Last month we saw an explosion in butterfly numbers. There were clouds and clouds of butterflies. The greatest number was of Painted Ladies. These are long distance migrants which travel between North Africa and mainland Europe, even as far as Britain.
There have also been a number of Monarch butterflies, also migrants. These lay their eggs on the Milkweed plant (Asclepias). Unfortunately I have only two Milkweed plants in the garden and they are both rather small and incapable of surviving an invasion of Monarch caterpillars. So, as much as I love to see the butterflies, I have to consider the survival of my plants and I have been picking the caterpillars off as they appear.
The same has to be said for the African Migrant. Not the one so much in the news just now which travels on a rubber dinghy from Libya, but the small pale green or yellow butterfly which feeds on the Gofio plant (Cassia didymobotrya). The colour apparently depends on whether they are feeding on leaves or the flowers. These have been devastating my three bushes which are normally covered in bright yellow flowers. Despite picking off hundreds of caterpillars this one lost the battle. And here is a picture of one of the culprits. In Spanish they are called orugas. I call them ´orrible orugas.
While we were away we had a huge amount of rain. There were pop up rivers everywhere on the island. This coupled with generally calm and cooler conditions and further gentle rain have encouraged plant growth. The garden plants (with the exception of my Gofio plants) and the Pine trees in the field are looking splendid.. The countryside too has, in parts, turned a bright spring green.
The Pine trees have really put on some growth. Getting the watering regime right over the summer helped (1 1/2 hours every nine or ten days) plus fertilising (N,P and K and trace elements) every three months, and now gentle rain, have all helped. The tallest are around 120 cm and the trees we planted in June have doubled in height already.
I think Goofy and Pongo look so much better against a green background!
With the garden looking good, now might be a good time to take stock of which plants have done well and which are destined for the scrap heap.
First up is the purple flowered Duranta. This one is in a sheltered postion behind a stone wall, though there are two others in more exposed positions which are surviving quite well. They do not appear to be quite as drought resistant as some other plants. Duranta erecta is a relative of verbena. The Painted Ladies love it. On balance a worthwhile shrub in this garden.
I suppose my favourite has to be the Bougainvillea. Such a mass of colour, a terrfific variety of colours and it is tough and fast growing. The shell pink variety below is a stunner.
Another favourite, and one I didn´t know before coming here, is the Blue Potato Bush or Solanum rantonettii. It can be a little fussy, prefers to be on the drier side and doesn´t like having wet feet, at least until it is well established. I have quite a few of these and they all seem to do well regardless of position in the garden. The flowers are a wonderful vivid blue. I have some growing next to red bougainvilles and white oleanders to create a patriotic red, white and blue theme!
In past years I have had mixed feelings about Hibiscus. They really dont like the wind and flower only on the leeward side and the leaves tend to yellow. However this year some of the Hibiscus shrubs have performed better, as can be seen in the picture below which is a lovely glossy green. It seems to be that (like many other species here) they take a while to settle down, for their roots to extend to the point where they are tolerant of too little or too much water. I believe this is the result of the silty clay soil here being very impermable. Water is slow to permeate down to the roots and slow to drain from around the roots. So this is one of the better hibiscus.
Another plant that has done well in places is Lantana, another member of the verbena family. Lantana camara pictured here has orange yellow flowers though I recently found and planted another species with purple flower heads, Lantana montevidensis. Funny how this is a treasured garden plant here and yet it is a noxious weed in Australia where it is toxic to cattle!
Whereas most of these shrubs were raised from cuttings I have raised quite a few perennial plants from seed. The advantage of these is that they are often free to seed themselves and spread around the garden. I have found one of the most prolific self seeders to be African Daisies or Gazania. These pop up everywhere. Also, if I want one in a place where it hasn´t appeared, it is easy to dig up and divide a large plant and chuck the new bit back in the ground. There are many varieties but I have found the best to be those with silver grey leaves (rather than deep green leaves) which seem to be more resistant to mealybug.
Another plant from the same Asteraceae family (Asteraceae all have daisy like flowers) is the red and yellow flowered Blanket Flower or Gaillardia. This has proved quite tough and has seeded itself around, although to a lesser extent. Pictured here also is another African Daisy the purple flowered Osteospermum. This hasn´t spread by seed and suffers from attack by mealybug. It has only survived so far because I cut out all the infected parts. A couple of years ago Osteospermum was planted on the roadside in Caleta. It was soon removed, I suspect due to mealybug attack. Although it is a super colour to have in the garden, if it were to die out I would not bother to replant it.
A very succesful plant has been the pink Gaura. It was never really on my radar as a plant in England. But here it comes into its own with masses of pink flowers which are happy to be blown around in the wind. Gaura lindheimeri is very easy to propagate from cuttings.
I am a fan of grasses and one of the best has to be the Japanese blood grass or Imperata cylindrica rubra. It doesn´t come true from seed so I had to bring the first one from England in my bag wrapped up in some damp sweaty socks. From a rather ignoble start this plant has established itself in a couple of places now and looks fantastic in the early morning or evening when the sun is low and causes the leaves to glow a blood red.
For a blue coloured grass I have Blue Lyme Grass or Elymus arenarius. Great colour but it is a thug sending out runners which have to be pulled out to keep it under control. The light feathery grass to the right looks like Stipa tenuissima but it is not and to my shame I have forgotten its name! Definitely a great grass for the garden here, well behaved and occasional seedlings crop up which is very useful. Below shows the three grasses combined.
Grasses are very architectural plants as is also the Agave attenuata sitting at the back in the above picture. This plant was one of only two or three plants which had survived four years of neglect before we bought the finca. The small ones here were taken as plantlets from the original Agave two years ago.
I reckon that is enough for this month. There are more plants which I want to review and these will be in the next blog. The Flamboyant, Colvillea and the Jacaranda trees are all looking better than they have ever done and I am rather hoping for some flowers in due course. In the meantime one of the nastiest plants I have ever come across is this cactus which is armed with long vicious spines and little hooks which make it almost impossible to pull out of your skin. Despite this, when I saw this one, I could only admire its flower and the little snail sheltering inside. Isn´t nature wonderful.