All of the 34 plants we were sent by Olivier Filippi are native to regions with a mediterranean climate and each and every one was chosen for being naturally and highly tolerant of Sparoza’s particular conditions; droughty, rocky and alkaline. They all arrived in the most beautiful condition with nicely formed top-growth and very healthy root systems. The growing medium was rich in organic matter as well as being light and freely draining. As most mediterranean climate plants are slow-growing with extensive roots, the baby plants are likely to stay in their pots for a long time before becoming stable enough to be sold and planted out. Therefore it is very important that the Filippi nursery pots are the shape that they are; rectangular in shape with deeply fluted sides and a grid bottom. This form allows for water to be imbibed and drained easily and with uniformity and also stops the roots from spiraling and becoming restricted. Having had the best possible start in life, these plants deserved an equally promising future life which involved a veritable mix of deep thought, steely muscle, sand and compost.
|| The 34 plants are (for visual reference please refer to the Filippi website):
Artemisia canariensis – Wormwood, Canary Islands
3 x Ceanothus ‘Concha’ – Californian lilac, California
3 x Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’ – Californian lilac, California
Cistus clusii sbsp. multiflorus – Rock-Rose, S Spain and NW Africa
Cistus x tardiflorens – Rock-Rose, origin unknown to us
Erica manipuliflora sbsp. anthura – Heather, E Mediterranean
Euphorbia pithyusa – Spurge, S France and Italy
Euphorbia rigida – Spurge, Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor
Helianthemum caput-felis – Helianthemum, SE Spain, N Africa and Balearic Islands
Hypericum balearicum – St. John’s Wort, Balearic Islands
Lavandula x losea – Lavender, origin and hybrid unknown to us
Leucophyllum langmanae – Barometer Bush, Chihuahua Desert
Micromeria fruticosa – Micromeria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel
Origanum scabrum sbsp. pulchrum – Oregano, E Mediterranean
Phlomis bourgaei – Jerusalem Sage, Turkey
Phlomis lycia – Jerusalem Sage, Coastal SW Turkey
Phlomis x cytherae – Jerusalem Sage, origin unknown to us, (Cythera?)
Putoria calabrica – Stinking Madder, Mediterranean basin
Retama sphaerocarpa – Retama, Iberian Peninsula, N Africa
Rhodanthemum hosmariense – Moroccan Daisy, Atlas Mountains
3 x Romneya coulteri – Californian Tree Poppy, California and Mexico
Rosmarinus x mendizabalii – Rosemary, origin unknown to us
Salvia multicaulis – Salvia, origin unknown to us
Santolina chamaecyparyssus sbsp. magolica – Cotton Lavender, S France and Spain
Scabiosa minoana – Scadious, endemic to E Crete
Sideritis cypria – Sideritis, origin unknown (Cyprus?)
All these plants are entirely new to Sparoza and (apart from the triplets) are our single specimens of each. They are therefore very special and their placement and planting was rigorously planned and carried out. For each plant, a hole was excavated twice the circumference and depth of the pot. A compound of compost and sand was mixed with the existing soil and, where very dry, wet down. Into the holes each plant was carefully placed, slightly lower than the surrounding soil to provide a well to hold rainwater. When planting on sloping ground, a level terrace was built with rocks and soil to give the plant a horizontal growing surface and to hold the soil and water in place. Most of the plants were watered in straight away but this was not always necessary. Where the ground already held some water this step was omitted as none of these specimens should generally require much water. Nonetheless they did get some hand-watering in the end as we have, frustratingly, had insufficient rainfall to sustain the baby plants.
The children that demanded the most consideration were the three Romneya coulteri. I have heard that they are notoriously difficult to propagate and, therefore, acquire because they are tetchy about having their roots disturbed. To enhance the chances of at least one survivor, we treated each plantlet in a different way. The first got the usual mix of compost, sand and existing topsoil which we watered thoroughly before planting. This water will leach and the roots will be encouraged to grow towards it. The second we planted straight into the existing topsoil and watered in. Last but not least the third was given a nest made up mostly of compost, a mulch of τσίπουρα (grapeseed) compost and some water. Of the three the latter was the least happy when it arrived and continues to be in the same frame of mind. The other two already have new shoots and we hope that with the winter rains they will build up enough muscle to withstand the summer unaided. Considering the natural habitat of Romneya (sunny, hot and dry in Mexico and California), these plants should prosper in our phrygana but each planting method is as good as the next and so we must wait and see how these temperamental kids hold up. We considered taking bets on which plant fails first – I know, not a positive start, but amusing considering their name and the fact that we planted them on the day of the US presidential election. Romneya coulteri spreads via its creeping roots and may be considered a pernicious weed. This characteristic makes it a good soil stabilizer where erosion is a problem and its large yellow-centered flowers and pretty leaves make it a joy instead of a pain. It may die back during dry summers but will re-sprout with the autumn rains. It can become quite a large shrub and so it may be cut back after it has flowered to control its size and shape.
The next group of plants was a big deal for an entirely different reason. There was a lightly sloping bank leading from the ‘desert glade’ to the αλόνι (threshing floor) which was in need of some landscaping. It is a site which traps the sun but gets very little water and, as I found, is made up of very little soil on top of large chunks of bedrock. We made a planting scheme and I set about digging over the ground. When I started to dig the first planting hole I hit bedrock too extensive to break up or avoid without ruining the plant layout. Sweaty, muttering and covered in rock-chips I started on a different planting hole. The result was the same and the same for the third. Giving it up for a lost cause and a site better suited for shallow rooted cacti and succulents we retired. A night of stung feelings over our thwarted resolution brought us, the next morning, to decide to go ahead with our original plan. I was determined that I could make cavities in the bedrock and Sally was convinced that our chosen plants could (due to their natural habit) find crevices in the rocks to put down deep roots. I was right and I am sure Sally was too. Our scheme will be a beautiful contrast of luminous golden foliage and flowers from the Phlomis bourgaei, Phlomis lycia and Retama sphaerocarpa and lush dusky green and blue from two Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’. In the foreground I took out an existing Ptilostemon chamaepeuce and Cotyledon orbiculata, replacing them with the Putoria calabrica which is mat-forming and will spill over onto the ‘lawn’ and a couple of our own Malcolmia maritima which will hopefully seed themselves around the place.
All the rest were much easier to plant. They are spread out around the ‘threshing-floor’, in Derek’s Garden, on the ‘dry bank’ and in the herb garden. I planted the two euphorbias into pretty terraces along the steep bank of the hillside path. Here they have made a lovely group with other plants collected during a botanical excursion on Υμηττός (Mount Hymettus). But that is a whole other story. For better or for worse the weather this autumn is very erratic. The prolonged warmish weather has encouraged certain plant to leaf and bud prematurely or go into a third flowering. The cold that is sure to arrive completely unannounced may scorch this young hopeful growth. On the positive side we have a wider planting window. Since the beginning of November we have put, give or take, 70 plants into the ground and we have plans for more.