The sun roses (cistusspp) are some of the most lovely, fleeting and delicate of flowers and yet the plants are as tough as old boots! They’re the ones you see growing wild in the campo, smothered in pale-petalled tissue-paper like flowers in springtime. Thoroughly Mediterranean,native to dry parts of the Iberian Peninsula and the Canaries, they grow in impossibly rough ground, rocky, stony, and in full sun, exposed to all the elements and they obviously relish it.
There are some 20 species of cistus and, I think I’m safe in saying that, we now have in stock more types than any other garden centre in Spain! So let me tell you a little about these wonderful plants.
Romantic and ephemeral as wild roses and as appealing as poppies with their wrinkled and furry flower buds, they have foliage with a warm aroma and taste to deter the nibbles of wild animals and they fill the air with their musty perfume on warm spring days. They are all happy in poor rough alkaline soil, baking hot spots and they need no irrigation, once established. They will also grow happily in exposed coastal conditions and support cold weather down to around -10C. They are perfect plants for those impossibly steep banks that we are all trying to tame!
Cistusalbidus,white-leaved sun rose or, in Spanish jaraestepa has very felted, aromatic, grey leaves (a water saving measure) and is some 75cm high x 50cm wide. The spring and summer flowers are a very pretty pale pink and rather like a wild rose. In several Arab countries the leaves are made into a tea which is said to be very good for the digestion. During the Civil War when food and supplies were scarce, the leaves were used as a tobacco substitute.
Cistusladanifer, gum cistus or, in Spanish, jarapringosa.Forms a large shrub varying between 1m and 3m high with very sticky foliage, strongly aromatic and smelling of balsam. The name ladaniferalludes to the resin labdanum, the fragrant gum that is emitted by the plant and, nowadays, much sought after in the perfumery trade as a substitute for ambergris which gives us that heady and rich amber aroma. Ambergris used to be extracted from slaughtered sperm whales, now a protected species.The flowers are generally white, five-petalledwith deep burgundy blotches staining the centre. The flowers are fleeting but abundantly produced.
Cistussalvifolius, sage-leaved sun rose, in Spanish jaranegra. The leaves on this one are oval, rough and hairy, rather like our culinary sage, hence the name. The spring and early summer flowers are white, around 5cm across and the bush reaches 1m. Medicinally used as an astringent and to heal wounds.
Cistuspurpureus, purple sunrose, in Spanish, jarapurpura. A moderate grower to 1m tall and 2m spread. The fragrant purple-pink flowers are showy, flattening as they open and revealing the typical five deeper splodges at the base of the petals. It is, arguably, the most graceful of the cistus, billowing and spilling down rugged hillsides. It can layer and root as it spreads.
Cistus x florentinus, the fontfroide sun rose. Acistus with mid-green foliage to around 30cm tall and spreading, it produces myriads of snow-white flowers through springtime and early summer. A great ground covering plant.
Another advantage to these easy and lovely plants is that they require little maintenance. Give them a light trim after flowering to encourage bushiness but never prune hard as they dislike this and may not regenerate, rather like lavenders. They are lovely plants for rustic gardens and combine beautifully with other Mediterranean type plants such as lavenders, rosemaries, platinum sheenedartemisias, denim blue teucriums, silvery convolvuluscneorum, sky-blue ceanothus, sunshine-yellow genistas and the blue-purple ofRussian sage perovskiaatriplicifolia. And one more important advantage is that, unlike many other dry condition plants, they are relatively fire-resistant so can be used as a fire-retardant barrier around your garden. In fact, if really fierce fire strikes and burns them, this seems to augment their power of germination and they’ll often return better than ever. But one little warning, don’t give one of these plants to your loved one, as they symbolise, in the language of flowers, infidelity or even imminent death! That’s perhaps the only bad thing you can say about these lovely flowers!!
Lorraine Cavanagh has lived in Spain for 26 years. A landscape gardener and writer, she’s always happy to give advice. Call and see her at ViverosFlorena, 2km from Cómpeta, (Malaga), down the Sayalonga Road, or 15km up from the coastal motorway – have a free coffee or herbal tea in their tea-rooms.
Her book Lorraine Cavanagh’s Mediterranean Garden Plantshas been nicknamed ‘the bible’. The new edition at €24.90 is now generally available throughout Spain.
ViverosFlorenaDiscount Scheme: Every month for 1 week, always 13th to 19th inclusive, a class of plants will carry a 20% discount. Check our web page for details.
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Summer Hours: June, July, September, 9 – 2, closed for August.
Winter Hours:October to May 10 – 4
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