Visit to Andrew Sloan’s garden, Alhaurin – 19th April 2016
Cindy welcomed everyone to the meeting and was sorry that Judith could not join us as she had organized this trip.
She announced that Bernard won the Club Competition to identify the mystery plant. There were a number of amusing but incorrect suggestions from other club members. She added that next month’s meeting (Tuesday 10 May) will be at Bernard’s garden in Velez Malaga.
Cindy was delighted that a number of volunteers had come forward to assist in organising club activities:
- Greg Starr volunteered to be Club Treasurer
- Gillian Wood volunteered to help plan future meetings
- Gill Jordan volunteered to do the blog following Judith Sunley’s reluctant resignation
Thanks to Carol Starr for writing the visit report and Gill Jordan for the photographs.
(Editor : I have posted the excellent photos taken by Gill and I hope you will forgive me if the order doesn’t entirely match up to the excellent description of plants and their plant names provided by Carol. As I wasn’t there myself, I cannot easily marry the two.)
Thirteen members assembled at the Mirador hotel for coffee in order to await our popular guide and host, Andrew Sloan, at 11.30 am.
A short journey from the hotel through lush and nearly flat terrain soon brought us to Andrew’s 10,000 sq.m garden. The sky was mainly overcast but, luckily, the forecast rain did not arrive.
To the south there are two terraces on which Andrew grows succulents and drought tolerant plants. He said that when he and his wife, Margarita, arrived 20 years’ ago they planted the terraces with roses and other English style plants which needed to be watered twice a week. Now, the established range of plants which replaced the roses only requires watering manually by hose once every 3 weeks in the summer.
A variety of prostrate sedums are planted at the front so that they can tumble over the edge of the stone clad walls.
Large stones are placed between plants to help retain moisture and provide shade for the roots. Towards the back of the first terrace was a large aloe with spectacular orange flowers called Aloe Marlothii hybrid. Andrew explained that aloes are not self-pollinating and require another plant in order to flower therefore there is much hybridization.
A large and healthy Russelia equisitiformis exploded over the front of the terrace – its long horsetail-like branches tipped fiery red. This plant only requires the pruning out of dead strands. Other plants included a Helichrysum orientale, the mediterranean plant nicknamed “immortal”. An evergreen Ceonothus griseus Yankee Point also prettily draped its tiny dark green leaves and small pompom blue flowers over the wall.
The succulent, low growing, Senecio talinoides with its blue-grey, upward pointing curved fingers crept along the front of a border. Other low growing shrubs were also noted including a Ballotta pseudotictamnus and a yellow-flowered, teucrium-like grey leaved plant from Mexico called Buddleja Marrubiifolia.
Andrew confirmed that he buys many of his drought tolerant plants from Olivier Filippi’s mail order nursery in France. He follows Olivier’s planting advice which is to dig large basins in which to plant new plants watering well for the first weeks and then less and less until the plants are well established. Most of these plants will then survive with little or no irrigation during the summer months.
One member commented that though aloes are very drought tolerant and indeed beautiful they are devils to weed around and maintain.
Gill Jordan recommended buying gauntlet “Foxgloves” from the internet. Carol also recommends Ladies Bionic Rose Gloves obtained through e-bay for £26.99.
There was an impressively flowering Strelitzia regina. Gill demonstrated how to prolong flowering of these birds of paradise by pulling off the dead vertical petals thereby forcing the plant to produce more and more flowers from its horizontal pods.
Members were impressed by the many succulents in pots on the house verandah or hanging from baskets. These were largely plants which would be too small or delicate to survive in the open ground. One of the most spectacular of these was Rhipsalis, a genus of epiphytic cacti (known as mistletoe cacti), its purple dangling strands which, when young, are green. We noted Euphorbia tirucallii – a tree like, coral like plant.
Andrew reiterated he gardens by the lunar calendar which dictates when is the best time for plants to be moved or pruned. Following Andrew’s first talk for the Club 4 years’ ago many members bought planting calendars and the accompanying book which, obviously, needs to be renewed every year.
We returned to the beginning of our tour via the top terrace where various other taller succulents and plants were well displayed against the terrace wall including a large Centranthus ruber (valerian) in flower and, interestingly, 2′ round cushions of Aeonium Velour. The writer has seen the more usual A.s with their rosettes atop long stems but never this delightful compact form with large rosettes.
Andrew then demonstrated how to propagate from seed. First, he fills the bottom of plug trays with grit then adds sterilised soil, places the seeds on top then covers with pea gravel. Never water from above but put the plug trays in a seed tray of water. He sterilises the soil in the microwave in an open plastic bag for 3 minutes and then lets the mixture cool down; in a normal oven this would take 40 mins. Once soaked, drain then put in a plastic bag in a light but out of sunlight position. Leave for 6 weeks, check progress, then partially remove the plastic and then plunge in water again.
Cuttings are planted in pots with good drainage and kept damp but not wet. Harden off before planting outside.
We then descended the steps to the gently sloping olive grove behind the house. Andrew and Margarita have 114 olive trees, some 700 years old, which are harvested every year and yield a crop of between 800 and 1500 kgs.
These trees are pruned and kept low enough to facilitate easy harvesting and are then foliar fed. They are lightly mulched with wood ash from the house wood-burner. A team of friends arrive every year to help harvest them over 4 days.
Near the richly goat- manured vegetable bed sporting spinach and tomato plants, among others, were 2 citrus trees looking healthy though Andrew lamented that were not very fruitful. Carol suggested using pink fertiliser granules every 6 weeks as citrus trees are gross feeders but Andrew asked if goat manure would do the same thing as he gardens organically and does not use artificial fertilisers.
More advice about drought resistant plants can be found from www.made-in-afrika.com/aloes.
To finalise our tour we were shown various reference books:
Agaves by Greg Starr
Guide to the Aloes of South Africa by van Wyk & Smith
Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin
Cindy said she would ask Olgi, our new librarian, to purchase some of these.
Andrew donated some seeds for club members that Carol Starr has – the seeds are pot luck aloes from Aloe alooides, Aloe vaombe, Aloe thraskii. There were also some aloe cuttings – Greenii & grandidentata and Buhrii. All from S Africa originally.
(Editor – If you would like some of these please contact Carol on firstname.lastname@example.org )
Andrew and Margarita then accompanied us at a nearby restaurant for Menu del Dia.
The final leg of our day out was a visit to nearby Brookfield succulent nursery. This was an interesting place not merely for its greenhouses full of rare and exotic succulents and cacti but for the surrounding garden in full, chaotic flower.
Two Rosa banksia shrouded a newly constructed shed which also supported a Petrea volubilis, unfortunately not yet in flower. Rarely seen was a tall growing, deep-blue and large flowering salvia whose seedlings were rapidly snapped up by 3 members.
Planted next to this salvia was a small blue flowering plant which Bernard named as a Clerodendron.
Another charming surprise were the chickens and cockerel scratching about in the grass behind the garden.
Cindy ran his month’s raffle prize which was won by Ron Lott.
The day was growing colder and darker when we left the garden around 4.30 with our car boots full of succulents purchased from the nursery as well as the aloes which Andrew generously gave us.