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.

A WHIMSICAL WINTER

The talk of this winter has surely been how strange it is – very warm, loads of sunshine, high temperatures and no rain! It´s been idyllic - but very bad for the campo, as any Spanish neighbour will tell you, and, of course, bad for us gardeners too, ultimately at least. Trees had no sooner dropped their leaves, reluctantly, than they were budding up again and ready to burst into leaf anew. As I write, roses are still full of flower. Spring-flowering bulbs are super early. And our gardens are still full of tomatoes and chillies! More menacingly, bugs are still rampant; the cochineal beetle on the prickly pear cactus is the perfect example of this. They reached plague proportions during the hot summer of 2015 and there has been no cold weather to kill them off so they just carry on breeding and breeding. For other creatures like frogs, toads, slugs and snails it´s been a bad year.

GET FOXY WITH PLECTRANTHUS

For the start of 2016, I´d like to introduce you to the plectranthus family. They´re little known, although there are over 350 species worldwide, and they´re incredibly useful plants. So let´s get to know them a little. They take their name from plectron meaning spur and anthos meaning flower; they are closely related to members of the mint family, characterised by their square stems, lipped flowers and aromatic leaves. Many of the family are commonly used as culinary or medicinal herbs – sage, oregano and basil all belong - and some, such as plectranthus edulis, commonly known as the Ethiopian potato, produce edible tubers. Plectranthus are all tender (though generally hardy enough for our Mediterranean climate) originating from warm areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Silver-leafed varieties are for hot sunny positions whilst the greener and lusher looking ones are happier with more shade. Some even have fleshy succulent-type leaves; many are very aromatic. Some you will know and recognise; coleus with those fiery coloured leaves are now reclassified as plectranthus and plectranthus coleoides, or Swedish ivy, is one of our most popular hanging basket plants. We have five species in stock at the moment; all make fine and easy-going garden plants – no green fingers needed.

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.

DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT

Lorraine Cavanagh CompetaI always think that gardens by night are sadly ignored and yet they can be stunningly beautiful with their pattern of light and shadow - and super romantic too.

As light levels fall, our other senses become sharper and thus we are drawn – like moths and other night-time pollinators – by soft scents and piercing perfumes alike. Summer evenings here are made for enjoyment; it's a comfortable time to be outside, lingering over dinner under the stars; ideal to sit and relax letting all the stresses and worries of the day fade away. So create a bit of bewitchment in your night-time garden, here´s how.

GOING BANANAS!

The cultivation of bananas began in South East Asia in around 500BC. From there they were taken to Africa, via Madagascar, and, during the 6th century became established along the Mediterranean coastline. They reached the Canary Isles from Guinea, via the Portuguese, and it is believed that the Spanish took the banana to America.

The Canary banana varies in looks and taste from the common banana we would more commonly see in the rest of Europe and yet its origins are very similar. Both are varieties of the Cavendish – by far the most cultivated in the world – and the main differences are in growing and ripening techniques linked to consumer markets. The weather in the Canary Islands is not tropical and it can be variable. This means that the banana spends longer on the ´tree´- up to 6 months compared with the typical 3 months on a tropical plantation. This gives the Canary banana a higher level of ripeness, flavour and aroma. It has a higher moisture content, making it tastier that its more floury counterpart and it has higher potassium levels. Canarian bananas are picked just 2 weeks before optimum ripeness compared to a month or more for central American crops; thus the flavour will always be better and the reduced carbon footprint has meant that the Canarian crop is now finding increased markets within Europe.

The banana crop in the Canary Islands is a very important product representing 33% of the agricultural industry. Each year 400 million kilos of bananas are grown providing direct or indirect employment for around 30,000 people. 80% of the banana plantations there are operated by small producers with one hectare, or less, of land.This is in direct competition to the big guys of Central America – companies such as Chiquita/Fyffes, the largest, Dole and Del Monte – who account for more than half of the world´s exports which total some 105 million tonnes annually.

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