Florence: Myrtle Standards

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 

Here's how to grow a great myrtle standard:


Latin Name

Myrtus communis

Common Name

True Myrtle, grown as standards

Family

Myrtaceae, the Myrtle family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 9

Habit

Unless clipped and trained, bushy, twiggy, and mounding. 

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

With training, a specific height and shape can be maintained indefinitely.  Growing free-range in congenial climates, myrtle bushes can be a wide bush to four to six feet tall and wide.  Potentially to fifteen or even twenty feet tall and wide, but only after many years.

Texture

Dense and fine-grained.  Similar to boxwood in its solidity from countless closely-spaced small leaves.

Grown for

its ease of training into closely-shaped and frequently-pruned topiary, thanks to its natural twigginess and amenability to branching out after pruning, plus its small and closely-spaced leaves.

 

its fragrant white flowers, which are followed by black or, in a rare cultivar, white fruit.

 

its resinously-fragrant foliage.

 

its libational and culinary capabilities.  The berries can be infused into a liqueur; the leaves can be used in cooking.

 

its diverse association with ancient gardening.  Although myrtle is important in Greek and Jewish mythology and tradition, it was the Romans who were myrtle fanatics.  They tried to establish it wherever they conquered.  But the comparatively dark and cold climate of Britain eventually defeated them as well as their myrtle, which wasn't successfully grown there until the 16th century AD.

Flowering season

Summer.

Culture

Full sun is best, although a bit of shade is fine in climates where the bushes are reliably hardy, where the sun is automatically intense enough to provide enough light even in part shade.  Myrtles are happiest in Mediterranean-type climates:  Hot and dry in the Summer, cool and wet in the mild and only occasionally frosty Winters.  Good drainage is paramount everywhere, but especially at the northern edges of hardiness.

How to handle it

Well-drained soil is essential.  In-ground, myrtle thrives even in lean rocky soil—think of the steep hillsides in Greece and Sicily where the bush grows wild—and is quite drought-tolerant when established.  Full sun unless you're growing the plant where it's fully hardy in-ground, in which case some shade is tolerated.

 

In the Eastern United States, myrtle isn't reliably hardy outdoors north of South Carolina, but regardlesss of whether it's growing in containers or in the ground, the typical East Coast summer of high heat and high humidity can be stressful.  Like humans who suffer in Summer, with myrtles, too, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." 

 

Letting potted as well as in-ground plants get dry enough between waterings can be tricky because the foliage stays green even if the plant has died completely.  You'll need to forgive yourself as you cause some myrtle mortality while you hone your instinct of when to water and when to withhold.

 

Plants growing in-ground in congenial climates should be clipped in late Winter or Spring, so new growth has time to harden before Fall and Winter's potential freezes.  Plants in containers that are kept frost-free over the Winter can be pruned at almost any time.  But keeping the containered plants frost-free doesn't mean growing them in a typical residence's over-heated (bad) and low-humidity (good) winter-time environment.  Like other broadleaved evergreens from Mediterranean-mild climates—bay, gardenia, citrus, and olive leap to mind—myrtle is best overwintered in a cool and sunny greenhouse, with only brief visits to rooms that humans would find comfortable.  

Downsides

Myrtle has only a narrow range of climates where it thrives outdoors, and to overwinter successfully in containers indoors it needs conditions not easily found in typical human-comfortable rooms.  Unless you've got a greenhouse, then, or an unusually cool, sunny, but frost-free room in your house, myrtle can be a frustrating plant, indeed.

Variants

Grow any plant in gardens for a few millenia and, no surprise, a few variants get noticed and nurtured.  'Variegata' has white-edged leaves.  'Boetica' has larger green leaves and distinct upright growth.  'Compacta' is, indeed, smaller; 'Compacta Variegata' has white-edged leaves, too.  'Microphylla' has the tiniest leaves, and is the variety most often used for topiary. 

Availability

On-line and, usually as topiary, at local retailers

Propagation

The species comes true from seed.  Cuttings root easily.

Native habitat

Myrtus communis is native to the Meditteranean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's how to get started on planning your trip to Florence:


What’s the idea?

Florence, Italy is a series of ideas formed into an awesome but surprisingly human-scaled urban experience.  There’s not much left to be said about Michaelangelo and Da Vinci’s city, except “get there.”

 

And, yes, there are gardens galore, although we were mystified by the seeming paucity of uncommon and astonishing horticulture.  But uncommon and astonishing architecture, statuary and waterways?  Oh, yes!  Pruning and training of hedges, and topiary and pergolas, all are on a high, high order—de rigeur in fact—but we kept asking, “Where’s the hort?”

 

We’ll go back next time with that particular search in mind, and not be quite so distracted by the art, the food (butter-sautéed eggs with truffles!), the bridges, the markets, and all the other stuff.

Where is it?

Tuscany, Italy

How do I get there?

Alitalia can tell you all.

So, any famous gardens in Florence?

Yes, and this time we focused on the gardens at the Villa Bardini, which are cheek-by-jowl with the more famous Boboli.

 

And as we found, on both the Amalfi coast and in the Tuscan hill town, Cortona, there’s so much fabulous stuff that grows or is placed or planted right on the street, that we developed a series of our one-minute videos devoted to horticultural wonders “On the Street Where They Live.”

Where to stay?

The Monna Lisa Hotel, right in Central Florence.  The New York Times recommended that we stay here, “despite the tacky name.”  Well, we would have loved the Monna Lisa even without its to-die-for charm of a walled court garden.  But add that to the nooks and crannies where drinks are poured, breakfast is served, and where sleep comes oh so easily, and the Monna Lisa is a hotel to return to.

 

Kitsch watch:  Many versions of the Da Vinci painting adorn its walls; it's all part of the whimsy here.


Here's the same NY Times article that led us to the Monna Lisa.

We like people to cook for us!

There are more restaurants in Florence than you can shake a stick at.  We loved Trattoria Omero in the hills surrounding Florence.

 

Two years later, we can still taste eggplant sformata and the Florentine-style beefsteak.  The restaurant also has a terrific food shop attached; dine outside, and the view over the valley will put the meal over the top.

 

Our friend, Judy Witts, took us to Cippolla Rossa, a butchers’ restaurant, where we had a veal chop sautéed in olive oil with shaved garlic like none before or since, and truffled fettucine with candied garlic.  Wow!   Here’s the story on Judy’s site.

 

Judy also gives terrific tours of Florence for the food-obsessed, which includes all of us, right?

How was your visit to Florence?

Email me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
 
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