A couple of months back I wrote about cistus and, with summer now approaching rapidly, I thought it would be useful to look at another member of the cistaceaefamily, the aptly named sun rose or helianthemum.
The original wild plant is helianthemumnummularium, found in the Mediterranean area, single and white flowering. But breeders have been busy and there are now some 200 species available in many colours ranging through yellow, peach, orange, pinks, red and purple – some bearing blotches or streaks and with double or semi-double flowers.
The name helianthemumstems from the Greek, heliosmeaning sun and anthemonmeaning flower. Most are evergreen with a few listed as semi-evergreen. They form low spreading sub-shrubs, many having attractive frosted looking grey leaves. All prefer dry sunny habitats and will grow on poor stony ground, slightly alkaline – just like our gardens! The greyer the leaf, the more drought tolerant they are though all will welcome an occasional soaking in hot summer weather. They are extremely cold hardy and will tolerate exposed coastal positions too with salt spray. Height will vary up to a maximum of 30cm but many are ground-hugging, especially in dryer conditions, and a typical spread would be around 0.5m.
Flowers are prolifically produced during spring and early summer and, once this flush has finished, trim the plant back by about one third (these cuttings can be potted up and used to increase your stock) to keep it fresh and encourage a second flush of foliage and flowers. Each flower will only last a day but there are plenty of them, often covered in bees and butterflies because they are very nectar rich.
In very sunny positions, flower colour can become a little faded but, often, this adds to their charm, their silky softness has a luminous quality that greatly enhances their appeal. They are commonly used in rockeries or draping over a wall but they are also great groundcover plants for hot banks and pretty little pot plants too. They combine well with traditional herbs such as lavender and rosemary. Disease and pest resistant, the one thing that might kill your plants is prolonged wet conditions and especially if water-logged.
I know that, over the years, I've been asked a lot for this little treasure of a plant and I've never been able to find a Spanish supplier. But just so you know that I do listen to you all, we've grown some ourselves this year, mixed colours, so we do have a limited supply and it is something that I hope to expand upon in subsequent years.
By the time this goes to press, my new book will be available – at last! Entitled Citrus, the Zest of Lifeit covers grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, mandarin, citron & the 'quat' family.Juicy Bits, Fruity Varieties and To the Pith – from seed to old age – how to select, grow, look after and harvest your fruits. Diseases, Insect Plagues, Fertilisation, Irrigation, Propagation, Pruning, Rootstocks, the History, Geography and the Future. It's all in there and I hope you'll all find it very useful. It will be available, initially, at the Garden Centre and on-line through our web page.
Lorraine Cavanagh, a landscape gardener and writer, has lived in Spain for 27 years. 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'.
And now her new book – Citrus, The Zest of Life – is available.
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