Plant of the month

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

JANUARY
  • Botanical name:  Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ AGMs
  • Family name:  Amaryllidaceae
  • Common name:  Double daffodils

This very fragrant award-winning narcissus has double creamy-white flowers with pale yellow centres and can have between three and six flower heads per stem. Belonging to the Amaryllidaceae Family and growing up to 40 cms, it certainly brightens up our early spring gardens after the dark days of winter. The bulbs should have been planted in autumn at a depth of between two to two and half times the height of the bulb in free draining soil in a sunny spot of the garden. To achieve a pleasing effect plant them in drifts. Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness,’ which is also available in a yellow form, is known as a Division 4 bulb, which includes other double flowering bulbs.

There are no known serious insect or disease problems with these bulbs other than they can be infested by Dionconotus neglectus, are a nuisance in our early spring gardens. However, bulb rot may occur if the ground is very damp. Remember to take off the dead flower heads before they have a chance to make seed pods. This is a good time to feed the bulb with a general fertiliser as the bulb concentrates now on making the flower for next season.

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DECEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Orchis
  • Family name:   Orchidaceae
  • Common name:  Phalaenopsis /Dendrobiums

It is highly likely that you may receive an orchid plant as a Christmas gift. The orchid will probably be either a Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) or a Dendrobium, as these two are the most popular orchids available here. You should remember that orchids were first discovered growing on trees in tropical rain forests, so in order for them to survive in your house here are a few growing tips to ensure their well being.  There are several things you shouldn’t do, and one is not to pour water onto the growing medium. They are better plunged in their plastic see-through pot into a bowl of tepid water and then lifted out to drain, as they will not survive if their roots are wet. Their leaves are designed for water conservation and have a heavy wax coating with specialised stomata (holes) through which the leaf breathes. Orchid stems are in fact pseudo bulbs in which water and food is stored.   They do not like to be in direct sunlight, but need indirect light to thrive.  Don’t cut off the aerial roots or stems and if you need to move them up a pot size, use specially formulated orchid compost now available in garden centres, which will probably have bark, mixed with some dried moss and perhaps some Perlite in it . After re-potting, do not water straight away, but wait a few hours before you do that. Don’t use ordinary plant food, but try specially formulated orchid food-stuff, which is high in NPK. Most orchids bloom once a year, with some flowers lasting up to a month. When the flowers are finished let the plant rest, although it may need a little water and humidity from time to time, which could be from a bathroom or a kitchen.

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NOVEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Erysimum
  • Family name:  Brassicaceae
  • Common name:  Wallflowers

The term wallflower usually describes someone who is shy and retiring, but the plants that go by this name are nothing of the kind! They appear in glorious colours in the spring and can be biennials or short-lived perennials in many parts of the world.  Originally coming from South-west Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe as well as some parts of North America, they belong to the same plant family as many green vegetables. They will thrive in full sun in free-draining soil, grow to about 50 cm in height and are ideal for hot gardens.  There are many varieties but one that grows especially well from seed is known as ‘Persian Carpet’, the flowers of which appears above the deep-green elongated leaves in all the rich colours that one would expect from such a name. Seeds can be collected from erysimums or cuttings can be taken in late autumn and again from the new growth in early spring.  This way you can be sure of the colour of the flowers, some of which are highly scented.

A special hybrid of unknown parentage named ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ can grow into a small shrub. The flowers are a lovely mauve, set off by greyish leaves, but do not set seed, so the only way that this plant can be propagated is by cuttings, taken from new growth. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, it is particularly suited to Mediterranean gardens. All wallflowers are highly perfumed, which add an extra dimension to the spring garden and many bees and butterflies are attracted to them.

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OCTOBER
  • Botanical name:  Albuca nelsonii
  • Family name:  Asparagaceae
  • Common name:  Nelson’s Slime Lily, Candelabra Lily

These interesting bulbous plants originally came from Natal and the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and were first collected by William Nelson, the famous plant collector in the late 1800s. Grown there between 30-70 metres elevation, sometimes in grassland or on cliff faces, they will grow in gardens certainly as high as 300 metres in Cyprus. It is an excellent plant for any difficult shade areas, as well as any dry areas under trees that are matted with roots.

They are not often found growing in gardens, but they are such good unusual plants they would enhance anyone’s spring garden.  Usually bought as potted plants here, these huge bulbs quickly outgrow their pots, producing in excess of 12 flowering stalks in each group. The bulbs like to be partly exposed above ground, rather like amaryllis, and are not at all fussy about the type of soil. The clumps, thriving on neglect, can reach around a meter in height with tall flower stems of attractive scented green-striped white flowers appearing in April or May, although the leaves tend to flop and look untidy. In pots they should be planted in a good compost and will grow in full sun, but can become pot bound very quickly, which is when they should be transferred into the ground.

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SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Gazania hybrids
  • Family name:  Asteraceae
  • Common name: Gazania

These drought-resistant South African annual or perennial plants make ideal ground-cover plants in our hot gardens, as their bright showy flower-heads follow the sun, closing when a cloud passes overhead.  Even drought-resistant plants like a little moisture at times, but not a drowning!  Although they are not at all fussy about the type of soil they are growing in, an occasional feed will encourage many more flowers to appear. They make an impact if grown together in banks or the edges of paths,

The dark-green leaves are lance shaped with deep lobes along the edges.  The undersides of the leaves are somewhat felted, protecting them from the hot earth. The flowers always appear in very bright colours and are sometimes multi-coloured with dark centres.  The gazanias with grey-felted leaves generally have yellow flowers, which contrast well with the silver foliage and are extremely drought-proof.  Deadhead them often to encourage new flowers to appear.

Propagation is by seed or softwood cuttings taken from the base in late summer. Sow seeds in pots in springtime, covering them with a thin layer of soil.  Water only lightly as the seedlings appear and carefully transplant into pots to let them grow on until they are big enough to plant in the garden. Gazanias are generally bug and disease-free when grown outdoors.

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