Plant of the month

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

FEBRUARY
  • Botanical name:  Skimmia japonica
  • Family name:    Rutaceae
  • Common names:  Skimmia

These potted compact evergreen shrubs are to be found in garden centres here during the winter months. Originally from such far away countries as the Himalayas, China and Japan, (which gives rise to their botanical name of Skimmia japonica), their aromatic glossy leaves provide a perfect foil firstly for the red flower buds and then the dainty panicles of small white flowers. Skimmia plants will be either male or female and in order to get berries you need one of each! As the plants available here are only labelled skimmia, it is impossible to tell whether they are male or female. Rubella is a male plant, but there are some varieties that are hermaphrodite, meaning that they have both male and female sex organs. These plants will give you flowers and berries. Whichever they are, enjoy their buds and flowers!

In Northern Europe, you will find them growing in gardens quite happily but I have found that they do not transfer well from pot to plot here. Watch out for plants that have the roots winding around inside the pots – a good way to discover this is to check that roots are not protruding from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.  In the garden, they need a good neutral to acid soil with some added humus or well-rotted manure.  Skimmia can tolerate periods of drought if grown in the open ground, although they prefer a shadier spot as the hot sun can turn their leathery leaves yellow.

Skimmias are very easy to look after, and rarely need much in the way of care and attention once established. Feed every spring with a balanced granular plant food. Those suitable for camellias and rhododendrons are a good choice, especially in alkaline soils. Propagate by seeds in the autumn. Plants rarely need any pruning, but if needed this should be carried out in spring after flowering has finished.  All parts of Skimmia, including the berries, can cause discomfort if eaten

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.

OCTOBER
  • Botanical name:  Canna ‘Lucifer’
  • Family name:  Cannaceae
  • Common names:  Indian Shot , African Arrowroot

Monsieur Théodore Année of Passy France, a French diplomat, took some seeds of cannas back to France when he retired and in 1848 he crossed two cannas, and produced the first known and recorded Canna hybrid. This caused such a stir in France that other gardeners, including rose breeder Monsieur Antoine Crozy of Lyons, became enthused and started hybridising these plants. From 1862, he continued introducing new cultivars at a rapid rate until his death in 1903, giving his name to a new group of floriferous Canna cultivars. Canna ‘Lucifer’ belongs to that group, the Crozy Group.  Canna, incidentally, is a Greek word for reed or cane.

Cannas originated in Asia and Latin America, and later they were popular plants in England during Victorian times, where were probably grown in hot houses. Although Canna lilies are normally a wetland plant and do not like to have dry roots, they will survive in Cyprus if they are well watered, so don’t let them dry out between waterings. Canna ‘Lucifer’, introduced in 1968 by Swiss Canna hybridiser H Faiss, likes to grow in full sun and is exceedingly hardy, but if grown in a pot, it would be advisable to bring it under cover during the winter. This medium sized plant grows to around a metre in height and has small bright red flowers with a yellow edge around all parts. The attractive leaves are light green, around 25cm long and paddle shaped. Watch out for locusts who feed on them.

These rhizomatous herbaceous perennials are propagated by division as the flowers are usually sterile and do not make seeds. Divide the rootstock every three or four years, as they will outgrow their pots or space quickly. They need a nitrogen-rich feed once a month to ensure continual flowering and leaf growth. They are sometimes susceptible to viruses, so watch your cannas carefully and destroy any that are suspect.

SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Brachyglottis (Dunedin Group) ‘Sunshine’ AGM
  • Family name:  Asteraceae
  • Common name:  Daisy Bush

This welcome addition to hot summer gardens has had several names before the latest one.   Hailing from New Zealand, it goes by the name of ‘Daisy Bush’, because of the bright yellow daisy-like flowers appearing in spring and summer. This is a great plant for hot, dry gardens.  Known previously as Senecio greyi, or indeed Brachyglottis greyi, it would seem that those names have been changed yet again.

Elegant but sprawling, this plant provides great ground cover for difficult parts of the garden and along the shore line, where watering is not always possible.  The silvery alternate leaves with scalloped edges and a delicate white line around the outer edge are covered on both sides with fine white hairs, which protect the leaf from the heat of the sun.  In its native habitat it grows along the coastline in cracks and crevices, where soil is very limited, and is usually exposed to salt-laden winds, all of which it can cope with.

Brachyglottis was introduced as a suitable shrub for gardens, as it is generally pest and disease-free. Watering should be sparse once established, although in more desert-like gardens this may produce fewer flowers than those plants, which are watered freely. The ‘Dunedin Hybrids’ tend to make large sprawling clumps rather than tidy bushes, but are extremely hardy just like the species. They can also be used for low hedging. Regular clipping will assist in encouraging more young foliage to appear.  Propagation is by semi-hardwood cuttings in summer.