Plant of the month

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

MAY
  • Botanical name:  Plectranthus neochilus 
  • Family name:  Laminaceae
  • Common names: ‘Smelly Spur Flower’, ‘Lobster Flower’,  ‘Mosquito Bush’ or Snake Plant’

Plectranthus neochilus are attractive ground-cover herbaceous plants that grow well in hot gardens. However they may die during very cold nights. These southern hemisphere plants can adapt well to high temperatures with the minimum of water and they are also salt and wind tolerant. Growing best in a shaded position in part sun in loamy to sandy soil, ensure there is good drainage, as root rot can occur if over-watered.

The succulent highly-fragrant grey-green leaves are toothed or wavy-edged and the flowers appear on very short stems amongst them.  These prolific light blue two-lipped flowers are small and are attractive to bees and butterflies. They can be used in planters or hanging baskets but be aware that these plants put on a lot of growth and in the garden can become somewhat invasive.

Stems root easily in water at any time or from soft-wood cuttings.  Mealy bugs or spider mites can sometimes be problematic.

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APRIL
  • Botanical name:   Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’
  • Family name:  Myrtaceae
  • Common names:  ‘Bush Cherry’

This lovely spring flowering plant in the Myrtle family certainly catches the eye with its early spring foliage of bright red leaves. Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’ is new to the market as a result of plant trials at the foot of Mount Etna, hence its variety name. In garden centres this month, it would certainly rival Photinia ‘Red Robin for attractiveness, but is more suitable for growing in pots. Although it can reach heights of 5 metres in the garden, it lends itself to topiary or if clipped regularly would make an ideal pot plant for apartment dwellers. It can also be used as a hedging or screening plant.

Eugenia plants prefer acidic soil, so you may need to use some soil for acid loving plants in the planting hole or pot, or feed with Ferticit plant food. Add some bone meal if you can get it or some slow release fertiliser to the bottom of the planting hole.

Known as the ‘Bush Cherry’ in Australia, this evergreen plant is ideal for hot gardens, but does not like low temperatures. It performs best in sun, tolerating some shade. The small white flowers may appear several times a year, yielding edible red fruits that can be eaten fresh or made into jams or jellies.

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MARCH
  • Botanical name:  Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’
  • Family name:  Boraginaeae
  • Common names:  Honeywort

Cerinthe, a member of the Borage family, is wonderful hardy annual for all gardens, as it enjoys full sun and can tolerate temperatures down to minus 5C.  Hardy annual just means that it can be sown directly into the ground without any cosseting. In fact, seeds dropped from the lovely flowers can start to germinate in late autumn given decent weather. The plant was originally found growing at this end of the Mediterranean, so ideally suitable for our gardens.

It is considered to be one of the best annual plants with its mottled-white silvery leaves, spiralling up the stem and setting off the blue tubular flowers, held inside sea-blue bracts. Alas, they have no scent but are much loved by bees that dive in and out of the attractive flowers.  This popular plant likes to be in full sun or partial shade at the front of a flowerbed and for impact in large groups, rather than single plants. It prefers to grow in well-drained soil and unaffected by bugs it is such a joy to behold in the early summer months.

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FEBRUARY
  • Botanical name:    Aloe ferox
  • Family name:    Asphodel
  • Common names:    ‘Cape Aloe’, ‘Bitter Aloe’, ‘Red Aloe’ or ‘Tap Aloe’

Aloe ferox, a native of South Africa may already be sending up its amazing flower stems this month.  Usually with bright red or deep orange flowers resembling kniphofias, it is a striking specimen plant in the February garden. Its fleshy leaves have the same properties as the more commonly known Aloe Vera, making it a useful plant to have in the garden for the medicinal properties contained in the fleshy leaves. 

This plant needs space to grow as it can reach up to 2 metres in height with ‘leaves’ reaching up to a metre in length.  The natural habit is for them to curve slightly inwards. They have very sharp pointed ends to the leaves and several spines along the edges that can puncture skin very easily, so take care. The flowers atop the tall stem appear in rosettes and sometimes are branched, resulting in them being known as ‘Candelabra’ aloes in some places.

Aloe ferox can be propagated by seed, but this can take quite a few years before they reach maturity. If your plant produces seed, then sow them in a sandy soil in shallow trays. It is important to avoid overwatering them at this stage. Move them on into their own pots when they reach 4 cms. However, when mature they are best grown in the sun in a free draining soil.

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JANUARY
  • Botanical name:    Viburnum tinus
  • Family name:    Adoxaceae
  • Common names:    Viburnum

Not so long ago, this plant  belonged to the same family as lonicera (honeysuckle), but botanists have through plant DNA moved it into the Adoxaceae family and I fear that many more plants may be moved into new plant families and acquire new names as work continues along this new scientific avenue. Viburnum is a native of the Mediterranean area, including North Africa and here is known as Vivournos, and by many other ‘local’ names throughout Europe, but not to be confused with Viburnum opulus, the ‘Mediterranean Snowball’, with its snowball-like flower heads, which can be grown at higher elevations here.

Viburnum tinus is certainly a much-valued fast growing evergreen in any garden and suitable for hedging as it will grow to perhaps a maximum of 3 metres. There are quite a few varieties, perhaps the best known is ‘Eve Price’, a wonderful winter flowering shrub.  You certainly wouldn’t grow it for its scented flowers, as some say that they smell of wet dog, but the deep pink flower buds and subsequent pretty flower heads are charming and will last into spring time. The blue-black berries that ensue are poisonous but are edible by birds looking for late winter sustenance.  Growing in full sun or part shade and even able to withstand winds and salt spray in coastal areas, Viburnum tinus requires little attention apart from some watering out of the rainy season.  The shrub is often grown as a standard, making an attractive ball shape. Viburnum tinus ‘Compactum’ however is smaller growing as its name suggests and does have white to light pink fragrant flowers. Sometimes the shrubs can be affected by Viburnum whitefly that can be found on the underside of the leaves in midsummer, but I have not found any instances of this in my garden.

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