May 28, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2012 issue
Spring – the bringer of flowers
Words: Marika Azzopardi
Photography: Alan Carville
So it’s spring again and flowers are in all their glory. You may be forgiven for dreaming of flower-laden paths, window-boxes groaning with beautiful blooms, yards and gardens filled with greenery, the fragrance of flowers of all colours, varieties, the buzzing of bees, the chirping of birds, the admiration of the neighbours…
The bubble quickly bursts when your memory takes you sharply back to the memory of the dismal, miserable mess which last year’s flower patch turned out to be. It painfully reminds you of your non-green fingers and you quickly lose heart, deciding that flowers, beautiful ones, are best left to the glossy magazines or to the luckier neighbours.
However, successful flower growing needn’t be an impossible feat if you take note of some basic instructions handed down by the experts. In order to pass on some of these instructions to you, I drive through mud, sludge and alluvial floods all the way to Burmarrad on a cold rainful day in February, to talk to Wigi Micallef at the Green Supplier Nurseries. My question – which are the easiest flowers to grow in Spring in Malta, in our weather, in our climate… with the possibility of to keep enjoying them all year round?
His answer – Petunia, Pansy, Gasania, Lobelia, Elyssium, Miniature Carnations. And this is the explanation … “Petunias seem delicate flowers but in actual fact are among the most hardy of blooms. They are also so very well priced that mistakes needn’t become expensive ones. Petunias withstand the sun well and if well taken care of, can survive all year round. They can be placed in full sun but they do not prefer the very strong Maltese sunshine as we experience it in July and August. This is why many people complain that petunias stop growing and flourishing during these two months. The plants are likely to also develop whitefly if the heat persists.”
Mr Micallef advises that home owners should therefore plant petunias in moveable troughs since during these two peak summer months the petunia prefers to be placed in the shade. The excessive heat can be counteracted with regular doses of watering. A petunia that is in a shaded location, and watered daily, can be helped survive the summer with appropriate fertilisers and to should request these specifically as not all fertilisers do the same thing for all plants. He suggests that come September, the petunia should be trimmed and well-fertilised in preparation for its reflourishing.
I point out that where watering is concerned, many people do not have well water which is the best option for any plant, so is tap water just as good? “As you say, well water is the best for plants. The second best option is bottled water although this does not have certain minerals that have to be supplemented with the appropriate variety of fertiliser. If tap water is used, this should not be given straight from the tap. I advise people to allow a quantity of tap water to settle for a day or so, as this will allow the chlorine particles to deposit on the bottom of the container and then one can water the plants safely without giving them chlorine as well.”
An alternative to the petunia is the gasania which basically requires the same sort of care given to the petunia. It also comes in several different colours but whilst the petunia remains open even at night, the gasania will partially close its petals to sleep. Some of the hardier varieties will creep and expand in flower beds and so it is advisable to enquire about the characteristics of each variety before planting in limited space. This plant will thrive from year to year if it settles well in its chosen location.
A third blooming option of colourful fantasy is offered by the pretty pansy. Whilst this is a seasonal plant as opposed to the petunia which is an annual, it can still be enjoyed through to the end of June. “Pansies come in a wide range of colours as well as in variegated colour combinations. This flowering plant resists the cold, wind and rough weather well and that is why it is so often found in public gardens and green areas. Any outdoor area will do for a pansy even though during May and June some shade is beneficial. If it is not possible to shade the pansy during these two months, then one has to compensate by watering that little bit more.”
Two other exciting varieties of plants are the lobelia and the elyssium. The former delivers clusters of tiny flowers in a range of different vibrant colours including white. It can be used happily from February onwards as a filler in landscaped areas or in troughs. The elyssium is rather more low-lying that the lobelia and keeps its growth compact. It is extremely hardy and available all year round with the added bonus of being particularly well fragranced when it is happily enjoying the sun.
Another low-lying plant is the miniature carnation. This is a newer variation of the usually elongated carnation stalks as we know it used in bouquets. The shortish plant will provide beautiful blooms and whilst it is not bothered by the cold weather, it may enjoy summer better if it is in the shade. Speaking of cold weather, I ask Mr Micallef what sort of effect this winter’s bout of bitter cold and extensive humidity could have on our vegetation and plants.
“Bad weather affects us all and just as we suffer, our plants may suffer too. But as every horticulturist will tell you, it is easier to help plants thrive again from the cold to the heat rather than the other way round. Helping plants survive the heat is that much harder. I don’t feel we should consider bad weather as a threat – if anything, everything gets watered regularly without any effort from us!”
Contact Louis Micallef at Green Supplier Ltd, Flower & Plants Growers, Mdawra Road, Burmarrad. Enquiries: 2157 1428