Get­ting a Med start

Hol­i­day in­spired you to grow Mediter­ranean plants at home? These are the best ones to try

Gloucestershire Echo - - HOME ADVICE - With Diar­muid Gavin

When en­joy­ing a good lo­cal drink on hol­i­day, we are of­ten tempted to buy a bot­tle or two to bring home to keep that hol­i­day feel­ing go­ing. How­ever, it usu­ally doesn’t travel well and be­comes a naff, sticky sweet syrup that ends up down the drain. The same temp­ta­tion can also arise when we see beau­ti­ful plants grow­ing abroad that we’re then in­spired to recre­ate at home. I’m writ­ing this while on hol­i­day in Puglia, down in the heel of Italy. We’re stay­ing in a tra­di­tional cone-shaped house, a trulli, and are sur­rounded by fields of olive trees. In cooler parts of the day and evening we ven­ture into town and see fa­mil­iar plants ev­ery­where. Some, like the colour­ful ole­an­der look won­der­ful here, lin­ing streets and mo­tor­ways with their white and pink blos­soms. But in most of Bri­tain you don’t get the re­ally vi­brant

dis­plays of colour which in­di­cates that they are much hap­pier else­where. Oth­ers are per­fectly happy in Blighty. So for the look and oc­ca­sional taste of the Med at home, here are the plants that do travel. While they love bak­ing in the Mediter­ranean sun, some will thrive in our colder, damper at­mos­phere. In fact, many of them do so well in our is­lands we re­gard them as Bri­tish gar­den sta­ples. Rosemary is beau­ti­ful, use­ful and very versatile. You can get tiny ones that act as ground cover or ones with up­right sprigs which stand to at­ten­tion and pro­vide great sea­son­ing for au­tum­nal dishes. Olive trees will do well in our gar­dens. Yes, they are hap­pier when be­ing baked by the sun but it is pos­si­ble to buy top­i­ary ver­sions trained into lol­lipop shapes to stand sen­try on ei­ther side of a door­way. A lovely olive on a sunny pa­tio in a ter­ra­cotta pot takes some beat­ing. It won’t pro­duce the fruit of the Mediter­ranean va­ri­eties but it will help to cre­ate the am­bi­ence. Good drainage is es­sen­tial. In parts of the UK, plum­bago will thrive. This is a real treat and a pure de­light – the light­est blue flow­ers in al­most cloud-like pro­fu­sions bal­anced at the end of del­i­cate sprigs. Gera­ni­ums are a clas­sic hol­i­day plant too. We can’t bring home bougainvil­lea, with its cerise bracts that de­light when planted against white­washed walls, but we can grow its mate, the gera­nium – more cor­rectly called pelargo­ni­ums – which come in a wide range of red, white, pinks and pur­ples. They’re so easy to prop­a­gate but do look after them through the win­ter by bring­ing them into a porch for added shel­ter. I had a lovely moz­zarella, basil and to­mato salad last night. The lime green leaves of the basil grow­ing in a pot in the door of the restau­rant in a town square looked like a mir­ror im­age of the one I grow at home from seed. You need to start from scratch ev­ery year as it won’t sur­vive our win­ters. Trach­e­losper­mum jas­mi­noides is an ev­er­green climber with glossy dark green leaves and jas­mine-like white flow­ers with an in­tox­i­cat­ing scent. For best flow­er­ing, grow in the sun in a shel­tered spot but it will tolerate some shade as well. It can also be grown to great effect in a con­ser­va­tory. Thanks to our chang­ing cli­mate, vine­yards are sprout­ing up not only in Kent but mov­ing north­wards through Eng­land. Vi­tis vinifera – the com­mon grape vine – is a thirsty and deep

rooted plant, so not re­ally suit­able for pots or con­tain­ers. There’s quite a lot of work at­tached to pro­duc­ing good plump sweet fruit as the grapes have to be thinned, but the re­ward for grow­ing your own out­doors in sun­nier po­si­tions or lead­ing the stem in­side to a green­house is a plen­ti­ful lus­cious crop. Fi­nally, I’ve yet to get any ed­i­ble fruit from my fig tree (Fi­cus car­ica) but it’s still a rel­a­tively young spec­i­men and I love the fo­liage. The fig tree is one of the first plants cul­ti­vated by hu­mans – fos­sils dat­ing to 9000BC have been found in the Jordan Valley. The ‘Brown Turkey’ va­ri­ety is the best cul­ti­var for these is­lands.

Ole­an­der looks stun­ning abroad

Trach­e­losper­mum jas­mi­noides

Plum­bago can thrive in parts of the UK

The fo­liage and de­li­cious fruit of the fig tree

You can’t beat the fresh aroma of rosemary Grow basil from seed Grapes can grow in the north now

Pelargo­ni­ums are easy to prop­a­gate

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