Our garden is full of the ultimate Mediterranean summer flower, the oleander, in bloom right now. This plant whose flowers vary in hue from apricot to lilac, via salmon, pink, red, yellow, copper and even white, used to conjure up memories of summer holidays for me. (Now it’s just the arrival of summer, not specifically holidays). Driving on the long journey south through France you knew you had nearly arrived when the motorway central reservations became a riot of these colours. Every town in Provence has oleanders growing somewhere, they’re hardy, need very little water, bloom for months and months and look very jolly. But the oleander is no ordinary flower; it’s the flower with power!
Oleander Flower With Power!
But these innocent looking plants harbour a secret – they’re deadly poisonous. There are a number of urban myths surrounding their power; legends relate stories of either French soldiers or US boy scouts making skewers out of oleander branches to roast food on and dying of poisoning (take your pick which version you prefer!) Joking aside, they really do contain a powerful toxin which can be fatal for animals if ingested in large quantities and the sap can cause skin irritations, though there are very few cases of human death from oleander poisoning.
However, there is one notorious case of murder-by-oleander! In 1999 Oprah Winfrey chose a book for her Book Club ensuring it became an international best seller. In this book, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, a woman murders her partner using oleander sap. A year later, a woman from Los Angeles killed her husband using a mix of antifreeze and oleander sap in a macabre true-life copycat killing. She was sentenced to death and as far as I can gather is still awaiting execution on death row.
So, oleanders have the power to kill, but while that’s just a bit of sensationalism to spice up this post, they really do have the ability to brighten up any garden, public space, hedgerow or park. Oleanders are showy and fragrant, drought-resistant and tolerant of temperatures as low as -10° celsius. They can grow up to 6 metres and clever gardeners can prune oleander bushes into trees. They make great hedging, or stand-alone ornamental flowers. Best of all for lazy gardeners they provide a long-lasting burst of colour for very little effort!
Do you have a flower that reminds you of a particular time or place? What’s flowering in your garden right now? I’d love to hear from you.
You may enjoy these other posts about the garden at Lou Messugo:
From forest to garden – 4 years in the making
September Mediterranean garden
Summer garden – flowers, weeds and bees
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Great blog. Thank you Phoebe. Apparently you can now buy potted oleanders in England.. they are supposed to be easy to grow here. We have given one to our son.
It’ll be interesting to hear how it gets on. A little bit of the Med in England.
Oleanders are beautiful, I had no idea they were poisonous though. What an interesting post 🙂
ooooooooooooh! thanks for the most excellent write-up! I need some of those!
wow!!! i never knew that about orleanders!! we have a lot of them in portugal also where i grew up. sunflowers and poppies remind me of my chldhood. thank you for such a great post!
I never knew oleanders were poisonous! The pink flowers look like they have a little volcano on the centre with the orange being so bright 🙂 They sound like the dream plant – not needing much water but also tolerating cold.
Brilliant to get some background about Oleanders – deadly but beautiful!
i never knew that about Oleander’s, how fascinating. geraniums always remind me of my bedroom as a teenager-it was the plant I chose to have on my windowsill for years and my first foray into ‘gardening’ 🙂
I love that it’s beautiful AND hardy! I need more of that around it as I’m a bit slack on the watering front I’m ashamed to say!
Lovely – thanks for sharing x
Great post! I love oleander, which always remind me of the South of France, as does the smell of pine and wild fennel in the Languedoc.
I’d love to prune an oleander into a tree but I just don’t have the skill! Thanks for your lovely words Hannah, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Ooooh! I thought you were going to go a bit Day of the Triffids there!! Gorgeous flowers and that tree is insane – are you not tempted to have a go in your garden?! We’ve currently got clematis growing in the our tiny ‘yarden’ – I made an attempt at sprucing up the yard and specifically chose Clematis as it reminds me of holiday’s at my parents cottage in Derbyshire – there’s a huge plant that crawls up the wall of the tiny house and when it’s in bloom it virtually swallows the house! I love it – and we’re back to Day of the Triffids 😉 I really enjoyed this post Phoebe xxx
And now you do! Don’t go eating the leaves Kate!!!
Ooh you cynic Richard! There’s a lot more space in France to make things “nice”, Britain’s just so crowded. I’m sure if France were as crowded as Britain it would have as much rubbish….just a thought…
Veg is good, I wish we had a veggie plot but we’re not good at watering and vegetables around here need a lot of water as it’s very dry during the summer.
I’m hopeless with nasturtiums, I’m sure you were a great gardener Catherine!
So witty Julie!! 😮
I love oleanders – never knew that about them!
You’r right about oleanders and motorways to the south. Further north the French plant bush roses down their motorway central reservations (always called “motorway roses” by our family when gardening), whereas the British plant steel barriers, crisp packets, fast food containers and other general garbage – all of which says something about our respective national habits.
That is beautiful. I do need more flowers in my garden at the moment it is all veg and football pitch!
We have nasturtium, orange and yellow climbing all over our garden. I grew these from a packet of seeds every year when I was a child. I thought I was a great gardener.
That’s a Hardy Laurel…:)