Plant of the month

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

  • Botanical name:    Portaluca grandiflora
  • Family name:    Portulaceae
  • Common names:    Moss Rose, Eleven O’clock Plant

This small annual plant is a must for hot gardens.  The fleshy leaves grow on trailing stems and are small and pointed.   The rose-like flowers appear in the bright mid-day sunlight and can be red, yellow, white, orange, purple or pink and some seeds produce flowers with a double row of petals. In Mediterranean gardens portaluca can be grown in planters and hanging baskets where the stems droop elegantly over the edges. Do not overwater the plants, even though hanging baskets can dry out quickly, as they wilt and die.

Mostly grown from seed this pretty edition to your garden can be sown directly into the soil or seed trays, where they should quickly germinate.  Seedlings should be transferred into a 9 cms pot and when a good root ball has formed they can be transferred to the garden.  It is also possible to take cuttings. Beware that these plants cannot tolerate frost.

  • Botanical name:    Cosmos bipinnatus
  • Family name:    Asteraceae
  • Common names:    Mexican Aster

These prolific annual flowerers, originally from Mexico and the north of South America, are most suitable for our hot dry gardens. They provide colour and texture, whilst filling spaces in sunny borders and containers. An extra bonus is that they attract birds, bees and butterflies to the garden.    They thrive in poor dry soil, so do not over water them.

Having started the seeds off in pots or trays in a good seed-compost, transplant them into their own pots before planting them out in the garden. Or you can scatter seeds on fine soil where you would like them to grow.  Once up above the ground and growing well, they will grow extremely fast and need little attention, being relatively bug-free.  Don’t feed them yet or you will have lots of foliage and few flowers. Their tall stems can grow up to a metre in height, so may need some support, but if you keep deadheading by cutting the stem right down to the first leaf, you will keep the plants to a manageable height. The elegant variously coloured daisy flowers in various forms are excellent for cutting.

  • Botanical name:    Duranta repens
  • Family name:    Verbenaceae
  • Common names:    ‘Sky Flower’, ‘Golden Dew Drop’ or ‘Pigeon Berry’

Duranta Sapphire SwirlDuranta repens is a large sub-tropical shrub or small tree which is ideal for our Mediterranean gardens. It was discovered growing in Florida, Brazil and the Caribbean Islan.ds. Although it can reach four or five metres in height it is better pruned back to a couple of metres in a domestic garden, where it can be grown as a standard or against a south facing wall. There is also a low growing variety with white picotee edging on the deep violet flowers, called ‘Sapphire Swirl’, which is a good ground-cover plant.

Duranta‘s common names describe the plant at various times of the year.  The arching stems carry trails of sky blue flowers on their tips, which are so attractive to butterflies and they have a pretty fragrance as an extra bonus. The flowers mature into little strings of orange berries just like beads, great favourites of pigeons and other birds. Take care when handling this plant as the stems have long thorns on their undersides and the berries are toxic to humans if ingested. Other good features of duranta are that they will grow in sun or part shade and are not too fussy about the soil they grow in, but they will wilt if not watered regularly. Duranta drop their leaves in winter but can tolerate winter chills but not prolonged frosts.

  • Botanical name:    Cestrum nocturnum
  • Family name:    Solanceae
  • Common names:    ‘Night Jessamine’, ‘Lady of the Night’, ‘Queen of the Night’ or even   ‘Pakistani Nights’

Cestrum nocturnumThis native of the West Indies is the quintessential night-scented plant. The heady perfume given off is evocative of hot tropical nights in faraway places and is acknowledged to be the most fragrant in the plant world. Discovered relatively recently (late 1800s), it is a much loved plant now established in hot countries around the world, although in some places it is now regarded as invasive, and plans are afoot to eradicate it. An evergreen woody ornamental shrub growing to around 2 metres it has narrow lanceolate glossy leaves. The tubular flowers can be greenish white or even pale yellow and remain in a semi-closed state until evening when they open fully in order to release their perfume. This can be so strong that people with respiratory problems may find difficulty in breathing. This plant is a member of the Solanum family, so be aware that the berries may cause illness, if ingested and wash hands after touching any part of it.

Preferring a very sunny spot in light sandy soil, cestrum should be fed regularly with a high-phosphate fertiliser, thus encouraging plenty of flowers to appear.  Grown as a pot plant, it may outgrow the pot very quickly. Water only when the soil has dried out, as the plant dislikes waterlogged roots.  However, if night temperatures drop significantly the plant should be moved into a more sheltered place. Pollinators are usually moths or in some countries hummingbirds, but as the common names suggest it is the perfume of the flowers and not their beauty that attracts them. Purplish berries follow pollination, but it is better to propagate the plant from non-flowering green shoots as they appear.

  • Botanical name:    Moluccella laevis
  • Family name:    Lamiaceae
  • Common names:   Bells of Ireland, Shellflower

This spring and early summer flowering annual, a member of the mint family, is an ideal plant to grow in our Cypriot gardens. Do not be mislead by its common name, ‘Bells of Ireland’, as it was originally found growing at this end of the Mediterranean – Turkey, Syria and the Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea), and a long way from Ireland!  It is thought that the name came about because of the green calyces, (sepals), which surround the tiny white flowers, reminiscent of green Irish gardens.

Used extensively by florists for its longevity in floral displays, it is also a good border plant.  Beware of the thorny foliage though, as some people can develop allergies from being pricked and it is better to remove the leaves for floral art. Moluccella is equally attractive when dried, when it turns a light beige colour. The small number of tiny seeds are tucked deep down in the dried calyces and are awkward to remove and sometimes very slow to germinate. Try putting the seeds into the fridge or freezer for a few days before sowing, as this can eventually stimulate it into growth.

The upright and sometimes branching stems can reach upwards of one metre in ideal conditions of well-drained, fertile soil, but they are not fussy about the soil content. Whilst they may grow well in a sunny spot in northern Europe, some shade in the hottest part of the day is preferable in our summer gardens. These plants do not like humidity at all, so are best grown away from the coast

  • 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.