Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A TASTE OF THE EXOTIC



A TASTE OF THE EXOTIC

I managed to find a spare week for a wee holiday so it was back to Benidorm in Spain (my fourth trip to Benidorm) to catch some sunshine, relax and take a break from gardening and art. My last trip was five years ago, and although I was determined to forget work for at least a week, it was just impossible. The bright blue skies and colours of holiday makers in summer dresses, then the quaint old town centre in Benidorm were all screaming out to be captured on canvas, so before long the camera was out and I returned home with enough excellent images for about twenty paintings.
This year I was having none of that, but then my other major interest in gardening kicked in and before long the camera was out but this time it was the exotic plants, trees and flowers in focus rather than the people. I suppose I need the stimulation of work to relax. I can spend a few hours on a lounger by the pool or on the beach, but then once your lily white Scottish skin begins to warm up as it heads towards a lobster red colour, it is time to find another activity.

I am always conscious of the quality of fruit and vegetables as I grow most of what we eat and I am not impressed with supermarket produce where quality, flavour and goodness are sacrificed for uniform appearance and a long shelf life. We had a trip to the local outdoor market where the produce was not all uniform, some may have had a blemish or two, but it was very fresh and the taste was fantastic. How can you not be impressed with twelve large sweet tender figs needing to be eaten within two days for only 1.5 Euros, (about 10 pence each.) Back in our hotel we were very impressed with the quality and wide variety of food available. There was any amount of fresh fruit and vegetables. My favourites were the large ripe fresh tomatoes, peaches, pineapple and huge sweet soft black plums. However it was disappointing to see so many people opting for huge plates brimming with chips, sausages and beans, though beans are quite a healthy option.

Exotic plants

The hot dry climate of Spain suits plants we can only dream of as tender house plants. As Brits have been coming here for over fifty years most people will just take the native plants for granted, but I still enjoy marvelling at seeing our tender plants almost behaving like weeds here.
Fifty years ago everyone had a rubber tree plant, Ficus elastica, as the commonest, easy to grow house plant, which with a bit of feeding would reach the ceiling before it got the chop. You have to be impressed when you see them as huge trees creating very welcome shade from the hot sun.
Bougainvilleas create a riot of hot colour in spring in these hot countries, but even now there is still a lot of colour on them. Angel trumpets, the Datura is one of my favourite scented exotics for tubs, but now I find them as large shrubs pruned each year to stop them getting too big. However the prize winner for scent had to be the white flowered Jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum, planted at our hotel entrance so you caught the fragrance every time you walked through the door.

Another hotel had a dazzling bed of Portulacas in full flower. I have tried this half hardy summer bedding plant on several occasions, but our climate is just not warm enough to bring out all the flowers. Going further into the building where it was quite dark I found a marvellous bright red coloured Vriesia growing in a bed with other shade loving tropical plants.
One shopping area had large beds of flowering shrubs in full flower including the blue flowering Plumbago, bright yellow, orange and red Hibiscus, and salmon pink Oleanders.
Bananas are quite common here, so it was not unusual to see them planted as shade plants around our hotel pool, but when they all have large bunches of ripe bananas on them it does catch your attention. Dates, oranges, almonds and olives are planted amongst all the buildings and along the streets but more than likely to give shade and protection from the hot sun rather than for their fruit.
Evenings are very relaxing as we sit around the pool and bar where there is always some entertainment and still the scented jasmine fills the air. Then to keep you in a happy holiday mood they ask that daft question for a Scotsman as they pour you a couple of whiskies, “Just say when!!”
I always get stuck for words at this point.
If only that custom would find its way to Scotland. You have to dream.

Plant of the week

Gladioli are one of my essential cut flower plants for the house. I grow about sixty to one hundred corms every year. They add a lot of colour to the garden, the allotment and the house as cut flower where they can last a whole week or longer if you remove the fading lower flowers and a bit of stem so they don’t get leggy.
I plant then out on my allotment in mid May in rows a foot apart spacing the corms six inches apart and six inches deep in well composted soil and adding a handful of fertiliser. I also plant in the garden for colour but plant in natural looking drifts rather than formal rows.
They are pretty foolproof for pests and diseases and as long as they are planted deep enough they are fairly self supporting so I never need to stake them. Lift in late autumn and dry them off before storing them in a frost free airy place. Sometimes smaller corms don’t survive the dormant stage over winter in my frost free garage so I top up each year with a dozen or so new colours.


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