Plant of the month

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

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.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.

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.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.

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.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.

AUGUST
  • Botanical name:   Podranea ricasoliana
  • Family name:   Bignoniaceae
  • Common names:  Port St John’s creeper, Pink Trumpet Vine

Podranea ricasoliana is a vigorous, woody, rambling, evergreen climber without tendrils and an excellent plant for pergolas and carports. A member of the Bignoniaceae family of mainly trees and shrubs from mostly tropical regions, particularly South America, it is thought that it may have been introduced to South Africa by slave traders. The common name suggests that it was originally found at Port St Johns, roughly half-way between East London and Durban on the Eastern Cape Coast. An established plant will be tolerant of heat, strong sunlight, wind and periods of drought, but it is best grown in frost-free gardens

This climber has very strong stems which may reach between three and five metres with arching branches full of fragrant pink trumpet-like flowers, typical of the Bignonia family. After flowering new side branches develop behind the spent flowers.  Pruning will also improve flowering. The best time for pruning is in winter or early spring, just before new growth commences. The fruit is a narrow flattened capsule and the seeds are brown, ovate and flat, in a large rectangular papery wing but the plant tends not to produce many fertile seeds.

The name Podranea is an anagram of Pandorea, a closely related Australian genus, in which Podranea was first classified. Pandora means all-gifted.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.

JULY
  • Botanical name:  Albizia julibrissin
  • Family name:  Mimosaceae
  • Common names:  Persian Silk Tree

This fast growing deciduous semitropical or tropical tree belongs to the Mimosa family and produces its seeds in pods. Originally found growing in China and Iran, it needs heat to grow well, but can tolerate a little cold. Used mainly as an ornamental tree, it is drought tolerant and can survive strong winds.  Not fussy about soil types, albizia can grow just as easily in sandy free-draining soil as in clay, and the roots have nitrogen fixing abilities.  The tree can be trained into a canopy, making it an attractive asset in the garden and proving dappled shade.

The sweetly scented flowers appear in mid-summer and are most unusual, having no petals, but clusters of 10 or more long stamens, resembling silk threads, hence the common name of ‘Persian Silk Tree’. These are generally pink, or pink and white and are extremely attractive to bees, moths and butterflies and in some countries even hummingbirds. The foliage, resembling that of mimosas, has around twenty pinnate leaflets.  Although albizia can be propagated from seeds, for quicker results it is better to buy a young tree from a garden centre or nursery.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.