Saturday, September 8, 2007

August - a time for taking stock

August is always a difficult time for gardeners in a continental climate. Very few plants want to bloom in the baking heat; some plants (roses in particular) go to sleep until autumn (estivation). Lawns are burnt up and brown. No amount of watering will make it lush. The whole ambiance is one of sleepy heat and indolence.

But not this year: the summer heat hit us hard in June and kept on into July, with no sign of rain, such that we wondered how we would survive the rest of summer. Then the temperature plummeted and the rain came, but too late to save all those poor plants that had been planted in spring and had no time to get their roots down.
I lost several berberis - normally a tough, drought resistant plant - due to planting too late. The rule of thumb here is 'if you can't plant it before the end of April it should stay in a pot until September'. My Zephirine Droughin climbing rose has lost most of its leaves, despite being shaded by an olive tree.
Valuable plants for flowing in the hot months are ceratostigma (intensely blue stars of flowers on a shrub about 40cm tall), tulbaghia (small violet trumpets on stalks 50cm tall with grassy foliage), the bignonia 'trumpet vine' climber (trumpet flowers in hot shades of orange or yellow on a strong vine)and the ubiquitous oleander, although these can be cut back by frosts. Many other plants that in England would be considered to flower in high summer are over and done with here - even alliums - by the end of July. But here is the problem: plants that do well in these searing heat are not necessarily able to make it through the winter frosts. Some plants I keep in pots for this reason: plumbago (sky-blue bunches of flowers on a short climber) and caesalpina ('bird of paradise' yellow flower on a shrub with feathery foliage) come indoors in winter, but my carpentaria (white 'cistus' type flowers on a 1m high shrub) caught a disease in its pot and has suffered badly.
The vegetable plot ('ortino') is also looking sorry for itself. Thanks to good advice from friends in the Med Garden Soc, I have mulched around some plants with the pressings left over from making the wine so not everything has died. But the soil is very poor in humus and it is difficult to find farmyard manure - more on this in subsequent blogs. The lettuce and other leafy veg have shrivelled up in the intense sunshine but onions have done alright and tomatoes pretty good.
Disaster: the veg plot and garden have been attacked by wild animals desperate for food: they live in the woods nearby but there has been so little rain there is nothing for them to eat. A frenzied attack by porcupine on the veg (they love spinach beet) and the irises in the flower beds. Wild boar have pushed down the tomato canes and trampled on them as well as digging massive holes in ground and destroying anything that gets in their way. I have to put an electric fence (solar powered) all around the vineyard otherwise the boar will come and eat the lot. I also hang silver foil streams from the vines to deter birds. The resulting effect is of out-of-season Christmas decorations. The hare is a more fastidious eater: he lollops by and delicately nips the growing shoot from leafy plants. His favourite is dwarf french beans.
But the figs are ripening beautifully and so are the grapes. My garden is near to the vineyard so the plants are susceptible to the pests and diseases that go for the grapes. This means a lot of attention to fungal diseases, both airborne and in the soil. A little rain does wonders for the pomegranate tree which decided to have a second flush of red flowers which look so perfect against the blue cloudless sky.

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