Plant of the month

In addition to this month’s featured plant, you can also see some of Patricia’s previous choices.

APRIL
  • Botanical name:   Laurus nobilis AGM
  • Family name:   Lauraceae
  • Common names:   ‘Bay Tree’, ‘True Laurel’, ‘Sweet Bay’ or ‘Grecian Laurel’

Bay Laurel is a very handsome tree or a large shrub when mature, and an asset to have in any garden.  In some countries, it is known by the name of ‘Daphne’, due to its associations with Greek mythology: Daphne pursued by Apollo, sought haven with her mother, who turned her into a laurel tree.

Native to the Mediterranean area, Laurus nobilis can reach heights of between 2-2½ metres. However, in domestic gardens it can be kept to a reasonable height by pruning. Laurel has a tendency to throw out suckers around the root area, which should be removed, but apart from that, it is a very easy tree to maintain. Wind scorch can occur on young foliage in the early part of the year, whilst some cracking of the bark can be caused by over-watering; although in their natural state, they are found growing near streams and springs.

In late March or early April, depending where you live, the lovely sweetly perfumed cream flowers appear in clusters of three to five blooms, followed later by a black one-seeded berry. Clipped standard laurels often stand sentinel outside front doors or are a part of par-terre gardens. Laurel leaves were widely used as a symbol of honour, when poets and other people of renown, were crowned by laurel leaves – hence the term ‘Poet Laureate’. The dried glossy leaves make a welcome addition to cooking in many households around the world.

The Royal Horticultural Society gave this tree an Award of Garden Merit for its excellent qualities as a garden plant.

MARCH
  • Botanical name:  Canna
  • Family name:   Cannaceae
  • Common names:  Canna, Canna Lily, Indian Shot

Without exception, all Canna lilies introduced into Europe can be traced back to the Americas. They are tropical and subtropical flowering plants with large, banana-like leaves. As a result of much hybridising, there are hundreds of cannas to choose from, although there are only a few available here. Many have large, showy flowers of red, yellow or orange with green or variegated leaves, Canna ‘Durban’ is a good example of this. These plants grow from rhizomes, and should be divided up every three or four years. They like plenty of heat, so grow them in full sun in the garden or in pots, but they can also tolerate partial shade.  You may see them growing in huge clumps in village gardens here.

Feeding them with a monthly liquid feed with a high potassium content (last number on the box) will ensure continual flowering and deadhead as the flowers die off. Cannas have been much hybridised, so any seeds will be sterile.

Cannas are not often bothered by disease, as their leaves are covered with a waxy substance, so water is repelled and fungus doesn’t usually take hold. Grasshoppers can hide in the new furled leaves though and chomp their way through the them, leaving unsightly holes, so watch out for them and deal with them by unfurling the leaves and removing them.

JANUARY
  • Botanical name:    Olea europaea
  • Family name:    Oleaceae
  • Common names:    Olive

As you travel around the countryside now, you will find people busy picking the small olives and pruning the trees afterwards.  I use the word pruning loosely, as they are sometimes hacked almost to death!  Luckily, olive trees are extremely resilient to this sort of treatment and come back in abundance, but light pruning is all that is really necessary. These evergreen trees, with slender green leaves and silvery backs, grow well even in impoverished soil. They respond though to occasional watering and feeding.  Olive trees can reach ten metres in height and grow up to 700 metres elevation here, and although they do need cold winters, they prefer it not to be too cold and certainly not below -8C. They need the long hot Cypriot summers to complete their growth cycle.

The tiny creamy-white flowers appear in April or May, producing lots of pollen to which some people are allergic.  The fruits, appearing after five or six year’s growth, will be ready for picking from October until January, depending where you live. Like lots of other fruits, the olive is known as a drupe – a one seeded fruit.  Plant the tree in a hole larger than the size of the root ball and put a little wood ash or slow-release fertiliser in the bottom of the hole.  Water the tree in well but ensure that it does not become waterlogged. Feed it at regular intervals as you would your other trees.

DECEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Euphorbia pulcherrima
  • Family name:    Euphorbiaceae
  • Common names:   Poinsettia

This small tree from Southern Mexico and Guatemala, once considered a weed, is not the potted variety called poinsettia that adorns every home worldwide around the Festive Season, but an elegant addition to gardens in tropical or subtropical climates. Originally found in tropical forests or wooded ravines, it is now regarded as an invasive escapee in parts of Africa, India and the Canary Islands.

This very pretty tree adds colour to semitropical gardens in the Northern Hemisphere around Christmas time, when the bracts show off their vivid scarlet colour.  The tiny yellow flowers, called cyathia, encased inside these bracts, seem not to have a purpose and do not attract pollinators.  Growth can be around 4 metres in favourable conditions and the branches are stout and hairless. The lobed green leaves have pointed tips on long stalks and can be 18 cm long. If a leaf is broken off, sap will exude from the wound, so take care not to get it anywhere near your eyes and always wash hands thoroughly after touching the plants, as it may also cause rashes and dermatitis to those who have allergies. Care should be taken when watering, as root or stem rot can occur if too much is given.  Neither is the shrub frost tolerant, so choose the planting position carefully. Whiteflies, mealy-bugs, red spider mites and scale insects may cause problems.

NOVEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Tabernaemontana divaricata ‘Flore Pleno’
  • Family name:   Apocynaceae
  • Common names:  ‘Crape Jasmine’

Tabernaemontana divaricata ‘Flore Pleno’ hails from India and grows well in many other tropical countries in Asia. Classed as a bushy shrub or small tree, it is an ideal plant to grow as a specimen, as hedging or enjoy as a pot plant. If grown in a pot in more temperate climates, it may need some staking to begin with. Also, watch out for mealy bugs, which may appear. The double white flowers appearing in clusters bloom from late spring until early autumn, attracting bees and butterflies to the garden. In warm areas, blooms appear throughout the year, but enjoy a heavier flowering during spring to autumn. The fragrant evening-perfumed flowers scent the air on summer nights. The alternate mid to dark-green glossy leaves benefit from pinching out the tips, which will promote a more rounded bush. In colder areas, this plant may lose its leaves in winter, but if sufficiently established, they should re-grow in spring.

Soil should be moist, fertile and warm. Some slow-release fertiliser in the planting hole would be enough to sustain the plant, but a balanced fertiliser (all the same numbers) during the growing period, may give it a burst of energy. It is moderately drought-tolerant as well as salt-tolerant – to an extent, but some judicious watering during the summer would assist healthy growth. Crape Jasmine is propagated by softwood cuttings. Take them ‘in the green’ and place the pot in a plastic bag to give the cuttings some humidity. If the stems are broken a milky sap is exuded, and some parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, so take care when handling.