Campo Cuttings with Lorraine Cavanah

  Lorraine Cavanagh is the author of 'Mediterranean Garden Plants' the best selling Mediterranean gardening book on the Spanish Costa's. Lorraine's garden centre 'Viveros Florena' is on the Algarrobo/Competa Road at km 15.  Lorraine writes a monthly column for The Grapevine providing advice and an insight into gardening in the Axarquia.


As another summer bites the dust and we all return to work, lorry-loads of plants are arriving daily at the garden centre, re-stocking us after our end of July sale. It´s an exciting time with lots of new additions to our regular stock items. 

I've come back stuffed with memories of the lovely Cadiz coastline and the laughs we had! Merv always despairs of my navigational skills and they are somewhat wobbly, I happily admit.  I'm a member of the “you only have to turn me around once and I'm lost” school. And few understand my attempts at directions; that the Glorieta de la Paz for me is dragon tree roundabout; Avenida Andalucia becomes silk tree street or meet you on the corner of Calle Peru and Calle Bolivia is flamboyant (by name and nature) tree corner. But this summer the joint prize for sensationalism has gone to two plantings I've seen and drooled over.


There are some 500 species of passiflora or passion vine. The great majority are found in South America through to Mexico, Asia and New Guinea. Nine species are native to the U.S.; a further four are from Australia and one only is native to New Zealand. They're not a climber you see too often here and I don´t know why because they are truly gorgeous! I'm happy to say that we now have five different types in Viveros Florena, each with their own special


This month I have serious news – the olive killer, xylella, has reached Spanish ground, specifically the Balearics and it can´t be long before it reaches the mainland. Sadly another 'plague' that could destroy a whole way of life, a huge industry and the wonderful look of our countryside. Xylella is a bacteria; a silent but serial killer. And it doesn´t only affect olives, though this is the most impacted host plant to date. It is known to attack some 300 species of trees and shrubs including sweet orange, almonds, cherry, vine and many ornamentals such as oleander, polygala, Spanish broom, periwinkle and mimosa and this diversity is, of course, where the real problem lies.


The Twelve Days of Christmas is one of our oldest known Christmas songs, but I wonder how many of you know its history? Well it is a little lost in the mists of time but the first known printed version of the song appeared in a children's book called Mirth without Mischief around 1780 published in England, though the song is believed to be French. It's thought that it started as a Christmastime “memories and forfeits” game in which someone recited the first verse; each player repeated the verse and added another until someone made a mistake. The forfeit was likely a kiss under the mistletoe! But I thought we could give it a little twist and use it as memory game of some of the best Mediterranean plants to include in your garden next year. On the first day, a partridge in a pear tree. Well pear trees aren't the most common here but I think we could substitute it with a pomegranate tree, glowing redly for Christmastime. On the second day, two turtle doves. Soft as a doves' wings are the leaves on albizia julibrissin Chocolate, the chocolate silk tree and the tree of love, cercis siliquastrum, with romantically heart-shaped leaves and rosy pink flowers. On the third day, three French hens. Let's have three climbers with gorgeous edible fruits. The pitanga or Brazilian cherry, kiwi vine and passion vine.


The biggest trees in the world are the Giant Sequoias or Redwoods; they are probably one of the oldest known things on Earth. The biggest living tree of all is known as General Sherman. It is 83.8m tall with a girth, at near ground level, of 31.3m; the spread of the crown is 33m and the first branch breaks at 40m. It is probably about 2000 years old. Mega in every way! These giant trees grow naturally in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California; not so very different to our climate here around Cómpeta. The name sequoia is believed to be taken from the famous Cherokee Indian, Sequoyah who is accredited with the Cherokee syllabary, or writing by symbols. The big red tree named for the famous red man! Now I'm not suggesting you plant one of those giants but we do have something very special for you in the garden centre – the weeping sierra redwood or sequoiadendron giganteum 'pendulum'. It's an altogether much smaller proposition, to around 12m high and 1m, or a little more, wide and a real character of a tree. It is fantastical, whimsical and fun, forming mystical and mythical shapes; on dark wintry nights it can appear spooky and ghostly, like something from the wonderful tales of the Brothers Grimm.

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