Plant of the month

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

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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DECEMBER
  • Botanical name:    Anthurium
  • Family name:    Araceae
  • Common names:    Tailflower, Flamingo Flower, Laceleaf

Anthuriums are usually grown as pot or veranda plants here. Some species are known as epiphytes meaning that they grow on other plants, whilst others grow in the ground. They are easy to care for as long as they are placed in indirect sunlight, as full sun would burn the interesting leaves. However, if the place is too shaded, then this may lead to fewer flowers. The red, heart-shaped flower of Anthuriums atop a stem of perhaps 30 cms is really a spathe or a waxy, modified leaf flaring out from the base of a fleshy spike where the tiny real flowers grow.

Anthuriums need a free draining soil with perhaps some Perlite or orchid soil added to the potting compost. Originally from around the Caribbean and the north of South America, and with the common names of ‘Tail Flower’, ‘Flamingo Flower’ or ‘Laceleaf’, they are used to a certain amount of humidity and they might thrive better in a bathroom where there is more during the wintertime.  It would be a pity to confine them where no-one can appreciate them, so try placing the pot on a tray of small pebbles and keeping the pebbles moist which might help the plant along. Rather like poinsettias they do not like to grow in draughty areas or places where the temperature fluctuates. A little fertiliser with high phosphorus, (second number on the box or bag), occasionally will help the plant along. A warning though that Anthuriums are poisonous and the sap can be irritating to the skin and eyes

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NOVEMBER
  • Botanical name:    Leonotis leonorus
  • Family name:    Laminaceae
  • Common names:    ‘Lion’s Ear’, ‘Devil’s Tobacco’, ‘Cape Hemp’ and ‘Minaret Flower’

Leonotis leonorus is an attractive medium-sized shrub that grows well in gardens here belonging to the same family as mint.  It is another introduction to our gardens from South Africa. The medium-dark green leaves are aromatic when crushed and the dried leaves of the wild form of the plant are still widely used in traditional medicines in Africa to treat fevers, headaches, coughs, dysentery and many other conditions. Grown in the garden it is also thought to keep snakes away, but if that doesn’t work, it can be used as a remedy for snake bites!

This plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, which open later than other shrubs, around June, and encircle the square stems, with flowering sometimes continuing into late autumn. The fresh green stems of this excellent shrub soon turn woody, so that in winter they should be cut right down to about 5 or 6 cms, which will encourage bright new growth to appear in the spring. It is a very hardy and drought resistant shrub and can even put up with some low night temperatures in winter, making it ideal for those who live inland. Leonotis is extremely easy to propagate from green cuttings or by seed, which can be extracted from the whorls, by shaking.

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