by Dick Handscombe
Before long gardens will start to look their best with sheets of vivid colour and welcome perfumed sun and shade.

Most established gardens will require the minimum of maintenance work over the next four months, except for watering and deadheading .We can therefore start to sit back and enjoy our successes: the result of well selected autumn and spring plantings and the earlier major winter cutback.

However, if your garden is still being developed, April is a good time to think hard and objectively about the displays of colour which will develop in your own and neighbouring gardens and consider what new plantings might be made this spring. Although temperatures are now rising, it is not too late to plant shrubs, perennials and trees, provided you take care in their selection, planting and initial care. Hopefully you will pay attention to the drought resistance of possible choices and mix some TerraCottem root-enhancing product into the bottom soil of planting holes.

Some Of Our Summer Favourites

  1. Spaniards often create a perfumed and colourful entrance from the street. We follow their practice. For perfume, one cannot do better than plant a Jasmine by the gate, perhaps hanging over the wall into the street. For evening scent and a kaleidoscope of colour, plant the perennial San Diego from seed, plus vivid purple and red Bougainvillea and orange and yellow Lantanas.
  2. Decide on the areas of the garden for planting hot colours and contrasting cool colours; red, orange, yellow and purple to emphasise the climate of the costa summer and white, blue, mauve and cream to create areas for cooling off. Try the following for starters:

Hot Flowering Plants

The following flowering trees all give spectacular summer displays:
The Devils Tongue (Lenqua Diablo or Poinciana), Oleander, Jupiter (lagerstroemia), Parkinsonia and Albezia. Do consider the spiky stemmed Chorizia if you are at sea level; the flowers in August are exotic.

Of the many bush shrubs, Lantanas are a must, as are Hibiscus if you are not in a frost belt. Streptasolen look good in containers, red and pink Oleanders as a garden hedge and a bright coloured Buddleia will attract butterflies and of course you can develop a dedicated rose garden in the cooler inland valleys.

Climbing shrubs can clad walls, fences and old tree stumps with colour. Begonias, Bougainvilleas, Passion Flowers and red Roses are our favourites and fit into most gardens.

Many perennials can flower throughout the summer. Try the following for starters: Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise), Geraniums, Margaritas, Gazanias, Sunflowers, African Fuchsias and Hollyhocks. If you have a pond, brighten it up with pink and yellow Water Lilies and for a special effect, plant a Lotus Plant if you can trace one. It is getting late for plantings for this year, but diarise to plant summer flowering bulbs next spring. Vivid coloured Canas, Lilies, Gladioli, The Spires Of Eremuras and Alstroemerias all look good. The latter look good in the semi-shade under a tree and also in containers.

Do recognise that annuals should not be the backbone of Spanish gardens as they need continuous watering and dead heading. We suggest that you restrict their plantings to a few strategically placed patches and containers watered twice daily via a drip system. With that proviso the easiest annuals are Portulacas, Petunias, Nasturtiums, Marigolds, Zinnias, Busy Lizzies and Sweet Peas. We grow a long line of the latter for cutting on our vegetable plot as they don’t fit into the flower garden plan. If a plant enthusiast, try to grow a Caper plant from seed for the exotic flowers and Capers for summer salads. One should not overlook the attractive colours of ripening fruits such as Ornamental Gourds, Quince and Pomegranates.

Cool Flowering Plants

In June, Jacarandas may still be flowering and later the white flowers of Oleander and Catalpa Trees can cool the summer heat.

For lower cool effects use white and cream Lantana bushes and ground cover white and mauve varieties, white Roses, Hydrangeas in shady spots and some of the following perennials – white Carnations and flowering Sage, Thyme, Lavender and Rosemary which add perfume as well as calm cooling effects.

In July blue and white Agapanthus always impress both in large pots and in flower beds. If you are planting annuals there are many blue and white varieties to choose from at a good garden centre.

To clad walls, consider shrubs such as Plumbago, Solanum, Morning Glory, Jasmine, White Roses and the highly perfumed Galan de Noche for balmy evenings.

Guidelines For Late Plantings

Extra care needs to be taken if you decide to delay planting any plant until the end of May or early June. Temperatures will be rising and the chance of life-saving rain decreasing, so recognise the shock to plants raised and often forced into flower under optimum greenhouse conditions of constant high humidity, continuous drip watering and feeding and hopefully disease and insect-free air when they are planted out into the harsh garden microclimate.

Firstly, ensure that you purchase plants with strong, extensive and healthy root systems. When planted in quickly drying garden soil, roots have to search for water and nutrients to maintain the rigidity and growth of the plant and also act as guy ropes to keep plants upright, especially when hot summer winds blow. Forced plants often have a very small root ball in relation to the top growth.

Secondly, purchase plants full of buds rather than open flowers. You only need a flower or two to check the colour. When first planted the priority of the plant is to establish the root system and not prolong the life of existing flowers. Remember that unless you need instant colour for a party you are planning for summer long colour.

Thirdly, fill planting holes with high water-retaining soil/compost mix and firm well around the root ball to ensure no air voids in the soil. As said earlier, mixing a spoonful or two of a water-absorbing gel such as Terracottem into the base soil of the planting hole can give plants a good start and reduces the risk of forgetting to water or going away for few days.

Fourthly, water well until the plants are established. If you are planting annuals in containers, recognise that they may need watering twice a day on the hottest days.

Lastly, watch out for summer pests and treat fast. If you have not sprayed against the lethal geranium moth every ten days since the middle of March, you may already be at risk, so start immediately and do so until November.

We hope that the above ideas lead to some even more colourful gardens this summer. The ideas and plant lists in the book ‘How To Use Less Water In Your Garden’ might be of interest.

© Dick Handscombe