Everything’s Coming Up Roses ! (And Other Plants Too…)

In 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple of blogs about the shrubs – and the flowers – that were doing well on our south-facing, sun-baked, shade-free, heavy blue clay acre of Abruzzo.

The good news is that all the recommended shrubs are still alive, well, and flourishing – and therefore now almost guaranteed to thrive anywhere hot and dry in summer (and even cope with the snows of winter) – while with one exception, the flowers didn’t lag too far behind.

Sad to relate, in the heat of last summer, after something like three colour and scent-filled years, the Pinks simply ran out of steam.

Then again, by general local agreement, summer 2015 was the hottest for 40-odd years, and though grape-vines and olives produced stupendously good (but not enormous) crops, even the toughest ornamental plants suffered a little.

Buddleja, usually amazingly heat-resistant, started dropping leaves and wilting a bit. As did some of the roses. But the grey-leaved shrubs – Russian Sage and Teucrium – shrugged off the heat without needing even a drop of extra water, and while the Oleander was its usual disaster-proof self and covered in flowers, it did appreciate a couple of not-usually-necessary waterings between June and September.

Oleander - virtually guaranteed to fourish in hot, dry conditions

Oleander is practically guaranteed to thrive even in the hottest, driest conditions, and provide colour from May to September.

As I’ve explained before, while understanding that everything – everything – that we planted would need some degree of watering during its first year, (and that applies anywhere), the thinking behind the greening-up of our plot was that aside from summer rain, after that first year, everything would then essentially be left to take care of itself, as we had neither the time – nor the irrigation – to micro-manage.

As regards shrubs and trees, successes have overwhelmingly outnumbered the failures – even though winter snows can be punishingly damaging, snapping heavy boughs off olive trees (which you learn to live with) ; and also wreaking similar havoc on ornamental plants (which you don’t).

Magnolia Grandiflora - glossy green leaves and huge white flowers

Magnolia Grandiflora is a deceptively tough, reliable shrub/small tree for a dry garden, with glossy, evergreen leaves and huge white flowers.

Magnolia Grandiflora, with huge dinner plate-sized white flowers, has the habit of shedding it’s big, glossy evergreen  leaves alarmingly whatever the weather, but always produced more than it loses.

Liquidambar

Liquidambar can grow into a large tree, but is easy to keep in check. It provides a wonderful and lasting display of autumn colour.

Liquidambar sometimes needs a little watery help in high summer, but thanks you by producing fantastic autumn colour.

Spanish Broom’s yellow flowers and Black Bamboo’s conjuring trick of producing olive-green stems that over the course of two summers turn a rich ebony seem to thrive more the hotter it gets.

Albizia has feathery leaves and fluffy flowers !

Albizia is an unusual deciduous tree, with feathery leaves and clouds of puffy pink flowers in summer. Good for a small garden as It doesn’t grow more than about 4m high.

What else…Strawberry Tree; a multi-stemmed Beech; Hibiscus; Caryopteris ‘Heavenly Blue’; Albizia, which looks rather like Acacia ; and two Lagerstroemia trees, each snapped in half by snow in the winter of 2013 before obligingly resprouting and reflowering.

Foliage interest is provided by a wonderful long hedge of  a Pistachio relative separating the orchard from the veggie patch; and there’s our house-warming present to us, – a venerable old (and venerably expensive) Pomegranate, which every year provides us with kilos of fruit.

Failures ? Yes. Dogwood and Holly. Ceanothus and a flowering cherry. Too hot. Too dry.

Flowers have presented the biggest and costliest failure. Or rather, a particular flower…

The area around the pool – which has to look good – is the most intensively cultivated piece of our land. With predominant plantings of Oleander and Rose, backed with trees and other assorted shrubs and flowers, it’s now all fully mature, but initially when we first opened in the summer of 2009, the Roses, Oleanders and other shrubs were all only a couple of feet high and between them all were huge expanses of bare earth to hide.

Black B

I’d always include Black Bamboo in any planting scheme. The canes start off olive green and mature to black over a couple of summers. It grows up to 5m high…isn’t invasive like some bamboos…and is trouble-free.

“Aha !” I thought, as any Brit gardener would, “Annual bedding plants !”

Which is how our adventure with Busy Lizzies started…

In terms of time, effort and money, it was the single worst mistake I made in getting our garden together. A frantic way to launch Villasfor2 in our first summer.

Want to know more ? Go on then…

Pelargonium

Though you’re maybe more likely to see them in window-boxes, any Italian garden *has* to include a few Pelargoniums. They won’t survive the winter, but they’re quick, cheap and easy to add to your planting scheme each year.

The celebrated Wall of Death has been pretty well tamed now, with annuals largely being replaced with more permanent plantings, though you’ll still find a few Marigolds. And in the flower blog I mentioned earlier, I sang the praises of Pelargoniums, Mexican Daisies and Osteospermum. Those recommendations still stand – though they all do need just a little water every so often if it doesn’t rain.

Gazania is a colourful addition to your summer planting scheme

Gazania is a short/medium-term perennial available in a huge variety of colours that’ll provide big, showy blooms throughout summer.

One of the newer, more permanent additions is Gazania, which has evergreen foliage, seems pretty resilient to both heat and snow, and has a succession of big, showy flowers throughout summer.

To those, I sometimes add a few Nasturtiums planted from seed – (great if you have kids by the way because the seeds are the size of chickpeas – perfect for little fingers – and are 99.9% guaranteed to grow. And quickly).

Nasturtium's are easy and reliable - and fun for kids to plant !

It’s easy to deride Nasturtiums, but they’re fun, quick and easy; come in a great variety of colours; and – as an often overlooked bonus – young leaves have a peppery taste and make a great addition to summer salads !

Only prob with Nasturtiums is because they self-seed like crazy, once you’ve got them, you’ve always got them.

Also incredibly easy – and providing quick, tough, groundcover too – are  a newer discovery: Ice Plants, which have the added bonus of being very simple to propagate and so increase your stock.

The ice plants is a new discovery for me

Ice Plants are a new discovery for me. The provide excellent colourful ground cover and withstand the extremes of summer heat really well. A great plant for difficult-to-fill problem areas of your garden.

Of course, what works for me here on our Abruzzo hillside won’t necessarily also work for you elsewhere in Italy – or indeed elsewhere anywhere !

It all comes down to a bit of gardening know-how and quite a lot of trial and error. Fun and frustration aplenty – but usually, (thankfully),  more of the former…

This blog wraps up a little mini-series about what actually to do with the piece of Italy that’ll almost inevitably come along with any non-urban property purchase, restoration, or new-build.

I started off by telling you about our own rebuild/renovation project.

Then we moved onto some suggestions of how you could put your land to best use. Not to mention making it productive, with an orchard; and a veggie patch.

And while – of course – the prime focus of your attention and your budget will be on the building in which you’re actually going to live, do try and set just a little aside for your land.

Italy being Italy, you’re going to spend a lot of your time outdoors and if you can make that outdoors easy on the eye; colourful; scented – and maybe even productive too – all the work that’s gone into achieving and maintaining this will have been worth it.

And it’ll have done no harm either to your property’s value.

And in a funny sort of way, getting your hands dirty and getting to understand your soil; and the landscape;  and the weather; and what will grow and what won’t, will perhaps connect you with your surroundings in a way that bricks and mortar alone maybe can’t manage.

Happy gardening !


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2 Comments

  1. Connie says:

    I’ve spent a couple of hours today whiffling through your website and have enjoyed it. My main interest was your info on gardening
    (flowery things). We’ve been in Abruzzo permanently for 6 years now and I think/hope I’m getting to grips with the garden.Clay, south-facing as yours is.
    Please would you tell me which Teucrium you’re growing? My only blue flower as yet is plumbago which is in a pot and doing quite well. I also grow Datura,Brugmansia,Calla lilies & Canna’s which gave me only 1 miserly flower this year. Passion flower vines are poor but I’ve started with Virginia creeper against a 6 foot high concrete, sout-facing wall this year- I think it’ll do better than the passion flower(wall too hot?). Mimosa tree as gone like stuff off a shovel but magnolia stellata and magnolia grandiflora are just not thriving.
    Anyway thank-you for blogging and hope to hear from you.
    Connie

    • villasfor2 says:

      Hi Connie…
      The quick – but not especially helpful answer about Teucrium – is that I don’t know. I got given it as a freebie by a local nursery-owner from whom I’d just bought a dozen or so Oleander. Not quite as generous as it sounds, as it was a poor, spindly specimen he just wanted to get rid of. As is often the case, I planted it more in hope than expectation – and it delivered.

      As for other blue flowers, the only other plant I’d unhesitatingly recommend is Russian Sage – Perovskia – which does spectacularly well for me.

      We’ve been here a bit longer than you – 9 years now – and one of the gardening lessons I’ve learned is to give in absolutely to the demands of our site. Blue clay and south facing – like you – and 375m up. Running Villasfor2, I sadly don’t have the time for lots of hands-on gardening, so everything is pretty-much plant-and-forget. Watered for the first year and then left to survive. Or not. (The only exception being what’s in pots outside our front door). I don’t think what you mention would do well for me. I *do* have one Canna, but as for the rest…

      You’ll find mainly Oleander, Roses, Spanish Broom, Rock Roses, Buddleja, and amazing Mexican Daisy, which spreads. And spreads, And spreads. Some nice trees too. We have an acre…but it’s really only in the past 2-3 years that it’s become fully established.

      Wish you well with your own efforts – and thanks for the kind comments about the blog. I’m just putting the finishing touches to the latest !

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