Color in the garden: Extending the season

The good rainfall we have had over this winter should result in plenty of flowers this spring, which is when most of Greece’s native plants bloom, but if you want splashes of color among your plants in summer then you need to think ahead about what to plant for the hot weather. In the Mediterranean, most native plants lose their blooms and prepare to estevate (go into summer dormancy) as the weather heats up, just when people are out on their balconies or in their gardens, but there are native plants that do flower in summer, not to mention the numerous introduced plants that do well in the Mediterranean’s dry heat. Think about color combinations when choosing plants. If you garden in pots, its easier to experiment with groups of colors. Good standbys for summer flowers are the classic Nerium oleander (oleander, pikrodafni), found along watercourses in the wild. Its hardiness has made it very useful for planting along roads. There are countless varieties that flower in a wide range of colors, from white and cream to the deepest burgundy. Portulaca grandiflora (sun plant or moss rose) is a native of Brazil. Each plant has new flowers daily, but they close up in the afternoon. Colors range from white through cream, yellow, orange and red. Lantana is also found in a range of colors, from bright yellow and orange to deep magenta, mixed pink and lilac, can be guaranteed to flower from summer to late autumn and is also good for ground cover. Pink and red A plant that blooms in spring and continues into May is the unusual Ebenus cretica, which as its name suggests is a native of Crete. Its soft pink fuzzy tapering flowers complement the tiny grey leaves. Dianthus arboreus (tree pink) is a sprawling cushion-shaped shrub with fleshy green leaves, covered in July and August with small pink flowers, From early summer, Salvia microphylla has tiny red flowers at the tips of long fine stems with light green leaves. Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena) produces pale pink flowers and does well in poor soils and full sun. One of the prettiest displays in August is Lagerstroemia indica (crepe myrtle). Its bright pink crinkly flowers appear on the tips of the shoots. Lagerstroemia (the name by which it is also known in Greek plant nurseries) can either be left as a shrub or pruned to grow into a tree by cutting back all but the most central shoot in the young plant. Blue, lilac and white Convolvulus cneorum (commonly known as silvery convolvulus, kampaneles in Greek) does well in coastal areas. Its white flowers and grey leaves combine well with phlomis, salvia and santolina. The aromatic lilac or white flowers of Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree, ligaria) appear in June. The annual Euphorbia marginata (snow-on-the-mountain, originating in North America) has large heads of white bracts that spread readily to make an attractive ground cover. Agapanthus orientalis, a native of South Africa, sends up rounded heads of white or mauve flowers on long stems; the flowers last a good few weeks and as they don’t all come out at once, they ensure a long season. If left alone, they will multiply to spread out in front of a wall or cover an entire bank. Duranta repens, a large bush with clear blue blooms, flowers in June and then again in September. Another flower with two seasons is the Erygeron karvinskianus, or Mexican daisy, which flowers in May to June and again in October to November. The attractive Buddleia alternifolia (fountain butterfly bush) grows bunches of tiny mauve flowers along its branches in May. At the end of summer the Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush) produces purple flowers. Westringia fruticosa (Australian coastal rosemary) can be counted on to flower continuously under the right conditions. Easily grown and disease-free, it is a shapely plant, its dark green foliage dotted with white flowers. Resistant to salty air, it is an excellent choice for coastal gardens. No Greek village garden is complete without its Jasminum sambac (Arabian jasmine, fouli). Its strongly scented, round white waxy flowers are used to make jasmine tea. Yellow and orange Another native of Crete is the biennial Verbascum arcturus, whose branched spikes of large yellow flowers with purple stamens appear in June. Bright yellow and orange marigolds (Calendula officinalis) begin flowering in spring but continue on into summer. May is when the tall yellow flowers of the drought-resistant maquis shrub Hypericum empetrifolium appear. Coreopsis verticillata (tickseed) is extremely drought-tolerant and easy to grow, with bright yellow daisy-shaped flowers. Portulaca oleracea (wild purslane) has small yellow flowers and rich green leaves. Gazania (treasure flowers) are some of summer’s most cheerful blooms, opening out in bright sun; colors range from yellow and orange to copper. And, of course, a row of Helianthus annuus (sunflower, iliotropio) nodding in the sunshine brightens up any garden. Climbing plants The South African native climbing plant Plumbago auriculata (light blue or white flowers) is found widely in Greece. It also looks wonderful trained as a «bush» over a frame in a large pot. Solanum jasminodes (potato vine) has tiny white flowers throughout the summer. The ubiquitous Ipomoea purpurea (morning glory) is a prolific climber, often found brightening up waste land. Campsis radicans (trumpet vine, perikoklada) has bright flame-colored flowers. A more infrequently seen climbing plant is the Passiflora caerulea (passion flower, roloi), with white petals acting as a background for a ring of purple filaments. Every garden and balcony needs a Jasminum officinale (jasmine, yiasemi), but the ultimate Mediterranean climbing plant for brilliant color is the popular bougainvillea. If you have the space, group several colors together for maximum effect, or combine with plumbago.

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