Lyrical about leaves
It’s very early morning in downtown Loulé, almost the end of August, and I’m sitting on the low wall in my small town garden facing my ‘casa’ and appreciating the garden’s compactness and the plants in it. Now it’s cool before the fierce merciless sun of midday beats down – a good time to enjoy it.
I love looking at the soft, leafy greenness of the plants, framed on one side by the pale pink and white frothy ‘flowers’ of a bougainvillea (Coconut ice) given to me by an elderly Portuguese friend and on the other by the trunk of a middle-aged olive tree.
At this time of the year, there is hardly any other colour than green in the garden, apart from the bougainvillea I have already mentioned and the tiny pink flowers of the sprawling Cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis) growing next to it.
The lack of colour has never been a problem for me. I am lyrical about leaves, continually amazed and constantly delighted by the variety of greens in my ‘herbaceous’ border; such as the yellow green foliage of the Duranta Sheena’s Gold (Duranta erecta) followed by the slim leathery green leaves of an Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis), rising out of the succulent grey green leaves of a clump of lobster flowers (Plectranthus neochilus), then the silvery grey of an unidentified lavender bush backed by the soft ginger-smelling leaves of a misty plume bush (Tetradenia riparia). And to the side of that, the small spears of a low bush of a Santa Barbara sage (Salvia leucantha var. Santa Barbara), the rust-fringed intricate lacy leaves of a Madeira cranesbill (Geranium maderense) and the arching, light green spears of a tuft of Fringed Iris (Iris japonica). Behind it, in turn, the dark spinach green leaves of a couple of ribbon bushes (Hypoestes aristata), above them the shiny green leaves of a Fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum), each of its branches punctuated with their delicate racemes of tiny, creamy, sweetly-scented flowers.
It has been said that the Japanese have always had a reverence for leaves, particularly of acers, principally because of the glowing colours of their autumn leaves. My reverence extends beyond acers – rarely seen in this part of the world – to all the leaves that we have in the mato as well as those we have in our gardens, especially as green and other coloured leaves become significantly more inspirational in our hot dry summers. The leaves remind me of growth and shade and cooler spaces.
I also enjoy looking at the pot plants on my small terrace when I have my summer breakfasts. Looking out on the right-hand side of the tiny terrace (a photo of the view appeared in the January 18 edition of the Resident), at the back there is a huge, smooth-bellied, unglazed ceramic pot and, on the one side of it, there are the velvety suede brown leaves of a Copper spoon (Kalanchoe orgyalis), fronted by the leaves of a green and red-tipped echevaria, then an unnamed cotyledon with stiff leaves of jade pointing skywards, below it a sparky yellow Christ thorn (Euphorbia milii) with lots of small spiny branches scattered with multi-coloured leaves, and to its right a more restrained cascade of perfectly formed tiny globular leaves on the thin hanging stems of a porkbush (Portulacaria afra).
On the left, without the grandeur of the large pot, there is a smaller, more modest collection of plants, another enthusiastic Christ thorn (Euphorbia milii), this time with a spring-green fountain of leaves, a Desert rose ( Adenium arabicum) with its yellowing leaves and its strange thin, browny green, elliptical pods, another ‘upright’ porkbush (Portulacaria afra), this time bonsaied for many years and, at its side, a small round bowl of White windflowers (Zephyranthes candida) with its dark green chive-like leaves and small white flowers.
I could go on and on as most of my garden is a celebration of leaves from an olive to palms to a carob, from a citrus tree to aloes and jewel-like echevarias. Occasionally, there are flowers thrown into this mix of greens for a week or two and there is a temporary splash of another colour, but it is the leaves that I really have come to love and depend on. They soothe and satisfy me and, most importantly, some of them give me welcome shade throughout our hot dry summer; no wonder I am lyrical about leaves.
By Burford Hurry
South African resident Burford Hurry is a gardener and a member of a local gardening club for 31 years. He is now president of the Mediterranean Garden Association (Portugal).