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Ginger Gairdner: Why some plants are best left in warmer climes!

Brian Cunningham has been on a family holiday to Croatia where he took an interest in local plant life

Brian Cunningham has been on a family holiday to Croatia where he took an interest in local plant life

This year for our family holiday we decided to take a break from our norm and head into Europe and the city of Split, Croatia.

This was a longer haul from our usual staycations, with the effects of our changing climate becoming ever more visible through warmer temperatures and either longer spells of dry weather or heavy rain when it does come.

I’ll be upping my efforts to garden more sustainably to try and help compensate for our travels.

What grows well in Croatia?

Full of museums and culture with the historic Palace of Diocletian built over 1700 years ago – a UNESCO world heritage site, along with the friendly hospitality of the locals – it truly was an amazing experience.

Despite this being a break, of course I was never going to miss out on an opportunity to see how the Croatians like to garden on the Adriatic coast.

Split waterfront and Marjan hill aerial view,

As we left the airport and drove through the streets of the nearest town, the first plant I recognised in the gardens of the red-roofed homes was mature specimens of the gnarly, stump shaped olive tree.

Funny how I know this plant as it’s often seen for sale in Scotland.

Yet I’ve never tried to grow one as my brain is tuned NOT to waste my money on it.

Unless you’ve found a sweet spot in the country where you have the conditions that this plant requires to be kept alive, let alone produce an actual olive, then best leave it in the Mediterranean climate where it grows best.

I also came to recognise the block plantations growing on the hillside where the crops will be picked for the jars we buy at home.

I was pleased to see the plants in this region in good health as my holiday week went on as in other parts of the southern Mediterranean, millions of olive trees have succumbed to the disease Xylella.

Has plant disease been spotted in the UK?

So far this has not been detected in the UK which if it is, has the potential to affect many of our favourites such as Rosemary, Lavender and the flowering Cherry.

The strongest way it can enter our country is through plants imported into the country.

Us gardeners have a responsibility not to sneak plants home with us in our luggage after holidaying abroad.

Don’t sneak plants into the UK in airport luggage

Instead take a photo and purchase one from our own plant growers.

What else caught Brian’s eye in Croatia?

My eyes were now everywhere scanning over the green and rocky mountain landscape.

But it was the white, pink and reds of Nerium oleander growing in the central reservation of the motorway that next caught my eye.

A shrub or small tree this was another plant commonly seen in gardens and in the street borders beside Geranium, the variegated foliage and pink flowered Tulbaghia and Agapanthus adding so much colour.

The most spectacular sight on the waterfront along with an avenue of exotic, aged palm trees.

Split, Croatia. Image: Brian Cunningham

The only time I have grown this was in a garden with the luxury of a greenhouse with enough heating to keep the temperature above freezing.

There was so many familiar plants I was beginning to see growing outdoors that we also grow back home with some winter protection including bay trees, grapes and the most exciting of all huge, hand shaped leaves of fig trees absolutely laden with developing fruits.

To produce a good crop in Scotland I have the variety ‘Brown Turkey’ fan trained up against a wall in the greenhouse.

You can also grow outdoors in a container to give a tropical feeling to your garden bringing indoors over the winter months.

Split, Croatia

Succulent Agave growing out of cracks in rocks, vibrant colourful bracts from Bouganvillea climbing outside up cream coloured walls, the classic Mediterranean tall and columnar Italian cypress conifer and pots of geranium and purple foliaged Tradescantia growing in window boxes, I saw them all in such a picturesque setting I had only seen before in magazines.

What were Brian’s most exciting finds?

My most exciting finds were at the naturally beautiful Plitvicka Lakes National Park most known for their spectacular waterfalls.

A favourite late summer plant of mine the Cyclamen which I’ve never seen growing naturally before and here I did on the woodland floor in gaps between trees.

Then I was stunned to see a Smokebush, Cotinus coggyria in flower.

I just wasn’t expecting to see this garden plant growing naturally here so I doubled then tripled checked to be sure that I was looking at the right plant.

Finally I’ve seen Mistletoe.

It’s a semi-parasitic plant needing another for it to live on, to be fair it was daughter that spotted it first looking like a nest in the skeleton of a dead ash tree that has been killed by disease.

Arriving back home

All good holidays must come to an end arriving back home to the cooler temperatures and a feeling of moisture in the air, desperate to see how my garden was looking after my time away.

Thankfully my summer tubs and Coleus plants growing in the glasshouse had been cared for by a kind neighbour but the beech hedge seems to have doubled in growth and now desperately needs cut along with the grass, meadow needs topped and the teasel has blown over in the winds.

It was good to be home.