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Phil's Mediterranean Gardening Blog - by Phil Thompson

Fashion to Flora
A leading London fashion designer from the Carnaby Street era of the 60’s & 70’s retires to Spain and puts her creative skills into her own Mediterranean garden.  

From the Carnaby Street fashion revolution of the late 60’s emerged some of the legendary names of the UK’s elite lady’s fashion house designers who between them hoisted Britain onto the very roof of the world in contemporary clothing design. The legacy of that exciting design period is still very much with us and not just in the cut and design of the clothing we wear today.

A bright young thing of those heady days whose talents rapidly became apparent during her time at the London College of Fashion in London’s Oxford Street was recognised by a leading fashion house as a potential asset. Consequently she was offered employment as an assistant lady’s fashion designer and within just two years her flair and talent rocketed her to the position of chief designer. The business established a fashion company which took Britain’s fashion exports to the heart of Europe and across to America. With the passing of time Denise Marks with her husband Ramon, eventually took a commercial backseat by retiring to the beautiful UNESCO protected bio-sphere of the Sierra de las Nieves Mountains of Southern Spain.

Here, after purchasing a very large and contemporary designed garden apartment they set about creating a magnificent exotic garden, so befitting of people whose entire working life had been focused on design and artistic interpretation.

So, what did they do exactly? They took just a narrow strip of rocky land, some 50 metres long and 15 metres wide and Denise put her fashion designers hat on by sketching a gardening vision which was to blend with the wonderful forested mountain backdrop beyond the property and offer them peace, privacy and tranquillity to match.

A large timber pergola leans gently against the patio floored apartment entrance and is hung with Honeysuckle, passion fruit and Jasmine. A truly tropical effect is created to the front of the pergola by the use of Carob trees, Olive and mature Washingtonia Filiferia palms, all carefully planted at just the right acute angles to one another to maintain the desired effect. Bamboo, Phormium Tenax, various Agave, Aloe’s and Margaritas intertwine between the stems of the larger specimen palms and shrubs all circling a small shaped lawn of Benissa grass. Only the mountainous regions beyond are visible from this gar-den level whilst stone steps raise the eyes to a hidden level be-yond where an intricately shaped lawn rolls and stretches itself towards the South Western slopes of adjoining land and the Mediterranean sea beyond. A beautiful specimen Carob tree dominates this area with the clever use of slender Cypress trees adding a random elegance along the undulating edge of the lawn itself.

Once more the use of Agave, Agapanthus, Strelitzia, Hibiscus and even the beautiful Podranea climber add shape, profile and definition to the design whilst offering a noticeable contrast to the more tropical design of the pergola area. All packaged and wrapped with nature’s own never-ending fashion design of jutting slopes, screeds and peaks of glorious mountains. It’s simply magnificent!

To the front of the property a microclimate of opportunity afforded by a Southerly vista has enabled Denise to create her very own Mediterranean courtyard filled with a veritable or-chard of Orange, Lemon, Fig, Lime, Medlar, Kumquat trees and various herbs with a private space that enables them, I’m sure on many occasions, to simply sit and reflect on how lucky they are.

Denise’s artistic talents continue inside the apartment with wonderful oil and acrylic canvas paintings festooning the split level areas all reflecting both Ramon’s and her own passion for plants, form and shape. As a simple gardener fortunate enough to view this catwalk of gardening endeavour I have to admit………I’m just a little bit envious!

The Punk Garden
I was sitting in a garden on an upturned bucket the other day eating a rapidly melting chocolate covered biscuit whilst contemplating whether or not to mix a bit more concrete to secure the slightly unstable rockery I’d almost finished. I suddenly felt good reason to glance upwards. There, staring down at me with attitude written all over its demeanour was a variegated Yucca of not inconsiderable size. “You staring at me mate?” it seemed to be saying as its rigid and slightly threatening leaves projected outwards like some sort of punk rocker’s excessively gelled hair-do. “No, not me” I replied trying desperately to appear inconsequential.

And that’s the precise moment, when after years of torment with garden design and resultant landscaping that I realised exactly what the ubiquitous Yucca’s purpose in life is. It’s not exactly pretty and it’s not exactly colourful but damn me if it isn’t just so very useful in any garden layout for adding balance, profile and order to the scene. The Yucca is the horticultural worlds very own punk rocker. It’s the sentinel, the bringer of order, the bouncer on the door, of every balanced garden I think I’ve ever seen. It’s a loner when needs must but it’s more domineering and resultantly persuasive when it’s planted out with its mates.
And if you think the Yucca’s worthy of a gardening ASBO just wait until you see it planted up with other species of its more anti-social friends. From the muscle-bound but don’t-mess-with-me Agave species to the wonderfully erratically shaped Aloe. Or from the beautiful but not-to-the-touch bougainvillea with its bracts of bright colour to the spine covered delinquents of the cacti family.

For hot climate gardening enthusiasts we now have the ingredients for a rapid growing, high on profile, low on maintenance garden with a difference. It’s the punk garden! Put them in groups, no particular order required. Even a darkly lit street corner on a Friday night suits this lot. Soil type? Who cares……they don’t, as long as it’s free draining. Watering? When you feel like it, they’re not bothered. Feeding? Don’t be silly. Give them enough time and they’ll eat each other if the mood takes them. Will they mix with the more colourful genres of warm climate or sub-tropical plants you might run into at the local wine-bar wearing a white silk dress shirt not tucked into their trousers. No problem. They get on well with anything from citrus trees to hybrid roses and even subject themselves to the odd hair-cut and tummy-tuck to accommodate your sun loving favourites.

Unconventional it all may sound but as an attractive and ridiculously low maintenance garden bound together with a shaped lawn of Benissa grass I guarantee it’ll impress your friends and enemies alike. Now then, back to that Yucca. I wonder if he’ll let me in whilst I’m wearing trainers?

Arachnophobia Mediterranean Style
As an experienced Mediterranean gardener with a penchant for converting Andalucian mountain slopes into cultured gardens I’ve developed, through the emotional process of pain, shock and horror, a high regard and mutual respect with the local wildlife.
I’ve been bitten by every insect with the ability to make you itch. I’ve been stung by every wasp, scorpion and hornet possessing a sting to share around. I’ve been slithered on by every species of snake, gecko, salamander, toad and frog with a propensity to slither. But not once have the hairs on the back of my neck stood up whilst my body froze in sheer terror at the sight of anything that nature could throw at me. Until now!
Enthusiastic gardeners are similar in a way to amateur fishermen, professional politicians, below par golfers and second-hand car salespeople. They have an almost natural ability to exaggerate! So, bearing that in mind, please believe me when I tell you that what I saw filling me with so much unmitigated terror was roughly the size of a small dog equipped with eight fat hairy legs, fangs the size of tooth-picks and a torso similar in appearance to an over-sized shiny black cricket ball. Can you see where I’m going here? If I could spell with any confidence I’d throw in words such as arachnophobia, venomous and overly aggressive but I’ve no wish to frighten or unsettle anybody. Not yet anyway!
Allowing time for my life to flash before my eyes and my heart beat to slow to manageable proportions I took a tentative step towards what I could see with my eyes but could not take in with my head. No, surely not, I thought. Spiders just don’t come this big. They’re incey-wincey little things that occasionally make us shiver but in some ways are rather cute. As a lad I used to keep one in a matchbox and feed it with flies, moths and the odd lettuce leaf. As it turned out it was a meat eater so I gave the lettuce leaf to my tortoise. Excuse me, I digress.
Oh blimey, I murmured loudly. It is a spider. A very big spider indeed.

Now normally I’d have no problem in carefully picking up an offending God’s creature and gently carrying it away to a quiet place where I could forget all about it. But when you lay eyes for the very first time on the ‘Andalusian Funnel web Tarantula’ you carefully but rapidly consider an alternative course of action. The scientific name for this member of the notorious and venomous Australian funnel web family is Macrothele Calpeiana but is christened here in Spain as ‘La araña de los alcornocales’ which roughly translated means enormous black scary looking spider you wouldn’t like to find on your pillow.
Found mostly in the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga and widely recognised as the largest species of spider in Europe the Andalusian funnel web is most active during the night when it feeds on a diet of small insects such as crickets, beetles and millipedes. Its beautifully contrived funnel shaped web traps insects inside the web entrance whereupon they carefully approach, biting their victim and injecting a venom which quickly kills and liquefies it as they wrap it in silk. Their enshrouded victim is then carried to the rear of the web before being devoured. The funnel web then meticulously cleans it’s web in preparation for its next meal.
This amazingly large spider can reach a span of up to 8cm across with a body size not much smaller than a golf ball. If provoked the funnel web will rear on its hind legs and is known to make a slight hissing sound as it threatens to strike so my advice is simple. Don’t provoke it. Its fangs can inject venom that whilst not fatal to humans can cause some localised but painful swelling.

Whilst a formidable spider to encounter please don’t harm them. They are actually the only spider in Europe to be protected by the European Union Habitats Directive and should be respected as such. Try remembering that as it crawls up your trouser leg! Speaking personally I find it easier to respect its sheer beauty and size but my one encounter has been more than sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. All this reminds me I must buy a new pair of gardening gloves. You know the type. Extra thick leather with reinforced fingers. Sometimes these things make sense don’t they!

Divide and Conquer - a story concerning austerity!
Sat in front of my computer intent on writing whatever follows I can’t help but stare at a little desktop ‘gadget’ on my screen that automatically updates itself with the value of the Euro against the British Pound. To be perfectly honest, not unlike a lot of ex-pats living in Spain, I can’t decide whether each change in the relative values I see before me is good news or bad news. Consequently, I play safe. I read it all as bad news and thus spend a lot less than I used to. That way I get to consider myself as a Greek millionaire waiting for the Eurozone to fall flat on its face so that I can feel myself to be above it all. If only!

So, on with the subject of austerity gardening for those like me that don’t really know what’s going on in the financial world but still love to garden. If gardening on the cheap sounds like it could be hard work then rest assured that it is. But, amazingly enough, it can be even more rewarding than flashing the credit card down at the garden centre prior to cramming the equivalent of the Brazilian rain-forest into the boot of your hatch-back. And here’s how…….

Once upon a time, a couple of years back, I had a plot of land at the bottom of my garden that I’d gladly surrendered to Mother Nature to do with whatever she fancied. And she sure got stuck in to the task with no questions asked or prisoners taken. At first it was a scattering of wild flowers, more commonly known as indestructible weeds. You know the sort. Roots the diameter of a gar-den hose and venomous leaves that give you a bright red rash if you as much as look at them. She quickly followed with a connoisseur’s hand-picked selection of thorn bush species, the like of which contravened every aspect of health and safety regulations. Razor wire pales into insignificance in comparison. Anyway, undeterred but hesitant, I arose from my bed one bright and sunny day and made one of those irreversible decisions that most gardeners hate making. I decided to get stuck in.
I spent the first hour just looking at the splendour of nature’s very own barrier reef of under growth wondering whether I should even bother. I didn’t really know where to start. You know the feeling, just a tad like the Sunday Times crossword. There were some attractive portions with flowery bits dripping from them whilst most of the rest was indistinguishable as plant life. And then, all of a sudden, the solution hit me like a house brick. Divide and conquer!
And so I did. I didn’t want a manicured garden extension. I simply wanted to make what was mine more attractive and hospitable. The sort of place I could meander through with a cold cup of tea whilst contemplating life, the universe and the value of the Euro against the British Pound.
Assessing the more formidable items such as thorn bush and prickly pear as initially immovable items, and ground coverings of creeping ivy as items to retain I began to slowly clear a pathway approximately 1.5 metres wide into the undergrowth, twisting and turning its course as the immovable's and keepables blocked my progress. The gear I was wearing and the tools I used evolved rather like the undergrowth itself had. Long trousers, tough shoes, strong leather gloves and, most importantly, eye protecting goggles, slowly replaced the shorts, flip-flops, T-shirt and bare knuckles I started with. Oh my, was it hot! Tree loppers and a pickaxe replaced my secateurs and hedge clippers and all of sudden I began to make real progress. I soon disappeared deeper and deeper into this previously undiscovered territory. I know this to be true as my wife, on glancing towards the bottom of my garden thinking that’s where I was to be found, believed I’d nipped out for a drink.
The thorn bush I thinned firstly before cropping through the main stems at ground level. This made the debris much safer and easier to handle and remove. I then used the pickaxe to remove as much of the remaining root as I could. Next I cut deep channels along the boundaries of my cleared pathway, the dirt from which I scattered back over the remaining but thinned out under-growth. As I turned and twisted and cleared my way ever deeper I came across desiccated specimens of Spanish bayonet and large agaves that must have been planted many years before man-kind lost all interest in this little plot of unkempt land. My joy was boundless and my motivation was on the rise.

I kept up this routine of self-annihilation for a further two whole days, resting in the evenings with a glass or two of red plus a pair of tweezers with which I extracted the thorns from my body that had penetrated through my boots, trousers, shirt sleeves and on occasion, my dignity. My pathway was never ending. It meandered like an endless mountain stream creating islands of plant and ground cover which now had form and shape. I finished off by transplanting pieces of prickly pear and agave and aloe pups that I’d dug up along the way and further transplanted offshoots of pampas grass that had self-seeded within the choking growth. I spent less than an hour strimming the pathway and do you know what? It looked good. In fact it looked better than that. It looked great.

I now plant any off-cuts of drought resistant plants and shrubs I come across into the ‘islands’ I’ve created and occasionally trim and clear the odd bit that appears to be taking over again. Overall, it requires very little maintenance and because of the nature of the plant life within it, very little watering. What originally looked formidable and horrendous at the end of my garden is now quite attractive and hospitable. Perhaps they could try the same technique with the Eurozone bearing in mind the whole process I’ve used here has so far cost me nothing! The only thing requiring a bail-out is me. But if offered I shall most definitely refuse. Nothing’s going to take away my sovereignty!

Here comes the Sun & other things!

Sun-burst Margaritas fringe around the trunk of a Sago Palm in the clear blue skies of early May

It’s a statement of fact that the climate of the Southern Europe is a lot warmer and drier than that of the United Kingdom so I won’t harp on about it other than to say that the climate of the United Kingdom is a lot cooler and wetter than that of Southern Europe! This has little to do with my particular subject to hand but to be frank, I just enjoy saying it. Particularly in Spring time, whilst I’m strolling about my gardens in the Andalucian mountains of Southern Spain clad only in cut-off shorts and a pair of mountaineering boots with no toe caps. I remove them (I’m referring to my toe caps) to let that cool mountain air waft between my toes. See what I mean, once I start I can’t stop. But not everything in the garden is rosy, especially for the native wildlife that proliferates across the mountain ranges and into the local gardens at this time of year.
I have my favourites amongst this wildlife. The many insects, reptiles and amphibious creatures that inhabit the gardens within which I work here in Southern Spain and there are of course, those I’d rather avoid.

The Fire Salamander. Beautiful but venomous via skin toxins.

But springtime the world over is a special time for gardening enthusiasts everywhere with anticipation of long days, short nights and colour, lots and lots of colour. Mediterranean gardens are rapidly accelerating towards full bloom during the month of May with the moist soils and the ever-increasing warmth of the sun. Many species of flowering plants, not uncommon to Northern Europe, such as Geraniums, Margaritas and the magnificent Bougainvilleas are already in full bloom whilst the hardy drought resistant Benissa grass is rapidly raising its lush green spikes and tufts that make it such a favourite for hot climate lawns. Hard work and keen anticipation are the main ingredients of the day whilst warm balmy evenings bring us all out of our nests into the world as we prefer to see it. But for some it presents a whole panacea of opportunity……I’m referring now to the wildlife in a Mediterranean garden!

Magenta Margaritas in full sun nestling around Agave attenuata

As the eagles, vultures, kites and other birds of prey soar the mountain thermals looking for their next meal then so do their victims. The snakes of Andalucia and other cold blooded reptiles and amphibians that abound frequently find the calm shade and moisture of gardens both a safe and rewarding haven. A common and much loved visitor to many gardens is the remarkable and tiny Mediterranean Tree Frog. Much maligned by many insects because of his voracious appetite for a tasty fly, butterfly or even a smooth skinned caterpillar this beautiful little chap with his aggressive territorial attitude seeks his mate by means of quacking like a duck. This is why the male speci-men that occupies my own garden is affectionately known as ‘Orville’. He spends his day sun-bathing on any suitable leafy surface well above the ground and spends his night feasting. A habit that often confuses him with the tourist but even he has his predators from which his ability to change colour to suit his leafy surroundings is frequently proven to be more than a blessing.

His major aggressor for which he represents a mere morsel is the snake. Several different species slither their way around the mountains and foothills, and occasionally the suburbs, of Southern Spain. Some are large yet harmless, whilst others are moderate in size but highly venomous. None are aggressive towards humans but care must be taken in certain situations. For the amphibians, rodents, lizards and even small birds great care is frequently not enough. Nature always prevails, whether it’s the plants in your garden or the creatures that live within it.

This high speed photograph shows a ‘ladder’ snake about to strike a species of Salamander.

Your garden represents an important part of the whole ecological process of nature. Both plants and wildlife belong there so whilst caring for one always show respect for the other.

Permaculture Aussie Style
We sat on the pretty veranda and discussed the job. “Do whatever you can in the time you have available but cover all your exposed areas with factor 50, drink plenty of water and make sure you constantly make loud noises, particularly by stamping your feet or hammering with your gardening tools on the ground”.
And that was a brief introduction to a few days worth of landscape gardening in a homestead in the remote outback of South Australia.
Drinking plenty of water made lots of sense. It’s hot! Down-under in the Australian outback
during the month of February is similar to our August. The factor 50 turned out to be a sun cream laced with zinc that was the necessary means of protection from the intense ultra violet rays that now bombard the whole continent, deprived of protection from the sun with the depletion of the ozone layer. This is a truly serious problem for Australians these days with the incidence of melanomas almost endemic. As to the ‘make plenty of noise’ suggestion….well, that simply is
intended to ward off the local snake population which includes the two most venomous species on the planet. The ‘Brown snake’ and the fearsome ‘Red Bellied Black’, bites from which are never less than lethal.

And so there you have it. Extreme gardening Aussie style, all neatly topped off with insufficient rainfall to dampen your spirit, never mind your plants.
And yet, gardening in these conditions is not unusual ‘down-under’ but what motivates anybody to tackle areas of the Australian outback armed only with a spade, garden fork and hedge clippers is beyond my comprehension. But they do!
Putting brown snakes and red bellied blacks to one side for just a minute the big enemy is drought and the hot South Westerly's that endlessly prevail like an industrial space heater turned to max. Although there are many indigenous species of tree and shrub such as gum trees, eucalypts, bottlebrushes and various species of conifer, none of them are particularly keen as young plants to be stuck into a few inches of hot sand and left to their own devices having the very life sucked out of them by the dry heat. So just how do they tackle these conditions and put together some amazing garden areas hundreds of miles away from civilisation? I quickly and painfully found out and I have to say I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world, but I have to add I wouldn’t be keen to do it again!
My project for the week was to assist in planting a screen of young trees and bushes to protect the more ornate plantings that surrounded the property, from the hot prevailing winds. Young plants had just been delivered and stored undercover by what I can only imagine was a small convoy of Eddie Stobart sized vehicles. In addition, a mountain of old car tyres and sheets of rolled up heavy gauge plastic sheeting had been dropped off by the top end of the property boundary fence. This lay almost out of sight several hundred metres to the south of the families single story multi-roomed home. I looked at a vast area of nothingness and meekly enquired as to which bit we would be planting up. “All of it” was the response.

I gulped and wondered what on earth possessed me to volunteer to get involved in the first place. “Let’s eat”, I was told, “ start tomorrow”. I gulped again. And so, at 5.30am the following morning, accompanied by 3 brawny Aussies, two of which were female, I sat down to a light breakfast equivalent in calorific value to a burger eating competition held in a fast food emporium.
“We start at the top end and work our way down towards the house” was the instruction. “You take the Western boundary and come in with your plantings about 100 metres and leave 10 metre gaps between each one, reducing that gap systematically as you come closer to the house. Your final row as you finish off should be spaced about 5 metres apart”. I gulped yet again.
“Wear your hat at all times and don’t forget to make noise by stamping your feet and so forth,
particularly when you’re close to the boundary fence. The ‘Brownies’ will mainly be in that area. They sleep in the holes made by the Swamp Rats so avoid digging or stepping in any holes you see”. I tried to gulp but couldn’t! “What if I don’t see the hole?” I asked. I got no reply. This time I managed a gulp.

The ‘Brown snake’ and the fearsome ‘Red Bellied Black’, bites from which are never less than lethal.

“Here, this is your key” he said. “Load up with assorted conifers and eucalypts and drop them off at your starting point. Then drive back and stack the trailer with as many old tyres as you can and a couple of rolls of the plastic sheeting. Grab a pickaxe to loosen the ground, it’s not too hard it’s mainly dust, and make the hole about 50cm’s deep. Place two tyres on top of each other to surround the hole. Then cut yourself a piece of plastic sheeting about 1 metre square and roll it into a tube to line the hole and stand proud about half a metre above the hole. Position your tree and firm it in about 100cm’s from the top of the hole. Then move to the next.” “Don’t I water it in?” I asked. “What with?” he replied.
I loaded up and started what was an outback’s excuse for a quad bike complete with trailer and letting out the clutch neatly stalled it, climbed off and kicked a rear tyre, climbed back on and had another go. I sped off into the distance just as the sun broke the horizon and some unforgiving soul turned the heat full on.
I did well. An hour after digging my first hole I was half way through planting my second when a distant voice carried by the wind cried out “going OK mate?” My razor sharp reactions enabled me to scream back “yes, brilliant” and then of course panic set in. Thankfully, like everything else in life I struggle with it until I’ve done it several times, (don’t go there!) I got the knack and began sinking little conifer trees into freshly dug holes like a Finnish forester on piece work and by the end of the day I’d planted around 50 square metres of the damn things interspersed with the odd clump of eucalyptus and I was feeling pretty smug.
As I walked back to the house one of the ‘team’ enquired as to whether or not I’d rubbed shoulders with a friendly brown snake or two. “Nope, not seen one” I jauntily replied. “You can rest assured mate they’ve seen you” was the grin-laden response. I gulped!
And so the week wore on and I wore out but accumulatively we, as a team, completed our tasks to hand, drank lots of the amber fluid [beer], gnawed on mystery bags [sausages], told lots of dirty jokes [usually about N.Z.’ers] and sang old Rolf Harris songs around a glowing Barbie [barbeque] during the cool evenings whilst on one occasion entertained by a red-bellied black snake consuming a frog. Yes, I know. It gets more surreal as the paragraphs roll on!


Those of you with green fingers will now be asking or at the least should be, what was all this to do with gardening? The simple answer comes in a beautifully packaged little word which once described the Liverpool football team of the Kevin Keegan era but now is very much a part of modern horticultural science. PERMACULTURE.
The whole area relied on permaculture in one form or another to combat the direct heat, dusty soil and the almost complete lack of regular rainfall. By burying the tree root balls just that little bit deeper than normal the young roots were less susceptible to desiccation with the heat and initial lack of moisture. The rubber tyres around the planting hole with the tubular plastic sheeting lining the hole and standing proud of it achieved two important things. The cool night air of the outback condensed on the inside of the plastic tube progressively dampening the soil at the base of the young tree whilst protecting it from the hot winds. The rubber tyres held the plastic sheet firmly in a tubular shape above ground level whilst assisting in insulating the created damp soil base from direct heat. And so the little trees grow where little trees were never meant to. And it works…..they showed me some they’d planted earlier!

My stay finally came to an end with lots more amber fluid to celebrate and I took home with me a whole new attitude to gardening in the extreme plus enough grasp of Australian slang to understand the natives and potentially apply for Citizenship. As I left the place the guy I’d been working alongside who only spoke in Ossie slang grasped my hand and said “Guddonya mate. You’ve been as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike but not once have you spit the dummy.” I was assured it was his way of saying thanks for all my help so I’ll leave it as that. Incidentally, I never did see a Brown snake but as pointed out earlier, you can be sure they saw me. Gulp!

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck there’s a good chance it’s a goose when it comes to gardening. In spite of everything I love about gardening I live in fear of incorrectly or failing completely to positively identify a plant on request. The more we garden the more we become the plant ‘expert,’ or so we’d like to think. The reality is very different. I’m seldom going to admit publically, and never if in the confines of somebody else’s garden, but the facts of the matter are that we’re all hovering around different degrees of hopelessness when it comes to plant identification. All of us, and that includes you and me, my Auntie Flo with her green wellies, the scientific team at Kew Gardens and not infrequently, the staff at your local gardening centre. We’re all hopeless. Shocked by this disclosure? Don’t be. It’s perfectly excusable.

The problem lies within the various data of recorded plant species and types scientifically
acceptable. There are quite a few. For example, did you know there are 39,000 different types of
mushroom and that doesn’t include our politicians or people suffering from tone deafness who audition for X-Factor. This perhaps is simplest way of saying you’ll always know a mushroom if you hear one!
One of the problems we’re faced with when smugly identifying a plant is the vast array of different names originally given to them by botanists and scientists down the centuries who ‘discovered’ what they believed to be a new species. What this group of ‘experts through the ages’ didn’t realise was on many occasions they were simply discovering and renaming the same plant.
A classic example of this is the humble tomato which proudly carried just short of 800 different names for precisely the same species. Even our beloved oak tree is rumoured to be have been discovered and christened with around 600 different names throughout the centuries. It really doesn’t help us solve the problem does it. It often makes me wonder about Charles Darwin’s real intentions when he holidayed in the Galapagos Islands. But sorry, I digress.


However, all is not lost. We have a plethora of regionalised books available to us. Each one intended to inform us of the plants most commonly found in our particular garden or area. All very well but with several hundred pages of illustrated plant pictures to sift through and only one page that hits the spot it can be a frustrating experience. And let’s be honest here. The chances are it doesn’t get a mention anyway.
My stock answer if asked to assist in identifying a particular plant tends to be by use of a list of vague clichés, spoken gently but with authority. Such phrases as “Well, it’s a type of…?” or “It’s possibly similar to…?” or my all time favourite, “It’s almost definitely possible it’s a sub-species of…?” Get the drift? Perhaps not the scientific answer you were hoping for here but I’m famous for my honesty unless of course I’m identifying a plant!
I’ll finish with a few scientific statistical facts but before I do just bear in mind that since I started to write this article, to the point in time where you started to read it, there are probably at least a few hundred plant species that have become extinct. Anything from de-forestation, flooding, fire, large shoe size, etc, could be the culprit. In addition there are at least a few dozen new species dis-covered of which at least half a dozen were probably also discovered last year. What I’m trying to say here is that statistically in botany, nothing is ever definitive although there are attempts at the moment to sort matters out with regards to plant names and easier identification.

So, let’s see what we’ve got to rationalise with when we attempt to identify a plant. Experts from the UK & USA are currently working together to eliminate duplication and establish a single ‘accepted’ name for each flowering plant species. To do this involves sifting slowly and methodically through the many plant data lists including one that was established via a small donation left within the Will of Charles Darwin. I hope the beneficiary got that one right! Their current estimates give the number of flowering plant species after duplication and extinction at 301,000 with acceptable names, plus 480,000 alternative names also registered against those same species. They estimate they have 250,000 more flowering plant species yet to assess. Then of course they need to examine the different ‘types’ within each species and repeat the same exercise of establishing an accepted list of definitive type names. The mission behind this enormous and time consuming task is to enable a situation whereby the use of correct and definitive data bases of accepted plant names and descriptions will enable positive identification via internet databases easily, accurately and speedily. I wish them luck. Until then I’ll stick with my short and definitive list of clichés. or “Anybody seen my plant book?”

Two Bees are not Two Bees
So, is that the question? I like bees. They give me a real buzz! And they should you also if you care about your garden and the food on your table. So, if you’re reading this which you are, then bees probably give you a buzz too! Now repeat this paragraph quickly ten times with a spoonful of honey in your mouth and see if your teeth stay in because mine didn’t!

Colony Collapse Disorder or CCG as it’s more commonly remembered is a phenomena which is affecting our European honey bee colonies by drastically reducing the numbers of worker bees gainfully employed in maintaining the hives they’re engaged to by their Queen Bee to dutifully maintain.
Many insects carry out the process of pollination but the king of them all is the Bee with rates of pollination 20 to 30 times higher than other insect species. The importance of all this goes far beyond the price of jar of honey on your supermarket shelves or the apple crop in your orchard. Oh yes indeedy!
Scientific controversy surrounding this phenomena results in bees abruptly disappearing from the hive, leaving the Queen Bee unattended but with no sign of dead bees within the hive or surrounding areas. The importance of this reduction in the global Bee population is leading to increased concerns over food security because of the important agricultural factors affected by lessening pollination of food crops and of course, the impact on our gar-dens and the flowers within them.
It’s widely believed that a combination of factors possibly connected, but as yet not verified, to global warming, de-forestation and pesticides are contributory factors to consider but perhaps like many things in nature another important consideration could be that we simply take their presence for granted.

So, can we do anything to help? Well actually, yes we can, not on a global scale but certainly within our gardens by increasing the varieties and density of pollen bearing flowering plants. Selecting a hedge? Then consider a flowering species and encourage the proliferation of wild flowers whenever and wherever possible. Don’t view our bees as anything else but welcome visitors when they buzz around your garden. A few garden pests can do little to impact the natural appearance of your garden. So don’t grab the pesticide at the first sign of infestation and never, but never, use pesticides whilst your flowers are in bloom in your own garden or the surrounding areas.
And here’s a little tip to get you really involved in helping your bees. You’ve all seen the odd bee sluggishly moving across your patio floor or window pane or even your curtains. They’re not resting……..they’re exhausted! Collecting pollen for a bee is hard work and their own energy reserves quickly deplete on occasions without them renewing their reserves by doing what we do. Eating! Left to their own devices when in this state of exhaustion they will most likely die. So feed them. And what do they eat? Yes, you’ve guessed it…..honey! Put a tiny drop of honey on the tip of stick and dab in front of the stationary bee and step back and watch it gratefully eat. Moments later it will buzz its way skywards with renewed vigour and you can tell all your friends later how you personally resuscitated an exhausted and dying bee and thus prevented it from meeting its maker before its appointed time. Now you’re a real gardener. Giving something back to a creature of nature that makes your gar-den what it is and puts food on your table. Beat that if you can! Two Bees are not two Bees but may once again become so with a bit of help from us all.

Poinsettias are not just for Christmas!
You can’t move for the damn things can you? They’re everywhere, all red and green and Christmassy with a perfect appearance of health and vigour as they stand proudly in their little plastic pots singing ‘I wish you a merry Christmas’ at the top of their little vegetative voices!

And why not? The Poinsettia is as much about Xmas as a turkey, a spruce in a bucket or a paper cracker by the side of one of your best dinner plates. They’re great survivors too when you consider the abuse they’re seasonally subjected to, be it a layer of aerosol squirted artificial snow or a few strands of tinsel, not to mention no water or a position by the side of the fireplace or heater where it generally gets hotter than the surface of the sun. They’ll take it all and keep smiling all the way through to the middle of January……..and then the leaves drop off and they die!

But it needn’t be like that. We, like the plant itself, are fooled by the glass house nurseries into believing that Poinsettia, or Euphorbia pulcherrima to give the botanical name, are plants that flower in winter at a precise time to coincide with the Christmas period, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Poinsettia’s are summer plants which assume a popular festive mantle of deep green and bright red colouring solely courtesy of mankind’s hot house artificial climate controls. Keep ‘em warm and in the shade whilst in the right conditions of humidity and they’re fooled into believing they’re entering midsummer night’s dream for tropical plants. And that’s actually what they are….a tropical plant!


The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitl." During the 14th - 16th century the sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye.
Montezuma himself, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans because poinsettias could not be grown in the high altitude.
The botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned to the poinsettia by the German botanist, Wilenow. The plant grew through a crack in his greenhouse and we’ve all got one of those haven’t we. Dazzled by its colour, he gave it the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima meaning "very beautiful."
William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Mr. Prescott had just published a book called the ‘Conquest of Mexico’ in which he detailed Joel Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honour of Joel Poinsett’s discovery.

So, there you have a little bit of history concerning this much loved Christmas decoration so whilst we’re at it let’s have a few facts about this amazing plant to dispel any myths or conspiracy theories that may overshadow our previous misinformed conceptions.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico.

The Aztecs called the poinsettia Cuetlaxochitl. They made a reddish purple dye from the bracts.

Chile and Peru called the poinsettia the "Crown of the Andes."

Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae family. Many plants in this family ooze a milky sap.

Some people may have skin irritation from the milky sap.

In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten feet tall.

The showy coloured parts of poinsettias that most people think are the flowers are actually coloured bracts (modified leaves).

Poinsettias are priced according to the number of blooms. The more blooms, the more expensive the plant.

The flowers or cyathia of the poinsettia are in the centre of the colourful bracts.

Poinsettias have been called the lobster flower and flame leaf flower.

Poinsettias are not poisonous.

Poinsettia sap that can irritate the skin and cause an upset stomach if consumed in large enough quantities.

A fresh poinsettia is one on which little or no yellow pollen is showing on the flower clusters in the centre of the bracts. Plants that have shed their pollen will soon drop their colourful bracts.

Poinsettias represent over 85 percent of the potted plant sales during the holiday sea-son.

Eighty percent of poinsettias are purchased by women.

Eighty percent of people who purchase poinsettias are 40 or older.

Now these are not necessarily scientific facts admittedly, but they are interesting in understanding the Poinsettia culture that pervades our Christmas celebrations and just think what a great conversation stopper you’d have at the Christmas dinner table if you memorised the lot and regurgitated it all just before everyone got stuck into their Xmas pudding! There’s nothing that interesting ever comes out of a Xmas Cracker!

So, I said earlier, Poinsettia’s are not just for Christmas and to ensure that it’s first of all beneficial to know how to properly care for your little horticultural gem during the excitement of your festivities and beyond.

The length of time your poinsettia will give you pleasure in your home is dependent on (1) the maturity of the plant, (2) when you buy it, and (3) how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months or sometimes years.

  After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves.

  Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows.

  Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows.

  Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70°F and night time temperatures around 55°F. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible.

  Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner.

  Fertilize the poinsettia if you want it to become a new addition to your garden. Use a flower fertilizer rather than a general one and this will aid the development of its colourful bracts.

Move it outside in early Spring and ideally place it in a larger terracotta pot in a warm sheltered position with a sunny aspect which once more will aid the development of the bracts. Don’t hesitate to cut back at this stage as the bracts develop much more readily on new shoots. So, there you have it. From Christmas decoration to perennial garden plant and all because you finally understood that Poinsettia’s are not just for Christmas!

'Everything coming up isn’t smelling of roses!'
I like gardens. They’re peaceful and beautiful places where the rigours of everyday life dissipate amidst nature’s splendour. The shapes and colours. The smells and sounds. The perfect backdrop to reach closer to nature. From the tall trees to the exquisite bejewelled flowers and vines. A perfect home to the birds and other wildlife that proliferate in a world that we share all because we love gardens. And then all of a sudden you smell something really funny!
Cats! I thought at first. I love cats, but not in my garden….please. With my love of all creatures great and small rapidly diminishing I looked around the plant bed closest to me not really wanting to find what I was convinced I was going find. And I saw the strangest thing. There, poking up out of the soil and dried dead leaves at the base of an Oleander bush was a little bright red basket shaped thing which looked like, well, a little bright red basket shaped thing. And it smelt awful!

What on earth? I’ve been gardening ever since my primary school teacher first introduced me to a saucer full of damp cotton wool laced with water cress seeds but I’d never seen, smelled or stepped in anything like this before.
Out came the camera and several close range macro snaps later I fired up the computer and ‘googled’ "red basket shaped thing smelling awful". And there it was…. Clathrus Ruber!
Those of you with a nervous disposition look away now! A species of fungus in the stinkhorn family, and the type species of the genus Clathrus. It is commonly known as the latticed stinkhorn, the basket stinkhorn, or the red cage, alluding to the striking fruit bodies that are shaped somewhat like a round or oval hollow sphere with interlaced or latticed branches. Roughly translated from the scientific it means it’s a red basket shaped thing which smells awful, attracts flies and spreads its spores via little fly feet and little fly tummies. I did warn you!

The body of the fungus first appears as a small solid white egg shape which attaches itself to the ground by means of slender chords or rhizomorphs. The egg has a delicate outer membrane that covers a lattice shaped structure within. Inside that is an olive green slime or gleba which contains the spores. Eventually the egg ruptures and the fungal cage, which varies in colour intensity subject to the environment and humidity of its location, is released. It’s the glebe which emits the foul carrion smelling odour by which means flies are attracted and as a result spread the spores by coming into contact with the gleba. It just gets worse by the minute doesn’t it! Much folklore existed in days gone by as Clathrus Ruber was regarded as an evil creation to be avoided. A leading European Mycological (fungus lovers) Society recently named it ‘Mushroom of The Year’, a title I recently bestowed on a friend of mine who bought himself a second-hand Citroen, but took it a step further by describing it as being like an alien from a scientific horror movie! That’s the fungus, not the Citroen.
Clathrus Ruber prefers warmer climates and as such is extremely rare in Central and Northern European countries. But beware, an example was recently found in South Wales so it’s not only bananas and palm trees that will proliferate the highways, byways and gardens of the UK as our planet continues to warm itself, with or without our careless assistance.
And just in case you’re wondering how such a tiny little example of nature’s funny yet functional fungi manages to smell quite as badly as this one most surely does, here’s the scientific explanation. Compounds like dimethyl sulfide, aldehydes, and amines are produced by the enzymatic decarboxylation of keto acids and amino acids, but the enzymes will only work in the presence of manganese. Got that? I hope so because I don’t possess the literacy to repeat it. Anyway, once more it simply means it’s a red basket shaped thing that smells bad. Why is it red in colour? It’s red because it contains similar pigment compounds to tomatoes and carrots but I suspect it doesn’t taste quite as good and I highly recommend you don’t try it. It’s a highly complex fungal growth that’s red and smells bad. We’ll leave it that. Interesting though don’t you think?

Agave Attenuata “She was a Showgirl”
It was Barry Manilow that wrote and recorded a song about Lola, a showgirl from Las Vegas. The opening lyric was something like…"Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl. With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there." It certainly paints a picture and the melody to ‘Copacabana’ was pretty good too. It must have been, it sold millions.
Music lover though I am I still believe his real inspiration was a species of plant originating in Mexico which reached the shores of Europe via Kew gardens and since has itself sold in millions and remains in my mind the most curvaceous and alluring showgirl of any garden when in flower. This horticultural fun loving extrovert is not named Lola….it’s Agave Attenuata sometimes known as the "lion's tail", "swan's neck", or "foxtail" for its development of a curved flowering stem, unusual among agaves. And what a mindblowingly, staggering and frankly, massive flower it is!

Growing as an enormous yellow flower laden stem or raceme that frequently stretches anything from 2 to 3 metres in size this wonder of nature befits the headdress of any glamorous showgirl or carnival reveller and more than does justice to what must be the most beautiful of all the Agave species.
Thought to have originated in the mineral rich Western regions of Mexico it was a 19th century version of Indiana Jones, the French-Belgian explorer and botanist Henri Guillaume Galiotti, who first sent examples of the species to Europe in 1835. His commercial acumen sometimes out-stripped his botanical interest but he was captivated by its almost defenceless structure with none of the leaf serrations or spine tipped defence mechanisms of most desert Agaves. Instead, this beautiful and elegantly structured plant relies on its hardy and drought resistant mechanisms allowing it to prosper in small colonies at altitudes of anything up to 2500 metres above sea level and propagate itself via prolific production of offshoots or ‘pups’ as they’re commonly known.

In the warm and rich soils of the Mediterranean areas it has thrived and rapidly prospered into one of the most common agave species seen in many gardens and is an all-time favourite of the patio pot brigade where it’s superb architectural leaf shape and long woody stem created by the continuous production and dropping of its grey to green coloured leaves make it a perfect pot specimen.

The flowering process can take many years before occurring but is well worth the wait as all good things in life usually are. Expensive to buy but so easy to propagate it’s most certainly the type of plant you only have to buy the one time! So buy one….and bring a little glamour into your garden because when this girl ‘frocks-up’ at carnival time believe me, you’re going to be impressed!
My only regret is that it wasn’t Chris Martin of ColdPlay who penned the lyrics of ‘Copacabana’. Well, it would make me seem a lot more trendy!

Discovering a rare or previously unknown species of plant is every botanist’s dream. Glimpsing from the corner of one’s eye a pale yellow and brown striped and hooded flower head perching gyroscopically on top of a slender leopard-spotted stem in the centre of a well trimmed lawn of Benissa grass, located in a remote area of scrubland half way up the side of an Andalucian mountain, borders almost on the equivalent of a gardeners lottery win.
Fragile yet perky, slender but arrogant, this thing, this stuff that horticultural dreams are made of swayed provocatively in the warm wet breeze of a late Autumnal summer. Oh my goodness I thought. Where’s my camera? Where’s my illustrated copy of Charles Darwin’s encyclopaedia of Undiscovered plants for Beginners? Calm down. Be rational and seek help but make sure you keep its location secret otherwise hordes of gardening enthusiasts, botanists and the worlds press will converge on the lawn like a colony of ants around a sugar cube.
Grabbing my camera I lay myself prone at the foot of this previously unknown jewel of nature and started clicking. Every aspect of this tiny yet evocative little hybrid was covered in a flurry of photographic activity. And then I started all over again but this time removed the camera’s lens cap. It was just the excitement.

Examining my photographic results I scoured the internet whilst chewing lunch. No, nothing. Not a semblance of similarity anywhere but just possibly a new hybrid of the species of Araceae found in warm wet sub-tropical regions of the world’s finest rare tropical plant locations. Let’s ask the experts I thought, but where to start? The gardening section of Sur-in-English is pretty impressive. It’s a repository of unlimited botanical knowledge and they seem to know a great picture when they see one . I’ll start there.
And so began a series of photograph laden emails starting with ‘Sur’ and culminating with ‘Lets Go Gardening’ and the BBC’s ‘Gardeners World’, two of the UK’s top gardening websites. And then I waited, anxious but content with my days work and my potential unique contribution to horticulture.
Time ticked on and responses trickled slowly into my computer ‘inbox’. No idea, never seen it before, is it a weed?, where did you find it? I felt exhilarated. All these years trudging the lonely trail that an avid gardener trudges. Apart from several sprained wrists and a bad back not one ground breaking event had blessed my endeavours but now I’d found the botanical equivalent of the Holy Grail. A previously unknown flowering plant species. It would launch me into the annals of the truly great gardeners of our time listings.
Reserving the scientific right to name my plant now entered my mind. Where do you start with such a responsibility? My school Latin was never a strong point along with my woodwork but whatever I decided would be forever engrained into the plant world. I could of course simply use my own name with a Latin-type bit tagged on the end but there again perhaps my favourite football team or food could carry the banner of my discovery into time eternal. My love of a cheese sandwich negated that idea whilst my favourite football team are currently going through a bit of a rough patch so I decided to keep it simple and stick with a description of the plant itself. Spotted-Hooded-Tongue was running firm favourite when suddenly an email from Sur’s senior botanist dropped into my ‘inbox’.

It simply read…."A friend of mine has identified your plant from your photograph. She’s seen one growing under a tree close to the Irish butchers shop in Calahonda and it’s an Arisarum vulgare."
My heart sank. I ‘Googled’ the name on my computer and landed feet first on a website in Israel covering the subject of wild flowers. It’s as common as daisies in warm shaded climates and is a species of Araceae, best known for the beautiful flowering species of Cobra Lily and such popular household plants as the Arum Lily. The common name in Israel is ‘Aharon’s Rod’. How appropriate I thought and possibly so do you.
In summary, next time you think that you’ve stumbled across a unique and previously undiscovered species of anything rest assured. You haven’t!

Bird of Paradise ‘Strelitzia reginae’ - It’s astonishingly….beautiful!
I won’t waste everybody’s time describing this unique beauty. Firstly, I think you all know what it looks like and, secondly, its flowers are far too complex a structure for me to describe in horticultural terms. Only an engineering degree coupled with years of experience in structural fabrication and architectural design would give me the flow of geometric and mechanical language required! It suffices for me to say it’s astonishingly pretty. No, that’s the wrong word. It’s astonishingly…..beautiful!

The flower of ‘Strelitzia reginae’ or Bird of Paradise is arguably nature’s pinnacle in structured elegance. Also known as The Crane plant for some reason unknown to myself but I can probably guess, Strelitzia reginae is a flowering plant which could more than hold its own on the front cover of Vogue magazine. It even manages to retain a degree of untidy elegance between flowerings which generally take place from September through to the following Easter period, so what a wonderful way to glorify the garden during the winter months. Its long and extremely tough slender leaf stalks of between 80cm up to 150cm in length are tipped with an elongated and equally tough ovoid leaf not too dissimilar in shape to a canoe paddle. A mature specimen can reach a height of up to 2 metres.
The regal sounding name of this particular species of Strelitzia commemorates Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, Queen Consort of King George 3rd. I doubt if a flowering plant who’s scientific name was commemorative of Michelle Pfieffer could be more beautiful than Strelitzia reginae but that’s a purely personal anecdote. Anyway, full marks to Queen Charlotte!
Indigenous to South Africa this icon of all things tropical was first imported into Europe in the late 18th century where it was first grown under the protection of glass at the Royal botanical gardens of Kew. From there the spread of nature’s Bird of Paradise has virtually covered the warmer regions of the world from the Americas to South East Asia and onwards to Australia. So comfortable did the conditions of Southern California suit the needs of this plant that the city of Los Angeles named it as their official flower. That’s one in the eye for Hollywood methinks but since when did the beauty of nature’s flowering species ever come second to the Human one?
In the gardens of our Mediterranean countries the Bird of Paradise will prosper regardless. A lover of full sun or partial shade it’s lack of thirst and fuss is only tempered by its need for a well drained soil of literally any composition although a treat of loamy soil and the occasional feed will encourage it’s flowering ability. Like most sun lovers it hates the cold which makes bad news for enthusiasts in Manchester, Glasgow or Newcastle-upon-Tyne but I did once upon a time stand facing a slightly stunted specimen in full flower on the windowsill of a bathroom in Blackpool. On reflection perhaps I shouldn’t mention that.

Propagation can be achieved from seed but expect anything from 3 to 5 years before flowering takes place and this is why the generally accepted best form of propagation is by division which is very easy to accomplish although flowering patterns may initially be affected.
The complex mechanics of the beautiful flower emerge late summer in the form of a long hard beak-like sheath or spathe as it is termed. Springing out from the spathe like the innards of a mechanical gantry come three brilliant orange ‘sepals’ along with three deep sky blue petals. Two of these blue petals are effectively ‘hinged’ together forming an arrow shaped nectary. When a bird alights to feed on the nectar its body-weight causes the petals to open leaving it’s little legs knee-deep in pollen. Absolutely brilliant! Who thought this one up I ask? A mechanical marvel un-matched by anybody with the exception perhaps of the inventor of Meccano!
One of my own favourite tropical plants which I watch with pride as the flowers burst forth filling me with a real sensation of accomplishment which is somewhat ill-founded as I’ve had nothing at all to do with the process. Mother Nature, I salute you!

This is an interesting story. But you won’t like it! The Red Palm Weevil. A large reddish brown beetle 30mm’s in length, equipped with large wings for extended flight and an extended curved protrusion or rostrum on the front of its head that it uses to force its way into the growing crown of Phoenix dactylifera and P. canariensis, the two major ornamental palm trees that abound in hotel and resort garden areas of the Spanish Costa’s and other Mediterranean coastal areas.
Each female adult specimen lays up to 200 eggs in the base of the new growth crown all of which rapidly pupate into large white grubs nearly 50mm in size with a voracious appetite for the soft fibrous heart of the palm tree itself. As early detection of the pest can be almost impossible the infestations rapidly destroy the palm itself from the inside out causing both young or adult palm trees to literally collapse and die.

The first signs of infestation are the death of new palm frond growth visible at the crown. As infestation continues the large white grubs burrow ever deeper into the heart of the palm trunk itself weakening the rigidity of the palm causing it gradually to become limp and unable to support itself. The injection of insecticides may at this juncture destroy the larvae and active grubs but will not save the palm itself and removal and subsequent disposal must be carefully carried out to avoid transfer of the pest to other areas.
Thought to have originally been carried into Spain from Egypt via the importing of both young and adult date palms used extensively in the garden landscaping of hotel and leisure resorts along the coast the red palm beetle is a problem of potentially catastrophic proportions.
Infested palms emit an odour of rotting vegetation and it is often possible to actually hear the boring sound of the beetles curved rostrum as it tunnels it’s way through the palm trunk.

Containment of the problem with early prevention by spraying is now paramount for the authorities and increased legislation into the importing restrictions of palms from infected areas is now practised. First detected in the United Arab Emirates in 1985 only systematic plans of eradication will halt the progress of this destructive pest and save our palm trees. If you think you’ve seen signs of the red palm beetle in your palm trees or resort gardens. Tell somebody! The red palm beetle….most definitely the greater of two weevils!

If you ever consider writing down for the perusal of others your innermost thoughts and gardening experiences then beware. Maintaining your reputation for sanity, truthfulness and clarity of thought is everything. Wander just a little from the path of righteousness and understanding and you are, from the point of view of literary longevity, a dead duck! One error of judgement on this score is the equivalent of standing on a chair in a crowded pub and yelling at the top of your voice “Ladies and gentlemen. Could I have your attention please? I just wanted to let you all know that 
I've recently been abducted by aliens”.
So, bearing all that in mind let me first say I've never seen a UFO and I've never been abducted by aliens. I've also never received an amorous midnight text message from Angelina Jolie and not once have I seen a cheeseburger levitate from a cardboard plate whilst sat on my own in McDonalds after smoking something funny. However, I have come across a gecko in a garden that loved fruit cake and answered to the name of Brian.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. Which planet is this guy from? Snigger, chortle, and grin. Be assured it's the same one as you but I do admit to spending elongated periods of time in the sun on and around the mountains of Andalucia creating gardens out of plots of land where the laws of 
nature dictate that gardens shouldn't really be created.

Anyway, back to Brian. There I was, taking a well earned break in the sweltering heat of a screaming August sun somewhere up a goat track that had led me up the side of a mountain and into the fenced-off property of a lovely little finca. Apparently the owners considered it worthy of my rustic gardening skills. Things were going well and several wheelbarrow loads of mountain had succumbed to the leverage of a blunt shovel. A cup of tea, a couple of biscuits and a thick slab of fruit cake were scant reward for my efforts but appreciated all the same as I took five minutes off from digging, relaxing in a wasp enshrouded wicker chair whilst taking in the breathtaking views.
And then, appearing out of nowhere like a tax man wearing slippers, Brian stood before me. He looked just like any another gecko with a lovely Terence Conran wallpaper-like pattern running down his back. But this little guy was different. He was actually eyeballing me which caused me 
to bite down on my slab of fruit cake in wonderment and scatter a mouthful of crumbs in his general direction.
Now being the type of gardener who takes an interest in the creatures around him, both small but more particularly large, which is well advisable when in the mountains of Andalucia, I watched his actions intently. Performing an instant 180 degrees turn for which geckos have a reputation for doing, he opened his mouth and set about a fruit cake crumb roughly the same size as his head. It was completely devoured in seconds whereupon he performed a second instant manoeuvre and got stuck in to another piece. It was at this precise moment I felt my first pangs of affection towards this little fella. And that was why I leaned forward in my chair and murmured something similar to “Is that good Brian? Would you like some more”.

Why name him „Brian. ? The truth is I have absolutely no idea, apart from the fact it just seemed to suit him. But bear in mind I once watched a dung beetle going about his business in a similar location and instantly referred to him as Dennis so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. But this performance by Brian wasn't a one-hit wonder. Oh no. From that day forward with great regularity, whenever I sat down in my wicker chair for my afternoon tea with fruitcake, Brian would appear at my feet and stare at me with an expression not dissimilar to the one Oliver Twist tried out on Fagin. In fact, it became so much an obligation that on one occasion the lady of the house, having run out of fruit cake, served me a cheese sandwich with my tea which Brian promptly sniffed but politely refused. This left me with no option but to purchase a fruit cake slab of my own. But it was worth it….you should have seen his little face.
And so the impromptu picnics with a gecko named Brian continued throughout the final weeks of summer as my affection for his blatant audacity and his affection for my fruit cake continued to prosper. But not all stories have a happy ending. Well this one certainly doesn't. Our pleasure in each other's company resulted in his attention seeking whilst I was busy working and that proved to be his downfall. One dark day in September I decided to trim the lawn. I glimpsed downwards and noticed his presence behind me but pushed onwards with my high powered freshly sharpened 
rotary mower. Need I go on?
Let it remain an object lesson to all gardeners when going about their business using any of today's labour saving power tools. There's a whole world of creatures in and around our gardens, both fruit cake eaters and otherwise so consider them all and you might just cement a lasting friendship. 
It could cost you half your lunch in the process but hey, what sort of nature lover are you?
So, how's my reputation, integrity and sense of reason holding up at this juncture? That bad huh? Never mind. I feel better for spilling the beans. Cute little devil wasn't he. I quite miss him! 

The Eye of the Beholder
Now whether or not you’d be comfortable gently picking one up and admiring its home grown suit of body armour whilst it gazed up at you from the comfort of your hand is debatable. Personally I’m not, but over a period of time I’ve become quite relaxed about rubbing shoulders in the garden with this particular species of alien life-form that probably originated on Sirius Major ‘B’ but reached planet Earth after travelling 30,000 light years across the Universe in some amazing mother ship before crash landing in the arid desert regions of New Mexico. Other people with less imagination would probably recognise him as possibly an Egyptian Grasshopper but I prefer my theory.

I like this guy. He’s a big 35mm in length, he looks reasonably scary, he doesn’t bite and my presence in his immediate vicinity doesn’t appear to bother him in the slightest so all in all, we get along fine. He does appear to be a bit of a loner although his attraction to others outside of his own species is probably a mute point for consideration though he probably thinks the same about us.
I’ve never noticed any particular plant damage due to his feeding habits but on just one occasion I caught him nibbling the leaves of a beautiful hybrid rose I’d recently planted. So I moved him!
Apparently there are in excess of 10,000 recorded species of grasshopper jumping across gardens world-wide but when you consider the number of planets within our own solar system and beyond it all makes sense but where the other 9,999 mother ships touched down is a bit of a mystery.
So, be prepared to touch base with this refugee from the BBC’s ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ series of the late 1950’s and pride yourself on your ability to look him in the eye without turning to jelly. Once you’ve mastered the art you can really start to consider yourself a seasoned Mediterranean gardener who’s at one with the Universe. Oh, and if you can’t see him in your garden I’m willing to bet you’ll certainly be able to hear him!

The Good The Bad & The Prickly
Have you enjoyed any of the great classic movies of the last 50 years such as Cleopatra; Lawrence of Arabia; Mad Max; Indiana Jones; Conan the Barbarian; A Fistful of Dollars; Guns of the Magnificent Seven and last but by no means least, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly? It’s more than likely the answer is yes.

Now ask yourself what have all those particular movies got in common with each other? Apart, that is, from lots of action, a gorgeous leading lady, a stubbly-chinned handsome leading man and a hot, dirty, dusty backdrop to lots of the film locations. And therein lays the clue to the reason I even bother to mention them. The hot, dirty and dusty locations used for many of the films happen to be the same. It’s the Almeria region of Andalucia, Spain. A rocky, desertfied region of Southern Europe where gardening techniques, gardening problems and the plants themselves, are a world away from the pristine and colourful gardens of the UK. Where garden pests frequently take the form of such species from scorpions and black widow spiders to venomous snakes, centipedes and even toxic caterpillars.

Now you’re getting the picture? But another fascinating similarity that appears in each of those apparently inhospitable locations now creeps into the subject. I’ll gladly bet my old bent garden fork against your brightly polished John Deere sit-on lawnmower that in every single one of those movies, when the action sweeps into no-mans land or dead-man’s gulch, you’ll spot at least one ragged looking species of Opuntia. More lovingly known as the ‘Prickly Pear’ cacti, the local inhospitable terrain would hardly be the same without it.

This is the stuff of nightmares when viewed from afar or felt at close range. The spines can vary from hardened-steel spikes up to 20mm or so in length to needle sharp hairs, which once injected into the flesh of an arm or leg will remain unseen but painful for days on end. And yet Opuntia is one of the most beautiful architectural plants which, with care you can grow and cultivate in any hot climate garden. It’s broad pad like structures known as platyclades grow in the most unpredictable ways imaginable giving each and every plant a different profile. These broad pads can be easily removed without damaging the plant and quickly take root elsewhere if planted in a shallow hole or simply left lying on top of the hard baked ground. Once established the rate of growth is truly spectacular. Within a garden environment they require constant maintenance to endow the plant with the shape and form best suited to its particular location. The fruit or prickly pear itself is formed in abundance but is best picked and peeled by somebody who knows their way around the process. The taste itself is sweet with the best comparison being to that of a honey enriched watermelon. The flower of the plant, like all cacti flowers is short lived but extremely beautiful and subject to the particular species of Opuntia, appears as pale yellow, orange or red.
The many herbal, medicinal and practical properties of Opuntia are bewildering. From the building industry to the medicine cabinet and onward into the kitchen the Prickly pear has something for everyone. From the Mediterranean gardeners perspective it’s more than useful with its fast rate of growth and self reliant propagation. Alas, it will not thrive or survive in colder northern climates but for those who live or make movies in the hot sun of Andalucia and other Mediterranean locations it can prove to be very useful indeed.

Easily ignored but best not forgotten! Australia did both after introducing it back in the 18th century. They found its dense growth and sharp spines made it an ideal form of fencing for the vast sheep and cattle range boundaries. Regrettably, ignored and forgotten the growth advanced at what was estimated to be a million square acres per year which left them with a bit of a problem. Now Australians aren’t very fond of it. Still, they’re good at cricket and their town and city gardens are a delight!

Movie star, medicine cabinet, builders mate, fresh fruit, South American liquor, Australian ground cover, Mediterranean gardener’s friend. What more could you ask from a prickly slab of pectin-containing fibrous plant that makes nice boundary fencing and can be used to architecturally benefit your garden. The Prickly Pear. It’s occasionally a problem but more frequently it’s a solution.

The Broken Butterfly
Just a tiny flash of colour caught my eye, flitting haphazardly like a thinly sliced flake of something exotic that a summer breeze had swept up and couldn’t decide when or where to let go. No form, no shape, just a tiny spot of deep rich colour strobing like an escaped blink of nature’s eyelid.
And then it was gone. But so had my attention I should have been giving to the task to hand. Gardening duties were temporarily suspended whilst I attempted to satisfy my curiosity and then suddenly there it was again. Much higher this time but much more recognisable for what it was. It was just a butterfly. Its frantic beating of wings harmonised into a pulsing whirl of ivory coloured wrapping paper tinged with a myriad of different bright colours as it fought its way through the screaming sun and indecisive garden breezes.
And then, with no reason apparent to me, it touched down on a bract of magenta bougainvillaea, spread wide its wings and lay still.

I approached slowly and breathed quietly as I took in the image resting before me, its beauty and detail mesmerising. The precise dusky black boundaries of the ivory wings fringed with trailing flaps of deep blue and burnt orange. It was impressionist perfection created by an imagination far beyond that of my own. It belonged in a garden and the garden was a better place because it was there.
Then I noticed a lack of symmetry within its swallow tail. A small missing piece of colour most likely resulting from the attentions of some passing bird seeking a mid-day snack but failing miserably. And yet, the butterfly, though now broken, was no less as beautiful and exquisite a creature than it surely was before. And that’s the joy of gardening. The imperfections within our gardens detract in no way from the individual beauty of each and every plant you see and enjoy. Good gardening is a world of broken butterflies where chaos and imperfection combine to form a palette of living shape, profile, colour and life just as exquisite as nature originally intended.

Waving the Spanish Flag
Once upon a time I sat down with pen and paper and wrote down a hit-list of certain aspects of one single plant species that would make it my ideal to use within the plethora of different garden types I work within. I wanted a plant that could be grown either as hedging or as ground cover. Maybe as a trailing plant in a hanging basket or perhaps a shaped shrub in a tub. I wanted a high profile specimen bush for use in the centre of a display and occasionally as a border plant for its vivid colour.
Unleashing further my demands like a trade union in a management meeting I wanted a plant that under certain conditions could flower all year round and would require next to no attention inclusive of being resistant to drought. I wanted it to possess exquisite long-lasting flowers and in the interests of restrictive gardening budgets be cheap to buy and be perennial so I’d only have to buy it the one time. And wouldn’t it be a bonus if it was easy to propagate and self-seeding. My imagination really left the launch pad now as I added to the list its ability to occasionally display flowers of differing colours on the same stem and of course be tougher than a rhinoceros’s rucksack with resistance to most common pests and diseases. Then I thought it might be nice if it attracted wildlife to the garden so it now had to be capable of attracting butterflies, especially swallow-tails! That was about it really until I suddenly thought wouldn’t it be wonderful if was capable of telling me the winning numbers for the following months lottery draw and then I could hire the services of Imperial College London to research the whole issue whilst I nipped out for a beer and paid a visit to a new car showroom!
Alas, such a plant doesn’t exist. LANTANA doesn’t give out tips on winning lottery numbers. But it does everything else!

Regarded in some parts of the world as a noxious and invasive weed Lantana can be the stuff that a Mediterranean gardener’s dreams are made of. I would rate the species as the most beautiful, varied and undemanding flowering shrub I have ever had the pleasure of working both with and alongside. I describe the pleasure in that way because of the plants natural ability to vary its own form and shape as it grows, particularly when planted in groups. Leave a collection of various Lantana together planted this way and don’t worry about the spacing. Just leave them alone and watch them interweave and flow together and produce the most breathtaking explosions of colour and shape imaginable. Planted together they’ll form shapes and patterns of colour that even Claude Monet with his artists brush and his love of a colourful garden couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Lantana requires some maintenance to prevent it invading the space of surrounding plants. It’s fast growing, particularly in wet and warm conditions and its growth produces a dense thicket beneath the flowering stems that layers itself. In other words, wherever a stem touches the ground it will eventually put down roots and spread itself in this way. It’s also, like many other flowering shrubs, ‘lalopathic’ which means it puts down chemicals into the soil which can prevent seed germination of other certain plant species. This is not a problem to be concerned about within a garden but if allowed to spread into the wild it can easily dominate other less hardy and susceptible natural terrain species.
The list of Lantana species colours is breathtaking in its complexity. From pale yellows to deep purples, dazzling whites to orange and pinks. The sensational flame red and golden yellow of my favourite ‘Spanish Flag’ specimen, known as ‘Lantana camara’.

They’re not in the slightest picky about the soil you plant them in. From shallow rocky soils to rich loamy soils makes little to no difference but expect some colour variation subject to the soil type. Lantana has just one love above all other. Sunshine. And lots of it! Don’t over-water. It slows down the flower production assembly line that rolls on and on, plus it causes the plant to pour its energies in leaf and stem production which, whilst pleasant to the eye rather defeats the object of planting Lantana in the first place. It’s reasonably frost resistant but if you should lose leaf and stem in this way just prune back slightly and await a warm-up in the weather conditions. It’ll rejuvenate and be bigger and brighter than ever.
So, if you fancy the equivalent of a Millennium firework display of colours in your borders, beds, baskets, hedges or tubs which you can literally set and forget, then try Lantana. Its multi-tasking personality suits almost any situation or location. But don’t forget it loves the Sun. Bit like the rest of us really I suppose. Bit of a shame about those lottery numbers though!

Meet Tamara

She’s big, she’s beautiful and she could live to be a hundred years old and then pass away peacefully whilst giving birth to several hundred ‘little ones’. I call her Tamara after an infamous but slightly biologically confused Ukrainian shot putter who, along with her equally well proportioned sister Irina, dominated female field event athletics at both the Rome and Tokyo Olympics during the early 60’s. But, you may well ask, what has all this to do with gardening? Well, if you should happen to wander through the countryside or ‘Campo’ regions of the Southern Mediterranean you may quickly find the answer. ‘Tamara’ is a colossus example of Agave Americana or the ‘Century Plant’ as she is affectionately known by those with an affiliation towards nick-names. She is so referred to because of the awfully long time it takes her to flower as she spends her years body-building her incredible physique and storing sufficient nourishment inside to gestate her off-spring and perpetuate her amazing species. Mind you, in all honesty gardeners like fishermen always have a tendency to exaggerate and you’ll probably find she’s more than likely to pop her cork within 20 to 30 years.
As a founder member of the world wide Agave family she does tend to dominate a garden party but her curvaceous form and sheer animal personality have softened the heart of many a gardening enthusiast. And, she has her uses! The ingenious populations of South America discovered centuries ago that her incredibly fast growing flower stem could be tapped prior to flower formation to provide a sweet liquid they appropriately called honey water. Left to ferment this became a rather toxic alcoholic drink known as Pulque, not dissimilar to Tequila! Historically speaking this could be the reason the species became so popular with the sun-worshippers of ancient Mexican civilisations. The immensely strong fibres which make up its wickedly sharp serrated edged leaves also came in handy for the weaving of both cloth and rope whilst the needle pointed tip probably had its uses which I’d rather not explore!

She’s the product of what I believe to be two or possibly three generations worth of local Spaniards so she’s certainly been around for quite a while.  I think the key to her incredible growth and longevity is the precise location.  She’s approximately 600 metres up a mountainside near the town of Ojen  and must have self-rooted on the inside of an olive grove wall which was originally built at the bottom of a 30 degree slope of an old terraced  olive grove.  The wall constitutes the very bottom edge of the both the olive grove and the slope itself which stretches upwards for at least 4/500 meters.  Therefore,  any rainfall over the decades that fell drained down to the bottom of the grove bringing with it bucket loads of nutrient including the rotted remains of many tonnes of olives themselves.  So, she’s sat there for decades,  on a south facing slope at the bottom of a food and drink chute gorging herself totally undisturbed.  She has to rate as the ultimate prize-catch for ‘WeightWatchers’!  
Yes, Tamara is a beauty alright. Stick her in a corner with plenty of space where she can indulge her passion for sun-bathing. Feed and water her if you like but stand clear if she’s in a bad mood, and just watch her grow. You can even clip her nails if you like without causing her offence by snipping off the needle tips of her leaves in the interests of health and safety. Yours, not hers! And if you’re lucky she’ll even give you the odd little shoots to propagate as part of her propensity to dominate your garden. Oh, and one last thing. Don’t refer to her as a cacti, she won’t like it…she isn’t!

Will I have to wear my hair in a bun and dress in black?
I remember some years back watching with utter amazement as an elderly Spanish gardener teetered and stooped around a sparsely planted flower bed inside a local residential urbanisation picking up little stones from the surface of the hardened clay soil. Not being naturally multi-lingual I furrowed my eyebrows at him and uttered “Qué?”
In perfect English he informed me with a sad smile that the President and duly elected urbanisation committee had passed him an instruction to walk around the gardens and pick up all the unsightly stones that littered the flower beds. “But” I replied. “But, but” I repeated. “Si Sénor, I know” he said and continued to bend his frail body into an upturned U- shape and drop little stones into his ever-heavier plastic bucket.

And the point of all this reminiscence is………gardening in Southern Spain requires a radically different approach. The rich top-soils, temperate climates and boutique gardening practices so beloved by gardeners in Northern European countries can become resolutely alien to an Andalucian garden. But that’s not a problem. Approached correctly the mild winters, scorching summers and rocky but fertile soils of the Costa’s can fulfill a garden enthusiasts most extreme horticultural fantasies.

“It’s only a tiny plot really” said my potential customer, “I don’t think there’s much you can do with it. I’ve tried everything I know to make things grow but the soil is so poor and that dreadful heat in summer just seems to burn everything off in spite of the watering system soaking it thoroughly every day”. “So what exactly do you want your garden to be?” I asked. “Somewhere to sit and relax, or a place where you can just potter and enjoy the results or maybe a place you can show off to your friends as your very own exotic Mediterranean garden?” “Oh, all of those” she responded “but perhaps I want too much from my garden in a place like this. I really don’t know. What do you think?”

“I think we should go native” I said. “I’m game for anything“ she replied, ”but will I have to wear my hair in a bun and dress in black?” Too much information I thought! “No, not you. I’m referring to your garden.”
“Will it be expensive?” was the next and predictable question. “No, it’ll certainly be less than the current cost of buying expensive new plants one week and throwing the anaemic and scorched remains away the next.” And so, grateful for the work I commenced.
Bedding plants, including the ubiquitous and poorly located geraniums, were removed and placed carefully on one side for potting up into attractive containers where they could grow and prosper in the comfort of a more suitable environment and location. Other species such as my personal favourites of yucca, various agaves, the beautiful yet hardy Lantana were carefully removed and their roots temporarily immersed in water whilst the narrow beds that contained them were extended with shaped rather than straight edges. The soil within was deeply dug over allowing large stones and rubble to be removed whilst smaller stones were left to provide good drainage and aeration, so essential during the deep baking heat of summer.
Another problem that concerned me was the leeching of nutrients from the soil by the constant daily watering that had been taking place. A common error by many well-meaning gardening enthusiasts faced with the intense and prolonged heat of a typical Andalucian summer. Unlike the moisture loving plants of Northern Europe most species of plant indigenous and therefore suitable for the hot dry climate of the coastal and mountain regions of the Southern Mediterranean areas do not respond well to constant pampering. These guys are naturally tough, retaining their moisture and with the capability to put down roots deep into the hard and stony ground that prevails. Smother them with kindness at your peril. Not only will you wash away the nutrients and minerals that they feed upon but your efforts will produce a shallow rooted specimen vulnerable to disease, desiccation and pests. In effect, like a child they can become spoiled, overly dependent and prone to sickness! Just don’t do it. Even at the height of summer a thorough soaking once every 3 or 4 days, allowing deep water penetration, will suffice to produce a deeply rooted and prime specimen. This will be more than capable of being left unattended when necessary in prevailing drought conditions for weeks at a time. And don’t sprinkle! Hose or flood slightly to the base of the plant keeping flower and foliage away from the rapidly evaporating water.

Once the newly shaped and prepared soil beds were completed the rescued yucca, lantana and agave species were replanted in positions reflecting their potential growth rate. Beware of getting this wrong! Garden centre cacti species can be expensive so offshoots from mature plants were used to compliment the anticipated growth of the re-planted specimens. You will notice by now that I steer well clear of the formal latin names of plant species whereever possible, using the popular names most gardeners are much more familiar with. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there are not many survivors of the Holy Roman Empire that garden these days and secondly, common names are a lot easier to spell don’t you think! Bottle brush, ficus, bird-of-paradise, variegated flax, lavender, margaritas and the incredibly resilient spider plant, a wonderful ground cover, were carefully planted into position and of course….more yucca. Universal feed was applied around the plants and lightly hoed and watered in. And that was it. No fancy stone walls, no water features….don’t the mosquitoes just love them. And as a final thought I raised the cutting height of the customers rotary lawn mower by a couple of notches to allow the carpet of benissa grass already in situ to grow and develop the deep thatch by which means it survives the waterless conditions it has to endure. Benissa’s deep roots, sometimes up to a metre in length when soil conditions allow, also tend to help! It’s tough stuff but it’s biggest enemies remain excess watering and low cut sets on lawnmowers. Leave it alone, it’ll love you for it!

Nerium Oleander. From spring into early summer the road sides, hillsides and dried river beds of Mediterranean countries can often be seen adorned with the mainly pink or occasionally white flowers of the Oleander shrub. Even as an ornamental shrub planting within private or municipal gardens the massed flowerings of this common shrub draw attention and gasps of admiration from passers-by.
Both drought and frost resistant Oleander is a hardy species quite capable of surviving in the wild without any form of attention and left uncontrolled can grow anything from 2 to 6 metres in height. Rest assured, once in flower you’ll spot it!

As beautiful and as commonly seen as Nerium Oleander surely is in the Southern areas of the Mediterranean it is also known within the world of science to be one of the five most toxic plants known to man. In fact it is considered by some as the most poisonous of all due to all parts of the plant containing toxins composed of several types of poison. The most dangerous of these are oleandrin and neriine which can strongly affect the heart. Of course, many common plants found in our gardens have elements of poisonous toxins and the rate of effect is very much related to the amount ingested. Even many common foods such as the potato and kidney bean contain small amounts and so panic, shock and horror are not the bye-words to assume. Simple precautions when handling, pruning or even burning Oleander are sufficient but if believed to have been ingested in any form then medical advice should be sought promptly with a sample leaf or stem taken along to aid identification. The wearing of gloves, the washing of hands and avoidance of smoke and fumes from incinerated plant parts are simply common sense and should always be observed. Everything in nature has a purpose and a sensible respect for the potentially more harmful properties of certain plants is sufficient.

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