Holiday GardensAlison Marsden
Late summer is a time when UK gardens can start to flag, particularly if the lawn is looking a bit crisp after a hot dry spell. By the way, there is no need water an established lawn in summer to keep it alive; green shoots will soon appear when the rain returns. But yellowing grass and fading flower power from perennials often lead gardeners to consider dedicating a corner to a “holiday garden” of plants that love the summer and remind us of a favourite holiday location, usually somewhere considerably further south. I have written before on creating a Tropical look or a Seaside using plants that will survive permanent planting out, Today I am thinking about a slightly different take on gardens invoking the spirit of a favourite location – where those plants come from.
I have spent many holidays alongside the Mediterranean and love the landscape of olive trees, tall, narrow cypress and umbrella pines on cliffs above the sea. All of these (or similar looking substitutes) can be used to create evergreen structure and place the garden style. And decades of Mediterranean gardens installed at flower shows have shown us how to represent the landscape and climate. But in a garden, there as here, people want more than a continuation of what is by mid summer a pretty parched countryside and gardens and towns are full of colour. Just like in the UK, not all are native plants. Here too there is ‘exotic’ planting, non-native species from other parts of the world but chosen to thrive in the local climate.
One seaside resort with splendid municipal planting along the roadsides in the town centre and esplanades has chosen Magnolia grandiflora as a street tree, grown as a standard with a clear, single trunk. It is slightly odd at first to see a plant so familiar from UK gardens and often grown against country house walls lining the road to a beach, but it certainly makes a great avenue. In fact Magnolia grandiflora is native to the south eastern US.
Of the other two plants ubiquitous across the northern Mediterranean countries at least, Oleander and Lantana, the latter is also an introduction and also native to tropical regions of the US. It is hard to find a photograph that does not include one or the other, both evergreen, flowering all summer and ‘easy to grow’. In fact, so much so that Lantana has started to spread beyond parks and gardens into the countryside and is now listed in several countries as a non-native invasive species and introduction into the wild is prohibited.
There is no concern about planting either in the UK because they are not fully hardy and will not survive a winter without protection. Oleander makes a sizeable shrub over time and is used as we might use Rhododendron here but is also happy in a large pot to be brought into a greenhouse or conservatory as temperatures fall. In my experience Lantana is even more susceptible and is probably best left to the nurseries and treated as a summer bedding plant, bought in May or June and composted in autumn.
A blend of plants native to your chosen holiday region and those introductions that trigger memories can make a wonderful summer holiday garden at home. Just be aware that you might be paying tribute to the local parks department as much as mother nature.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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