BLOWING IN THE WIND

August for me is holiday time; a time when gardens, gardeners and the garden centre close down! So I´m writing this from Cádiz province with its wild Atlantic coast. The Levante wind is blowing, sandblasting skin and plants alike so it seemed like a good time to look at wind-resistant plants in preparation for those winter blows back home! As all us campo people know, it´s not only on the coastlines that the wind can blow and it is the harsh scorching winds that burn plants up, literally desiccating them. Of course, along this windswept coastline the predominant tree is the Mediterranean pine fringing all the sand dunes and looking like mounds of green cumulus clouds when seen en masse. The promenades still have their marches of palms, though somewhat reduced by the beetle, but peering into gardens gives a greater variation of plants. Most importantly for any windy spot are trees, not only for summer shade but to break the force of the wind and supply shelter for the more tender – plants and humans! Building up a windbreak is imperative; trees, then shrubs for density and then more special plants. If space is tight, or in the short term, some sort of windbreak material, such as split cane to filter the wind, will make a huge difference. Many humans cannot tolerate the wind; windy areas often have high suicide rates – the wind can, literally, drive people mad. Many plants have adapted much better to turbulent lives. Trees send out roots in the opposite direction to the prevailing wind to better anchor themselves; grasses sway and dance, large-leaved plants, such as bananas, allow their leaves to shred, fluttering like torn pennants, to offer less resistance and tiny ground-cover plants prostrate themselves on the ground. When a plant is young, high winds will loosen its root system, break fragile stems and scorch foliage so it might be best to erect some sort of barrier for their first year in your garden. In any case, do not apply high nitrogen feeds as this induces lots of soft lush foliage which will suffer more. Make them grow hard; learn not to pamper them. One of my greatest surprises here has been to see how well that old sea dog, myoporum laetum or transparante looks. It twists and gnarls with the wind, flinging out its branches like streaming green hair and looks a lot more characterful than we ever give it credit for. Too often in our gardens, it's just a green blob, a cheap and easy-care hedging plant but nothing to get excited about. As a plus the chameleons here seem to love it too, something I've not noticed back home. Other trees constantly seen, and perhaps predictably, are the statuesque Norfolk Island pines, or araucarias, well accustomed to coastal gales on their homeland. Lagunaria patersonii, better known as the Norfolk Island hibiscus has leathery olive-green leaves which will also stand up to these tough conditions well. It's a neat conical tree with pretty pink bell-shaped flowers but beware of the lining to the seed cases which is extremely irritant leading to its common Spanish name of the pica-pica tree. Mulberries are also commonly seen, obviously an introduction from the times of the Moorish invasion, but, being such large-leafed trees you wouldn't expect them to be too happy in strong winds yet they look perfectly at home. And, of course, the wonderfully grey wizened look of the cupressus Arizonica or Arizona cypress adds character to any windswept landscape. For shrubs, oleanders are wonderful, as always, and two other shrubs, that are no surprise to me, are seen a lot – atriplex canescens, well-named the saltbush and teucrium fruticans or wall germander. Both bear small silver-grey leaves and are well known for their resilience to harsh/salty conditions. I've seen the teucrium growing as an informal billowing small hedge, covered in its pale-denim coloured flowers – a good substitute for the ubiquitous (but none-the-less lovely!) lavender hedging. It's pale, washed-out looks seem perfectly suited to the seaside. Rather more unusually, I saw it in a hotel's grounds trimmed into huge balls set in dark grey slate – certainly an eye-catcher and equally good in a formal setting as in an ultra-modern garden with its steely-blue cool good looks. Metrosideros excelsa, or the New Zealand Christmas tree, is another obvious choice and very beautiful. Grow it as a large shrub or tree when it twists into beastly shapes with the wind. Two more great stalwarts are dodonea viscosa purpurea with its tough bronzed leaves and elaeagnus x ebbingei, the silverberry with its wonderfully frosted leaves and scented cream flowers. When you come down to smaller plantings, the choice becomes wider on the lee side of tougher guys! Rosmarinus prostratus or creeping rosemary is a good choice and a plant that is underused, though I have many converts from my constant preaching! It´s really tough and surprisingly handsome. Other suitable aromatics would be lavandula, santolina, artemisia and helichrysum. Tamarisk is a great seaside plant and although it can get high, it responds to hard pruning and the wind will naturally stunt it. Rosa rugosa and Japanese anemones will stand up to anything. Accent plants that will give just a little height when in flower would include agapanthus Peter Pan, a mini Nile lily, hemerocalis or day lily, centranthus ruber, phlomis, and verbena bonariensis Lollipop, a mini version of the popular Argentine verbena. Little low growers/trailers would be various sedums, stachys byzantina, or lambs ears, armeria or sea thrift, erigeron karvinskeanus or Mexican fleabane, portulaca grandiflora or moss rose, convolvulus cneorum or silverbush, coprosma prostratus, the looking glass plant, grevillea lanigera Mt. Tamboritha, the woolly grevillea, grevillea rosmarinifolius and carpobrotus edulis, the Hottentot fig. Whoever said that nothing would grow in the teeth of the wind? The Garden Centre re-opens at 9am on 1st September. 7th October Open Day, starting at 11am as part of our Birthday Celebrations! We have a visiting group of artists from the Alhaurin El Grande area. The group is called 'The Finca Vida Painters' – after the name of the finca where it all started 6 years ago! They are an international group of retired 'youngsters'. They come to their artwork with enthusiasm and open minds. They work in mixed media which includes pencil, charcoal, chalk and oil pastels, oil bars, acrylics, inks and collage to say nothing of the odd dollop of sand or cement! Brushes, spatulas and credit cards are some of their tools. For the exhibition at the Open Day at Viveros Florena the theme will be flowers and plant life. Artwork will be for sale, and on show on easels scattered around the Garden Centre. This is an informal fun day – come and watch the artists at work in the dappled sunlight. Pitch your easel beside them – all welcome! As always on our Open Days, there will be lots of Special Offers, free refreshments and Maddie´s special home-made cake

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