Self seeding plants are always fun to watch coming up in some corners of the garden where you have not needed to put any effort into, other than keeping the weeds in check. I am thinking today of nasturtiums, they are popping up all over the place and seem to weather our cooler temperatures with neither wind or rain upsetting them and don’t care if they are in full sunshine or a shaded corner.
Here we have a very versatile annual that has a really long flowering period from that one big seed. These are seeds that you really can handle, collect some after flowering or just leave them to come again next season. Neither are they too demanding when they are planted, they just seem to come up when they are ready. This is one of the edible plants that some cooks like to add to their salad dishes, both the flower and some of the more tender leaves. My nasturtiums are frequently being invaded by the chef of the family. There are several varieties, the dwarf that grows into a compact clump then the trailing ones that grow yard long runners. No matter which their golden, red and yellow flowers always fill a corner with colour and attract the bees. There is one addition to this plant and that is the fresh green seeds, pick those the moment the flower has died back and there you have what are known as ‘mock capers’ they look just like a caper when it has been pickled in brine or vinegar and you would hardly know the difference. The one big difference is that with the Nasturtium you are able to enjoy the flower whilst the real caper you have to harvest the unopened bud so never get to see the flower, you can’t have both.
Whilst on the subject of the caper plant this will soon need a really drastic cutting back of all this years growth, right back to just one or two buds away from the hard woody main stem. Watch out for its very pointed needle sharp spike that you feel you could almost thread for sewing. It may seem ruthless but it is the only way to encourage new growth unless of course you are wanting it to grow as a great bush like the ones that grow wild high up out of the Alcudia city wall.
And now to the tree of the week, I seem to find a different one every week. The laurel or as commonly known, a bay tree. No cook would be without his bay leaf in the pot so this is a very handy tree/shrub to have near to the kitchen door. The bay with its shiny evergreen leaves is probably one of the easiest trees to grow and from its tiny flower propagates more saplings than any other tree in the garden. I must have at least 20 in the garden in all shapes and sizes that all date back to the very first one transplanted about 50 years ago. They seem to pop up between the paving stones or in the far corners of the garden way out of sight of that very first tree. This is a tree that thrives in a pot as well as directly in the ground so balcony and terrace gardeners can always have a bay. Keep it really hard cut back into a standard shaped tree that enhances any doorstep. Left to its own devices it will grow just about as tall as you ever want to let it. One of my larger ones although cut into a standard ball shape, gave home to a blackbird this summer who twice built her nests in the tree where we were able to watch both parent birds coming and going to feed their fledgelings with worms. Its quite an education watching nature coming and going in ones own garden and even more so when their are young children to share it all with, and when they think they have found something you have never seen they are more excited than ever.
One of my grandsons when he was only about 8 years old, discovered a huge mushroom growing out of the trunk of the weeping willow tree, I can’t tell how excited he was to show me something I had not yet discovered. That one mushroom weighed very nearly a kilo and we were able to eat it all. I keep looking in that same tree but have never repeated that find although there are often smaller mushrooms growing out of the cracks in the bark. Its all a matter of finding the mushroom before the slugs and snails get at them. Now is the time, just two or three days after any good rainfall and they will come up overnight, just like mushrooms!
There is one little job we need to do if the poinsettia from last Christmas has survived but not yet produced any red bracts. This, in the smaller potted form, for some reason or other needs a full twelve hours of complete darkness every day to help it to form the bright red bracts that make it the Christmas flower that is a great favourite at that time of the year. So, to get this complete twelve hour dark night it is recommended to cover the whole plant every night with a black bag to be taken off again during the day. It needs about two to three months of this treatment to encourage the coloured bracts. Remember the poinsettia does prefer to be watered from the bottom so make sure it stands in a drainage plate that can hold water for the plant to draw it up. It doesn’t seem possible that we are already thinking of Christmas but this must be one of the first indications that like all seasons, it comes round every year.
The caper plant will soon need a really drastic cutting back of all this years growth, right back to just one or two buds away from the hard woody main stem.