The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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  1. Lasithi-Plateau-1000


    Wild flowers of Crete

    I have been to Crete several times, it’s a beautiful relaxing Greek island with lovely beaches, many tavernas and a friendly place to visit.
    This time I wanted to do something different and during the winter  I had been reading about the wild flowers of Crete and determine to do some, (easy,) walking and see more of the unspoiled Crete. We visited in mid-May.
    Crete never disappoints, and it didn’t. The flowers and scenery were amazing, tranquil, no crowds, few cars and easy walking.
    An ideal starting place to see the flowers and countryside, which is about an hour’s drive west from the busy town of Agios Nikolaos, is the Lasithi Plateau where there are wild flowers in abundance. (image above) Lasithi is a high plateau around 840 m (2,760 ft) but readily accessible in an ordinary vehicle and easy walking. In this area large parts are cultivated for food, and alongside the fields, in the fields and in any and all the spaces in between, are many wild flowers. The whole area of the Lasithi Plateau is flat and crossed with tracks and roads on which there is little traffic, other than passing farmers.  Lovely walking country.
    The small village of Tzermiado is a good base from where you can walk into the Lasithis  plateau full of flowers, butterflies and birdsong. Tranquil and beautiful. In this area were fields of Poppy Anemone, wild gladiolus, Cretan cistus, Daucus carota, bladder campion silene vulgaris, Lavatera, and an abundance of wild grasses. 


    Cretan Ebony Ebenus creticapoppies and grassesCistus creticus Cretan cistus

    Walking trails on Crete 

    The plateau Kathero (illustrated below) is higher around 1,150 m (3,770 ft) above sea level, and can be accessed by one road only by an ordinary vehicle, but to explore fully a 4 wheel drive vehicle is required. The terrain is more rugged, noticeably cooler, and with many beautiful flowers  such as the wild Gladious (Gladiolus italica,)  Vicia tenuifolia as shown in the image. It was cool enough in May for there to be snow on the tops of the mountains and the nearby taverna had a wood burning stove on the go. This plateau is virtually uninhabitable in the winter, except for one reclusive Cretan.  We were told by our guide Leonidas  that in the summer the shepherds, around 140 fo them,  bring their goats and live on the plateau moving down the mountain in October. The purple vicia tenuifolia is grown as animal fodder, but unfortunately the goats, bring goats, eat everything they can get to which includes the destruction of trees which they climb up and eat which stunts the tree growth. Its an ecological problem for the area.
    Driving around Crete the roadsides were full of Cretan spiny broom and Nerium oleander – Oleander colourful stretches of yellow and pink. On the more rugged areas, such as walking around Mohlos the Cretan Ebony is in abundance covering parts of the hills in soft pinks. 
    Crete is well known for rare wildflowers and orchids. I only saw one Orchid and none of the images  here or on the Pinterest page are rare flowers.  In the main, I was too overawed by the lovely landscape and the natural beauty of walking, to get on my  hands and knees and properly explore the range of wild flowers. Next time I will, and visit earlier perhaps April.
    Lots more images
    Plateau Katharo






  2. Nasturtium ness botanical colourful veg garden


    May is such a busy time, it is hard to know what to plant first. Given that May is still Spring, and we can still have cold spells and frosts, it is best to keep the more tender plants, courgettes, squash, cucumber, annuals such as Ipomoea  (Morning Glory) in the greenhouse. 

    This is a good time to plant out Broad beans and Peas which are more hardy but for now I have left the runner beans and french beans in root trainers in the greenhouse.

    Both Beans and Peas need some support and there are lots of commercially available supports and nets. One of the plus points of visiting great gardens, such as RHS Harlow Carr which I dropped into last week, is for ideas and inspiration. I have been moving away from commercial metal supports for some time and the veg plot in Harlow Carr is full of twigs and pruning from various trees and shrubs to make plant supports. 

    Taking a leaf out of an RHS garden is always a good guide, and so I constructed a pea teepee and a tunnel for the broad beans with twigs to stop them from flopping. Using prunings from the garden is a great way to get plant supports for free. (More information about making free plant supports.)

    Cutting back the Cornus produces some lightweight supports for small plants. Removing an Elaeagnus has made some fabulous sturdy supports with great shapes currently supporting several Peonies.

    Conifers, with their feathery branches, make good supports for all types of plants and are used here as supports around the sweet peas.

    I love the  trend for planting annuals in with vegetables for colour and pollination, and it makes the veg plot look very pretty. Over the years at many of our leading gardens I have seen some great displays of veg and annuals, the image below is Harlow Carr again and another from Ness Botanical.

    Not to be outdone, (although I most certainly will be,) I have planted Calendula, the English Pot Marigold around the edge of the broad beans, and a run of trailing Nasturtium along the raised bed edging the Onions and Garlic.  RHS are the professionals, and their beds look immaculate, neat and regular and in fact I spotted a gardener with a tape measure in the vegetable plot when planting out which is just a tad beyond my patience. But then I don't have thousands of people visiting as RHS Harlow Carr will for the flower show on the 23rd-25th June which is definitely worth a visit. 

    May is also an ideal time for planting out Sweet Peas which again need support. Sweet peas grow tall, up to and over 2m (around 6ft) so need a good run. Grown up a traditional, albeit rustic, arch they can look very effective. 

    Peas with support broad-beans-with-support


    Sweet pea support rustic arch




    Visiting London is great, but tiring and it's such a push and shove with all the crowds. Which makes Kew such an enticing place to visit,  just 30 mins away by train and you could be in the country.  

    Or ditch the train and get the Thames barge, the aptly named "Cockney Sparrow", and enjoy a gentle cruise down the river to Kew so relaxing.

    This time of year Kew is full of azalea, rhododendron and Magnolia in full flower making a dazzling display.

    The woodland areas are magnificent, it is as if all of Kew is turning green. In spring Kew is more akin to a large woodland park than a garden. The images below show just one of the more unusual trees, the unusual Fraxinus ornus common name flowering ash also known as manna ash which has lovely fluffy flowers, along with images of rhododendron and Azalea.  


    Cockney sparrow Thames bargeBeautiful rhododendron at Kew



    The Woodland area is large,  some 300acres and the bottom images can only be a thumbnail impression of the lovely tranquil woodland walks and there are more images on Pinterest.

    Kew is just a great day out and I hope to visit later in the year and see the  Great Broad Walk in full flower.

     Fraxinus ornus  Kew Azalea bed


    kew woodland scene with Camassia





    Fuchsia summer bedding






    The weather has been glorious and we think summer is almost here, and with it the temptation to buy and plant bedding plants. April is too early anywhere in the country because the risk of frost is present. Most bedding plants are not frost hardy which means they will be damaged, possibly killed by a frost and certainly the cold will shock the plant, which will often result in arresting growth for a while.  Understanding what is mean by frost hardy is really helpful to gardeners, especially as plant labels seem to contain less and less information.

    Illustrated left is Fuchsia, a lovely popular bedding plant which originates from Central and South America. Also from South America are Petunias,  Begonia, Pelargoniums (Geraniums) are from South Africa, Marigolds are originally from Africa. These origins give us a clear hint why we need to wait until we have warmer weather before planting out our most popular bedding plants.

    Given that the arrival of spring varies by several weeks across the country, the risk of frost passes in southern England a good time before in Central and Northern England. As a rule of thumb the country is generally frost free by the end of May, although there maybe some risk still on high ground because the higher the altitude the colder the area.


     Equally, if you garden in a sheltered spot in southern England experience of your area maybe that you are safe to plant out in Mid May. To avoid the risk of frost damaging your plants, or trying to protect them if we have a sudden cold spell, plant out in the last May bank holiday.

    You can, of course, buy bedding plants earlier and grow them on in a greenhouse or lean to. This is a good way to buy the more economical smaller plants and bring them on in the greenhouse. Plant up containers and hanging baskets and keep them in the comfortable climate of the greenhouse before putting out for the summer.