Gardening columnist CEDRIC BRYANT muses on Mediterranean cistus and rosemary for their ability to thrive in the heat.
CISTUS is the perfect drought-resistant plant with large, fragrant flowers in early summer.
It grows wild around the hills of the Mediterranean and when in flower, was said to give comfort to soldiers during World War I. It would seem that returning soldiers brought seeds or cuttings back to Australia with them and planted them in their home gardens.
It may be the wrong time of year for Gallipoli stories, but cistus is in flower now, not around Anzac Day, so I want to bring attention to it at this time of year.
Cistus salviifolius, or white rock rose, was named “Gallipoli Rose” several years ago. It was propagated by Yarralumla Nursery and released at Floriade.
This extract from “Gallipoli Peninsula” by renowned NZ poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (1925-2009) refers in particular to Cistus salviifolius: “It was magical when flowers appeared on the upper reaches – not that we saw much of the upper reaches. But when we did, we were reminded of home when spring clothed the hills with flowers. The dead lying among them seemed to be asleep.”
Cistus flowers resemble old-fashioned roses, grown before 1928, though cistus is not related to the rose family. Its Mediterranean background makes it extremely drought hardy and, interestingly, it also regrows quickly after fires, a frequent occurrence in Greece and Turkey.
Another remarkable aspect of cistus is that in the late evening it drops all its petals only to be in full flower again the next day.
It can be pruned hard after flowering to increase floral abundance the following year. There are numerous other rock roses, including Cistus x pulverulentus “Sunset” with deep pink flowers, and “Nightfall” with mauve flowers.
ROSEMARY has been used for millennia by the Romans and Greeks for its herbal, medicinal and culinary qualities. Like cistus, Rosmarinus officinalis is also native to the Mediterranean and synonymous with the hills of Gallipoli. It has traditionally been used to commemorate Remembrance Day as the official end of World War I; although it’s increasingly used for Anzac Day observances.
IN our current drought, any plant that has a chance of survival with a minimum amount of water is welcome in the home garden. How does one tell if a plant is drought resistant? Simply look at the leaves. The smaller they are, the more hardy the plant. Lavender is a good example, with leaves about the same size as rosemary. It simply means the transpiration is considerably less, plus the leaves won’t burn in the relentless heat.
CONSIDERING the predicted long hot summer, I suggest not buying any new plants until autumn. This may not be popular in some quarters, but buying plants now could be a waste of money as chances of their survival are slim.