Plant of the month

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

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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APRIL
  • Botanical name:  Agave attenuata
  • Family name:   Asparagaceae
  • Common name:  ‘Foxtail Agave’, ‘Lion’s Tail’ or ‘Swan’s Neck’

This attractive member of the succulent family has a thick trunk topped with a rosette of thick fleshy pointed leaves.  It grows equally well in the garden or in pots, albeit very large ones!  It is a native of central Mexico, but lends itself to other gardens in various parts of the world.

This plant likes well-drained sandy soil and to grow in full sun, which eventually should encourage the plant to send up its amazingly long flower stem of maybe 3 metres or more and covered with greenish-yellow flowers. The flower head is so heavy that it may just bend over with the weight.  Alas, you may have to wait 10 years or more for it to do that and it does need lots of space. Agave attenuata cannot tolerate cold winter temperatures and needs to be well protected from the cold or the fleshy leaves will rot.

Propagation is by removing new growths that appear around the base of the trunk. Old dying stems can be removed by pulling them away from the main stem.

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MARCH
  • Botanical name:  Pyracantha
  • Family name:  Rosea
  • Common name:  Firethorn

Pyracantha originally came from Southern Europe, Turkey and Iraq, and grows well in many other parts of the world as well, where the branches of brightly coloured berries tumble over fences in many gardens during the late summer. An evergreen shrub belonging to the Rose family, it may grow to a maximum of around 3 metres, preferring a warm, south facing position to any other.  In springtime, many clusters of white or cream flowers appear on the branches, which eventually turn into bright orange, red or yellow fleshy fruits around the seeds. These berries are extremely attractive to birds except the yellow ones, which they leave on the branches

Pyracantha grows easily in most gardens and the best site is against a wall, where it can be trained to look its best. If you choose to grow it this way, keep the outward growing flower stems short – about two or three leaves beyond the fruit cluster.  Beware of the very sharp thorns when handling them, and always wear heavy gloves to protect your hands and forearms, as some people are allergic to scratches from them. Flowers appear on last year’s growth, so bear that in mind when pruning.  Do any positive trimming as the flowers fade, but you will lose some berries that way.

Generally disease-free, pyracantha can be susceptible to ‘Fireblight’, which is a fungal disease caused by growing the shrub in damp conditions.  If that happens, prune out and dispose of the infected branches.  Propagate by hardwood cuttings or sow the seeds after giving them a ‘winter’ in the fridge, and removing the outer pulp

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