CULTURE

Cooling climbers and creepers

Designs for summer gardens need to keep shade and water conservation in mind as well as color. Plants that climb up walls and over pergolas or creep over the ground to form a mat will help keep temperatures down around your home. Bare walls and earth tend to heat up during the day in summer and release their heat at night, as you will know if you have ever sat on a stone bench to watch the sun set on a summer evening. Climbing plants growing up the side of houses will help reduce the amount of heat absorbed during the day. Covering all bare soil in your garden with creeping plants will prevent it from drying out and help keep the garden cool in the evenings. In Greece we are lucky that some of the most spectacular climbing plants do very well and make a brillant show in spring and summer. Ground-cover plants are less well known as an alternative to high-maintenance, thirsty lawns, although there are many suitable species that need some searching for in plant nurseries, but persistence in looking through garden books, websites and other sources will turn up a wide variety of attractive species suitable for your particular environment. Up the wall The drought resistant bignonia (trumpet vines) are common in the Mediterranean and can be seen climbing up walls even in poor conditions. The dark green leaves of Bignonia capreolata form a dense mat on walls, turning a violet-bronze color in cold winters. It can grow to 10 meters, and its aromatic orange-red flowers appear from April to July. Ficus pumila has tiny dark green leaves that form a delicate tracery on a contrasting wall, sticking to the surface by sending out tiny roots. It prefers half-shade and is also attractive when covering low walls. Ipomoea (morning glory, perikoklada) establishes itself quickly. The violet-blue flowers of Ipomoea indica, appearing from June to October, turn a mauve-pink color in the evening. It can grow to over 10 meters and is drought-resistant, but likes an occasional watering. Good for lattices, pergolas, or for walls with some support. The flowers of Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle, agioklima) respond to heat. A fast grower, it withstands direct sun or shade. It can become invasive, so is best used where it is easy to control. Passiflora caerulea (passion flower, roloi). The unusual flowers that appear from June to September make this a striking feature climbing up a wall. They are very hardy. Podranea ricasoliana is a very attractive climber with large pink flowers streaked with pink that appear from September to November, and can grow up to 8 meters tall. Rosa banksiae comes in white or yellow, and is evergreen so a good choice for a wall or pergola that has to look good all year round. It sends out long fountain-like shoots and small white booms in spring. Rosa banksiae «Lutea» produces small round yellow blooms in clusters. Solanum jasminoides has delicate leaves and tiny bluish-white blooms in summer. It needs support up a wall, but is drought resistant and grows quickly. Ground cover In this column we have often discouraged the use of lawns as a great waste of water, a valuable and declining resource. If they are absolutely necessary for outdoor living, they can be restricted to that part of the garden where they are required. If all one wants to do is to cover bare soil in a part of the garden where there is very little human traffic, or to keep a slope stable, there are several alternative species, including grasses, that are more adapted to dry conditions. Brachypodium retusumis forms dark green serrated tufts of up to 20 centimeters and is very drought resistant. It is suitable as an alternative to lawns in difficult conditions, stony and dry soils. Festuca valesiaca ‘Glaucantha’ has dark tufts that are attractive as a contrast along a path (see photo) or as a border plant as well as ground cover. The dense tufts of fine grass are an unusual bright metallic blue and can grow as high as 25 cm. The large spiky silver-blue leaves of Leymus arenarius turn yellow in winter. It covers ground by sending out rhizomes and can grow to 50 cm. Its resistance to drought and salty air makes it suitable for slopes as an erosion control and ground cover in seaside gardens. Stenotaphrum secundatum (buffalo grass or St Augustine grass) – often confused with the very invasive Pennisetum clandestinum (Kikuyu grass) in some parts of the Mediterranean. Buffalo grass forms a thick carpet that is very resistant to wear and tear and can grow to a height of 10 cm. Zoysia tenuifolia forms a fine dense mat of green tufts that grow to 5-10 cm high, and as broad as 40 cm or more. It withstands drought but prefers an occasional watering. A good lawn replacement, particularly for seaside gardens. If you are unable to find a wide enough variety at your local plant nurseries, you can try the native plant nursery run by Chrysanthe Parayiou in Palaia Pendeli. You will see the large sign («Fytorio») on the left of Pendeli Avenue as you drive up the mountain, shortly after the Hotel Aktaion. There is a mail order service from France, Pepiniere Filippi, which specializes in plants for dry conditions. Write to RN 113 34140 MEZE FRANCE, telephone 00.46.743.8869, fax: 00.46.743.8459 (e-mail: [email protected]). They have an excellent website at www.jardin-sec.com with a full catalog of plants and color photographs.