Campo Cuttings

Image by Lorraine Cavanagh
March Winds and April Showers have certainly been the order of things recently and us ‘mountain dwellers’ usually suffer the worst of the wind. It’s one of the penalties we pay for seeking out those breath-taking views. It’s not only the view that takes your breath away but the wind too, at times!

It’s a tricky one – how to cut some of the worst force of the wind and provide some shelter, not only for ourselves but for our plants too, without totally obliterating those stunning vistas. For our own comfort, we can usually design in sheltered corners, courtyards, patios etc. but the only answer for the areas we garden is to incorporate some type of windbreak. Building walls is generally impractical – they are horrendously expensive over long stretches and, furthermore, often create great turbulence problems. Fencing is more practical, but then, of course, we will want to cover that with plants and we’ll talk about suitable climbers at a later date.

Natural windbreaks, in the form of trees and dense shrub plantings are the best. They merge into the countryside, provide food and shelter for birds and mammals and sway with the wind rather than collapse under it. (Though the last blow we had was rather exceptional!). Also, many a view can be improved by ‘framing’ it with a few trees; maybe blocking out an eyesore; accentuating something special.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been asked many times which trees are suitable for windbreaks; and remember that they are also good for screening. So, let’s look at some of the best. With all this late rain and the ground warming up there is still time to plant them before summer – given that you can water for that first important season.

In this category great height is not normally needed; width and density are more important and, generally, they should be evergreen – though deciduous trees will also help to break up strong blasts.

I know that most of you look, also, for speed so two of the best that come to mind are the schinus molle, or false pepper tree and the range of acacias, or mimosas, of which there are many.

The false pepper, 12m high x 8m spread and evergreen, is a weeping tree. The long branches can reach the ground, thus making a dense, though very graceful, head of foliage. It has tiny white flowers followed by strings of pink ‘peppercorn’ berries. Do not plant it in paving, near walls etc.

There are three acacias, all evergreen, commonly found here. A. dealbata, 12m x 12m, has very fine feathery foliage and can be purchased as a grafted or ungrafted tree. For windbreak purposes the cheaper, ungrafted tree is adequate. It will sucker readily and if these are left to grow you can create a forest from one tree. (Pop down to the plant nursery and I’ll show you what I mean!). A. cianophylla and a. longifolia are quite similar, longifolia having the narrower leaf. Both will get to around 5m x 5m and make slightly weeping trees. All of these bear the typical fluffy, yellow and heavily scented mimosa flower, a. dealbata being the first to flower. One tip with mimosas. Water in the first year to establish then stop, except in periods of extreme drought. Too much water provokes very rapid and weak growth which will easily break in strong wind. If you do lose some branches they are so quickly replaced that it’s not usually a problem.

Tamarix parviflora, tamarisk, is a good pioneer planting. It makes a shrubby tree, 4m x 4m, is exceedingly tough and bears pretty pink flowers in spring. Casuarina glauca, the singing cypress, is tall, 20m high x 5m spread, and it will tolerate all sorts of inhospitable conditions whilst binding difficult soils together.

These are just some of the many. If you want more advice, pop down and see me.

Lorraine Cavanagh is the author of Mediterranean Garden Plants. Her plant nursery, Viveros Florena, is on the Algarrobo/Cómpeta Road at km 15. Also catch her on OCI radio.

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