Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spanish Garden in Winter

Wandering around the garden I was in for a few surprises.

Surprise number 1 was to learn that the orange tree was in fact a mandarin tree. It's been 8 years since I bought four young citrus trees from the garden centre, and the labels quickly faded and disappeared.

Lemon tree
I'd bought 2 lemon trees, and orange and a mandarin tree.

Tragedy struck after a year or so when one of them died. Sadly I had no idea by that time which one it was.

Over the years since then, one of the trees started fruiting lemons, so that was fine - knew which type of tree it was. As I had bought 2 lemon trees, there still had to be one alive.

Oranges on tree
Then the orange tree started fruiting, so now I knew I had lost either a lemon or a mandarin tree.

The final tree right at the end flowered every year for about three years, sometimes more than once a year, but nothing ever came of the fruit.

I assumed the flowers had not been fertilized which should maybe have been a clue, but being on the wind-side of the other two, it could have been that the prevailing winds always took the pollen away from the other trees.

mandarin tree with fruit
This year it flowered all over. As the flowers look exactly the same to my untrained eye as the blossoms of the lemon and orange trees, I was really pleased to see small fruit forming.

All summer they got bigger while remaining green. I began to suspect I had been sold a lime tree, which would have been great, but finally the fruit started changing color.

Mandarins growing on tree

Surprise number 2 was when my Mother of Thousands plant started flowering.

Now I'm sure everyone in the whole world knows that the plant called  Bryophyllum daigremontianum flowers.

I didn't know.

They actually flower every other year and sometimes never, which would explain why this plant, which is grown in the UK as a houseplant and sometimes called the 'Good Luck' plant. It is you good luck if you ever see it flower!

I had one years ago, it is such an easy houseplant to grow every home should have one.

In fact, I am pretty sure I started out here with just the one plant too. Not now. Baby plants grow on the leaf edges and where they drop, they grow.

Mother of Thousands, sometimes also (correctly) known as Mother of Millions, are considered a weed in many parts of the world.

Originally from Madagascar,  the Bryophyllum, sometimes also called Kalanchoe is highly adaptable in frost-free areas where they may easily escape of the garden and naturalise in the wild.

However, this is bad thing to happen because they are highly poisonous.

Many cattle have died because they ate parts of the this plant in their fields. The whole part of the Mother of Thousands is poisonous - leaves, flowers, stems, and can kill a pet or small child easily.

This is important to know. Teach your children never to eat any plants from the garden or even in your house.

Anyway, looking around it is easy to spot that my Mother of Thousands has indeed spread itself into other plant pots, but what a wonderful display they make while flowering.

The flowers appear on tall stems that shoot out from the base, and can reach over 3' in height, towering far above the leaves.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lady of the Night or Cestrum Nocturnum

cestrum nocturnum in flower
By far my favourite plant for my Spanish garden is the Lady of the Night, otherwise known as Dama de Noche or Galan de Noche. The people of North America and Canada know it as Night Blooming Jasmine. It's correct botanical name is cestrum nocturnum (please check out the link, its one of my new sites).

 Lady of the Night is that plant that scents the summer evening air with a perfume to die for!

ou may have thought you were actually smelling jasmine, and maybe you were, but if the Lady of the Night is in flower, its scent is powerful enough to drown out all other scents.

Well, doesn't quite disguise the smell of the overloaded sewers in the heat of summer in parts of Benidorm, but it makes a good attempt!

It's flowers are nothing to look at during the day. Lady of the Night is a bush/shrub that reaches up to 15' tall, with bunches of small greenish-white tubular flowers that are closed and droopy during the day.

As soon as darkness falls, the flowers lift up and open wide, revealing a beautiful star-shaped opening on the bells. They then emit the most wonderful perfume that simply fills the night air and can be smelled from a distance away.

Sadly the flowering period only lasts a few days, so enjoy it while you can. It is reputed to discourage mosquitoes too, and that could be correct because the Night Blooming Jasmine is highly scented to attract some of the bigger insects like moths, that can effectively pollinate the flowers.

I don't know if moths also eat mosquitoes, and so mosquitoes stay away? Perhaps.

Cestrum nocturnum flowers up to 4 times a year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Orange Trees

I have two orange trees in my garden, planted 7 years ago.
orange blossom

Both are pathetic stunted creatures, and only one has ever produced fruit, and it was of such poor quality that I was sorely disappointed.

Note to self: in future, check the orange variety when buying orange trees!

The one at the end of the garden has flowered before, only a handful of flowers at a time that seemingly never pollinated as fruit never appeared.

baby oranges 
This year, however, both trees were absolutely covered in blossom, and now in May have loads of tiny green fruit.

Last year we had an abundancy of grapes, most of which were left to the wasps, but this year seems to be the year of the orange.

That is, assuming the tree shown here is in fact an orange tree.

Considering it has never fruited before, it could well turn out to be a mandarin or even another lemon tree.

Orange tree
Sad to say, my citrus fruit trees never get fed, although in their formative years I did supply then with some citrus fertilizer.

The soil here is rocky, hard, alkaline, free-draining although lacking earthworms. It desperately needs mulch added to moisten and protect plants from the hot sun.

My fruit trees are mostly planted in the north side of the house where they get protection from the sun at least part of the day.

I also have a plum tree and a loquat tree, each of which will be talked about in other posts.

Foxglove from Seed

I love Foxgloves, especially the colorful garden varieties.

Two years ago, I scattered seed from the foxgloves in my dad's garden in Scotland over my Spanish garden, and was disappointed when none came up.

Foxglove among the Love-in-a-Mist, Costa Blanca, Spain
But hey, surprise, surprise, one has come up and is flowering beautifully this year.

It seems to be of a lower height than it's parents, but that could be growth stunt due to lack of rain during its dormancy period, or something.

Hopefully in future years I will have many more as foxgloves tend to self-seed profusely.

The Love-in-a-Mist is flowering wonderfully again.

 Every year they spread and put on a superb display here in the land of a heat, sun, drought and poor alkaline soils.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Growing Catnip Grass

Nepeta cataria is the botanical name for catnip, the herb-like plant from the mint family that drives cats wild.
I bought a packet of seeds from the plant man in the market. The seeds say 'Hierba de Gato' which translates as cat grass, not cat herb as you might think it says.
It is clearly marked nepeta cataria which is the correct name for catnip, and the front of the packet shows a happy cat among a some greens.

However, down the bottom of the packet, underneath the growing instructions, is  a seed composition box explaining that the seeds are 80% Lolium perenne Belida, and 20% Lolium perenne Verna, both of which are varieties of ryegrass.

What grew in my pots this year has a strong resemblance to grass and look nothing like the nettle-like plant I was expecting.

I have yet to trying letting my cat near it, as this grass is struggling to grow as it is.

I did read on another site that this is a common mix for cat grass which although they call it nepeta cataria in't strictly speaking the catnip we have come to know, but there is supposed to be some nepeta cataria in the mix, even though my particular seed packet isn't telling you about it.

The idea with cat grass is that you only sow a few seeds at a time, and offer the whole pot to your cat beside his food dish when it grows, on the assumption that he will eat all the grass (as well as his dinner presumably), and you then simply sow a few more seeds for the next time.

Now seeing as nepeta cataria is considered to be a brilliant insecticide, I can see the point of using such a seed mix to sow a lawn seeing as the plant is perennial and will keep regrowing.

In countries such as Spain the insects in the grass are enough to put you off having a lawn, that and the watering they require. A catnip grass lawn sounds like an ideal solution!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Biting Insect Identified!

Thanks to Jan over at Mud, Gorse and Pines, I now know what the insect is that I am allergic to. It is called the mosca negra or in English, black fly.
  • The mosca negra is a recent introduction into Spain from Africa (10 - 15 years) and the two specific types that have been causing havoc are simulium intermedium and simulium ornatum.
  • In recent years, over 2000 people have been hospitalised due to suffering severe allergic reactions to the bite of the mosca negra in Catalunya alone.
  • Their breeding ground is in flowing clean water, unlike the mosquito which prefers stagnant water. 
  • After the larvae have hatched, they can spread out as far as up to 50 kms from the site they were born. There is a river in this village which I have not inspected as in recent years it has been re-routed away from the mills they used to feed. However, it is safe to say that my house is not more than 2/3 kms from the river.
In Catalunya is the River Ebro which scientists have now treated with Bacillin Thuringiensis which grows to produce spores that attack and kill the larvae of the simulium.

The Black Fly

The black fly is 2-3 mm across, much smaller than the mosquito and when they bite they draw blood. It is not uncommon to suffer extreme inflammation in the area of the bite, as well as a tremendous itch which can be relieved with a costi-steroid topical application.
mosca negra
They are diurnal and bite during the day, and like the mosquito, it is only the female of the species who needs a blood host.
Their danger cannot be underestimated - a swarm of them killed a calf in Switzerland in 2005.

Bite Prevention

It is recommended to wear light coloured clothes with long sleeves if you suspect they may be in your area, and to wear an insect repellent. There is some suggestion that DEET-based sprays do not deter them, and that wearing permethrin-soaked clothes might be a better alternative.
From reading several Spanish websites and blogs, it seems that the Spanish insecticide Autun (which contains icaridine) works well, as does a product called "locion hydratante de Natural Honey" which is a Honey Hydrating Lotion.

In America

The black fly is known to live in the US and Canada too, where it is known under various names including buffalo gnat, turkey gnat or white socks. There are very many different species of black fly under the umbrella of the giant Simulium family. They are a serious problem because they spread disease.
The Blandford Fly in England is actually a black fly named Simulium posticatum and the New Zealand Sandfly is actually a black fly fom the Simulium family.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Thanks to the article I wrote over on Hubpages, BardofEly was able to point out to me that this is in fact, called fasciation.
Fasciation in plants is quite rare and its cause is unknown. It could be due to an insect attack at a crucial stage in growth but scientists as yet have not pinned down an exact cause. The other suspected causes are mite attack, bacterial infection, chemical or mechanical damage, or just cell damage caused by a mutant gene so it will get passed on through the species.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the seed of this plant will show the same strange and abnormal growth.  I've added to few photgraphs of other plants showing FASCIATION so that you will recognise this strange growth should any of your plants develop it.
It is strange that 2 of my 4 echiums developed this. Hmm...could be something in the soil.