Plant of the month

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

SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Cleome hassleriana
  • Family name:   Cleomaceae
  • Common name:   ‘Spider Flower’, ‘Pink Queen’ or ‘Grandfather’s Whiskers’

Although this lovely flowering summer annual originally came from South America it grows extremely well in our Cyprus gardens. Grown in many northern gardens since the early 1800s it is a rather unusual summer favourite in flower borders. It has several common names like ‘Spider Flower’, ‘Pink Queen’ or ‘Grandfather’s Whiskers’ because of the long thread-like stamens and the equally long, thin seed pods that appear as the flower is dying.

It can become quite a tall plant, reaching perhaps 150cm, so should be grown towards the back of flower beds, but it will grow equally well in large flower pots. Victorian gardeners liked to have them in pots in their green houses, which were a feature of many large gardens at that time and they gradually found their way into cottage gardens as well. The flowers, with four petals and six long stamens, may be white, pink, rose or purple and are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Watch out for prickles on the underside of the palmate lower leaves.

Grow these plants in moist but well drained soil and in full sun for best results. I have found that scattering the seeds onto the top of large pot of soil and covering them thinly with more soil makes them germinate quicker than in a seed tray. Insects are not usually a problem and neither do there seem to be any diseases of note, although the flowers are said to have a musky scent. If you want to collect the seeds, watch out for the seed pods to turn yellow as they ripen, when they will split open and cast their seeds everywhere. Propagation is by these seeds which need to have a winter before germinating. So once the seeds have been harvested, pop them into an envelope in the fridge for a spell in order to chill them.

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AUGUST
  • Botanical name:   Jasminum sambac
  • Family name:   Oleaceae
  • Common name:  Foulli’

Foulli, (Jasminum sambac) can be a little tricky to grow and not everyone can get them to produce flowers. The old Cypriot way to grow them was to plant them in an old oil-drum, filled with earth from the base of a carob tree and left to get on with it!  If you do not have a carob tree handy, try a good quality humus-rich, slightly acidic compost instead, but keep the plant reasonably dry, as it detests wet conditions. Try feeding with a balanced fertiliser once a month during the summer months (that is the one where all the numbers on the back of the packet are the same – such as 7-7-7). If it is happy where it is growing, it can reach 3 metres. Some varieties have double flowers but all smell heavenly on the evening breezes. Prune after flowering to keep the bush in shape.   Pests and diseases are not usually much of a problem with this plant, but it is important to be aware of the ones that most commonly affect them.  White flies, scale insects and mealy bugs sometimes land on these plants, but can usually be controlled by mechanical or chemical means. If the surface of your foliage is turning black with a soot-like mould, this could be the excreta of sap sucking insects, usually a good indication that one of these pests may have made a home on your plant!

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JULY
  • Botanical name:  Leucophyllum frutescens
  • Family name:  Scrophulariaceae
  • Common name:  ‘Texas Ranger’, ‘Texas Sage’, ‘Purple Sage’, ‘Silver Leaf’, ‘White Sage’, ‘Ash Bush’, ‘Sensia’, ‘Wild Lilac’ and even the ‘Barometer Bush’

Leucophyllum frutescens has many common names such as ‘Texas Ranger’, ‘Texas Sage’, ‘Purple Sage’, ‘Silver Leaf’, ‘White Sage’, ‘Ash Bush’, ‘Sensia’, ‘Wild Lilac’ and   even the ‘Barometer Bush’, as it reacts to humidity and moisture after rainfall, when a profusion of flowers appear on the stem-ends, causing the local bees to have a feeding frenzy!

This lovely hardy drought-tolerant shrub with so many names is more usually known as the ‘Texas Ranger’ and is a welcome addition to the summer garden. The pink flowers growing at the ends of the silver stems look like miniature foxgloves, which open as the insects dive inside. Originally the shrub came from Mexico and the desert regions of Texas, but it is widely grown in the hot parts of the world. The Texas Ranger prefers uncultivated soils and doesn’t need feeding at all. Surprisingly it also does well in damp humid conditions too. The plant can even withstand salt sprays, which makes it a good choice for seaside gardens. It can also be grown in a pot, making a wonderful addition to any patio or veranda.

This lovely showstopper likes a very sunny spot, becoming somewhat straggly if it is grown in shade, which may cause you to think that it needs water. Treated as a desert plant, it will reward you with lots of flowers. Give it an annual spring prune and use the softwood cuttings to propagate new plants. It is such a good-value plant for dry gardens and the leaves and flowers make a pleasant tea, which is mildly sedative.

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JUNE
  • Botanical name:  Acanthus mollis
  • Family name:  Acanthaceae
  • Common name:  Bear’s Breeches, Sea dock, Bears Foot or Oyster plant

This very striking architectural plant with handsome glossy lobed foliage is a must in any big garden, as it does need space, growing in some areas to between one to one and half metres and almost as wide.  Commonly known as Bear’s Breeches’, this clump forming perennial will appear every year once it has become established and is native to the Mediterranean area, being one of the earliest cultivated species. It can also grow well in the wild – in dry areas, roadsides and wastelands, being tolerant of drought and shade and certainly does well in gardens up to around 300 metres elevation.

The flowers appear in tall, cylindrical spikes, with up to 120 white blooms enhanced with light pink bracts (modified leaves). They encircle the stem in late spring and early summer and are much sought after by bees. The handsome leaves, replicas of which you may find carved in marble atop Greek columns, are also very attractive to slugs and snails, which may chew them to death when the first fresh foliage appears. Plants may also be susceptible to powdery mildew.

Propagation is by tubers from the mother plant or by seeds.

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MAY
  • Botanical name:  Wisteria sinensis
  • Family name:    Papilionaceae
  • Common name:  Wisteria

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) is a woody long-lived perennial climber and some have been known to have lived for over 100 years. This wonderful plant first introduced into England and America in the early 19th Century, is one the most popular climbers grown in many countries today. When buying a wisteria from a garden centre ensure that it is showing big fluffy buds or even flowers, which proves the plant has reached the flowering stage. This can be a very long period, sometimes seven years or even more if grown from seed.

Over time, the plant may reach about 20-30 metres, aided by the twining tendrils which will latch on to any support. The trunk will eventually become very thick and strong, necessary to support all the top branches and leaves. The very fragrant lavender-purple pea-like flowers hang in clusters up to 30 cms long, and appear before the leaves.  As with many other climbers the roots should grow in shade but the heads should be able to enjoy the sun in order to bring out the best of the flowers. Wisteria is a heavy feeder and needs to be mulched around the root area with lots of organic matter. Grown over a sturdy pergola or along wires at the front of a house, it can become a wonderful feature. Wisteria may flower a second time after the leaves have formed, but there will not be as many flowers or the vine be as vigorous as the first blooming.

Watch out for attacks of black flies on the new shoots in early spring. Some pruning is required in late winter when all shoots can be cut back to two or three buds and any dead stem-ends removed. This seems quite severe but good advice. In summer, wisteria sometimes sends out new stems from the base, which may produce roots if they touch the ground. It is best to remove them as they appear.  Propagation is by the huge flat seeds produced in hard pods in late summer that should be soaked before sowing.  Be careful when handling wisteria as all parts can cause nausea or vomiting if ingested.

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