If you’re creating a garden here, there’s the opportunity to open the ‘paintbox’ and soften new profiles with tough and colourful bouganvillea, lantana and oleander that have their own interesting stories. They are available in a palette of colour options from local garden centres – try the ‘chilli hot’ red flowering forms which look so good against classic white walls and tumbling through evergreen native shrubs such as the lentisk (pistaccio lentiscus).
The choice is yours, hot pinks and cool purples, warm oranges, golden yellows and creamy whites: these three hardy plant families offer a huge number of options for your own summer colours.
A member of the verbena plant family, the more common form is lantana camara, native to central America. It delighted William Robinson in 1867 when he visited Paris and saw the new sub-tropical plantings fashionable at the time. He loved its shrubby form used as background for new flower colours in exotic bedding schemes.
Lantana is a rugged evergreen shrub which can grow to 2m high with equal spread in width. Stems and leaves are covered with rough hairs and have a textured surface. They emit an unpleasant aroma when crushed (it can smell like cat pee!). The small flowers are held in clusters giving a jewelled look as the colour is distributed among the foliage.
In the tropics, lantana is a non-stop bloomer and has become naturalised on the Açores. Here on the Algarve, the main flowering season is May to September, and flower colours range from white to yellow, orange to red, and pink to rose – all in unlimited combinations. Lantana is recommended for use as a drought-resistant hedging plant that provides shelter for other plantings.
There are more than 100 lantana varieties. Choose the sterile lantana varieties and hybrids which are normally offered for sale on the Algarve, as these are generally better behaved. Avoid digging any naturalised lantana from the wild for your garden as this is probably the fertile seed- bearing species and can quickly become a nuisance if left unchecked, as has happened in neighbouring Andalucia.
Pets can become ill after ingesting lantana. The unripe berries are known to be very toxic and the foliage is toxic to livestock. Lantana is listed as a Category I invasive exotic species in the southern United States, and is a huge problem in Hawaii.
A smaller trailing lantana montevidensis is a lilac/purple flowering shrub that is particularly good for overhanging walls and groundcover. It is also recommended for drought-resistant plantings and will tolerate slightly lower winter temperatures than the lantana camara and its hybrids.
Nerium oleander comes from the many selected hybrids giving us a huge range of useful colour forms to choose from and while believed to have been growing in the United Kingdom for approximately 350 years, it is actually native to the Mediterranean basin.
Oleander is pictured in wall frescoes of gardens of Roman Pompeii together with the strawberry tree, arubutus unedo, and was probably used in the gardens of Conimbriga (Roman Coimbra) in the north of Portugal. It is recorded as an important component of Islamic gardens as long ago as the 11th century and also Mughal dynasty gardens of India in the 16th century, so it may well have formed part of the original plantings at the famous Taj Mahal near Delhi.
This hardy plant tolerates bright sun, but some shade is acceptable. It is very versatile, surviving in both dry and wet soils. Fastest growth occurs when some water is given, and where it is naturalised, it lives in stream and river side areas. It will survive a little frost, but foliage will be damaged. Some varieties are hardier than others. Semi-ripe cuttings are best rooted in summer – seed is set occasionally but it is not possible to guarantee colour forms of plants grown this way.
A tough durable shrub, oleander is inexpensive, and easy to grow in most situations. The colours vary from white, through pink, deep red, yellow, cream, and there are scented double forms. Oleander is toxic in all parts. Contact with skin may cause a reaction. We are using it to help fill out and establish green shrubby areas as it seems to be one of the few plants our wild rabbits will not eat!
A riot of colour for nine or ten months of the year, this is a classic Mediterranean plant – adorning garden and house walls with show-stopping colour, running through reds, orange, pink and white. The vibrant displays come from the leaf-like bracts which surround the very small white flowers. Some of the oldest varieties are from the Brazilian species, B. glabra, which is also the most hardy. The plant’s natural climbing habit uses stout spines in the leaf axils that attach themselves to host trees or structures; they can reach nine or ten metres in height so plant them where they can have plenty of room.
Bougainvillea only flower well on new growth so pruning is essential at some point. Here on the Algarve hard pruning can be undertaken at the end of January or during February – any shaping or hard pruning needed should be done before growth starts in early spring. They will not tolerate wet roots in winter, and although preferring rich loamy, well-drained soils, they are very tolerant and adapt to many soil types.