimens on sale at the Spring Flower Show this year.

Several other plants in our garden are of South African origin, including the plumbago (P. capensis), both white and blue – which generally flowers later in the summer – and the spectacular trailing African daisy or Osteospermum fruiticosum/ecklonis. 

These are excellent at filling in space; if anything, they are inclined to sprawl a little too much, as well as seed themselves everywhere (including in the lawn!), so they need to be controlled.

Another couple of border sprawlers are the rose geranium Pelargonium graveolens (or maybe capitatum) and tansy or Tanacetum. In truth, I am not sure which species of these two herbs I have in the herbaceous borders: I have moaned before about the lack of labels on plants in every nursery I know in Cairo (and the “top professionals” at the Spring Flower Show are not much better). But the plants are true winners in terms of filling in space, and lovely for long-lasting masses of flowers (tansy) and striking green foliage (geranium – her flowers are insignificant and don’t last long, but even so the bees appreciate them):

One odd thing about all these beautiful flowers is that none of them appeared in ancient Egyptian gardens, as far as we know. I wonder about tansy: quite apart from its many medicinal properties (e.g. anti-inflammatory and insecticidal), its name is derived from the Greek athanasia or immortal since it has preservative properties – ideal for mummification, one might think.

Lastly in my review of the early summer colours of our garden, one of my favourites: lavender (Lavandula). We have two seedlings of Lavandula spica from Italy to be planted out when they have grown a little more. They promise greenish leaves and aromatic deep purple flowers. Our two locally-sourced plants, with grey leaves and blue-ish spikes, are also flowering this year, a relatively rare occurrence in my experience of the plant in Egypt:

Lavender

 

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Herbaceous border hang-up

Our herbaceous borders need attention. The good news is that the gardening assistant has at last finished cutting the hedge – a monumental task, given the rapid growth and woodiness of Ficus nitida (Indian laurel). The not so good news is that the borders have become overgrown and full of bugs.

Of course, you might expect to have thriving wildlife if you garden the natural way. I’m happy to meet praying mantis, beetles, woodlice and – above all – earthworms when I garden. But I’m not so sure about snails, and I can’t bear cockroaches of which we have the burrowing sort in the garden, small, dark and more rounded than the “domestic” species.

So far, the front section of the border has been cleaned and the canna, roses, plumbago and jasmine cut down (above right). Plants in the rear section of the border now have to be cut back, notably the white plumbago which has spread all over, and the roses.

It has been a poor year for roses: Ours started off strong, bloomed beautifully in the spring and then went downhill all the way. After the first flowering they produced what looked like suckers (although not from the base of the plants), with smaller flowers and straggling and tatty growth, then suffered major infestations of mealy bugs which spread elsewhere; or maybe hit the roses from elsewhere, I’m not sure.

 

Come November, we had some unexpected blooms, for example from the bottlebrush tree (Callistemon citrinus). Most faithful of all through the year are my beloved hibiscus. Pink, red, orange or yellow, single or double, they keep flowering – reminders of the beauty of nature through sunny days and dark times alike.

In truth, I think the main issue with our borders is that the planning and planting haven’t quite worked. We placed climbing bougainvillea, honeysuckle and jasmines along with hibiscus at the back. In front of them are bush jasmines, roses and plumbago. Forward in the beds are the smaller plants – osteospermum, dianthus, daisies, aeoniums, with space for some annuals, especially petunias, in the spring. There are two patches of cannas, with their glamorous spikes of bright red and orange flowers. Of these, one has spread like topsy, the flowers shrinking in size commensurate with the spread of the plants!

It seems I planted too densely. It’s a common error among gardeners, a failure to imagine quite how large plants may grow and how much they can spread. Plus the honeysuckle quickly gets out of control while the plumbago spreads all over, suffering the same pest attack as the roses. It’s a horror story in the section nearest the pergola.

The pergola is an ongoing case-study in overambitious planting: jasmine and honeysuckle, a climbing rose and to top it all off Ipomoea with its spectacular blue flowers. If anyone asked me what my plan was when I put them there, I wouldn’t be able to answer coherently. You will get the drift from the image below at right: how prolifically jasmine can expand!

Today, the gardener stripped much of the greenery from around the structure, lopped the Ficus trees, and – sadly – trimmed the Ipomoea so all the blue has disappeared for now (above, left).

Finally, I should end with our olive tree. Last winter, we planted a new one, to replace one that never bore fruit. We are looking after it, and it appears to be thriving. A small gesture, I know, but worth making.

olive-tree

Olive sapling, planted early in 2016