I admit that I am frequently repeating myself whilst writing this column but that is what gardening is all about. As one season follows another the same jobs need to be done time and again but along with that the sheer beauty and colour of this Island also repeats itself time and again. We see the fields with bales of hay ready to be carted away that reminds us we are coming into harvest time and these same fields no longer have the lush green colours but their hedges are frequently full of the bright colours of Oleander that when planted with the alternate colours this local shrub produces makes one wonder how it survives with so little water...
This is one reason for pointing out Oleander, it is really hardy once established and perfect for this climate never seeming to need watering even when in full bloom now in high summer. The mixture of different reds, pinks and creamy white when planted alternately make a stunning sight and this huge bushy shrub will grow really tall so is always best planted as a backdrop in a garden and in the evenings has its own fragrance just to enhance it even more.
It takes really easily from a cutting so is one of the easy plants to propagate yourself. As with all things in the garden there is always a ‘but’ and the biggest BUT of the Oleander is the fact that every part of it is poisonous. Leaves, stems and flowers can all leave some poison on the hands from the sap which can cause skin irritation and real damage should you rub your eyes with this sap on your fingers. All of this can be overcome by being cautious and carefully washing hands after handling but the outcome is really worth while.
It thrives even better on a hard cutting back when its time, just taking note of our many motorways that have Oleander bushes along the divide that are cut back in the winter but full of colour now. So it surely is a ‘ must have’ in any garden that can give it room, just be a little careful if you have children who like to play hide and seek in the bushes in case they get skin irritations when brushing up against the leaves.
Whilst on the subject of plants to be careful with, I want to briefly mention the Datura/Brugmansia family, that wonderful shrub that produces huge bell shaped flowers, some hang downwards like huge bells others lift their blooms upwards like trumpets and some varietias have a delightful fragrance.
This shrub has a very intrusive root system frequently extending where you never intended it to be but once it flowers you will forgive it anything. It needs hard cutting back and I would almost add, at any time of year because it can grow yards long all year round and when cut right back to where you want it will frequentlt form flower buds at almost every leaf joint so it is well worth while keeping it cut back.
The reason for mentioning this shrub here is because it is another plant known to be poisonous so do handle with care and be sure to wash your hands afterwards but once again a show stopper when full of its trumpet shaped flowers.
Let’s finish on a positive note, rather than poison, a cure or medicinal plant. The Aloe Vera, these days found just about everywhere in the wild , in a garden and now in some places in huge plantations for commercial use. Its healing properties can be found in creams and sprays to put on bites and rashes as well as cosmetics.
A simple Aloe Vera Cactus in the garden or a pot on the terrace can be your own instant cure for an annoying mosquito bite. Simply snap of a small tip, be careful if it has spikes and allow a little sap to come to the surface of the fleshy bit, rub this on the bite and you will find almost instant relief from the irritation and even help reduce any swelling that there may be.
The Aloe is of the Cactus family and one simple little floret snapped off and planted in moist soil will instantly take root to form yet another one. This is one of the lovely advantages of the Cacti/Succulent family, even the most inexperienced will have instant sucess with a cutting.