Plant of the month

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

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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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.

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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.

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JUNE
  • Botanical name:  Agapanthus africanus
  • Family name:  Agapanthaeae
  • Common names: ‘African Lily’ or the ‘Lily of the Nile’

Agapanthus is one of the loveliest plants to have in any summer garden.  Originally, from South Africa and grown extensively in Australia and New Zealand, where they are regarded as a ‘pest’ plant, agapanthus are firm favourites in many other countries around the world. It is thought that the first rhizomatous rootstocks were brought back from the Western Cape area of South Africa to England in 1679, hence their names of ‘African Lily’ or the ‘Lily of the Nile’. There are only a handful of species but hundreds of hybrids. Some of the listed variety names such as ‘Cambridge Blue’ or ‘Oxford Blue’ give a clue to their colouring and others are named after famous rivers like the ‘Dneiper’ and the ‘Danube’, although these rivers are seldom coloured blue! A little gardeners’ licence I fear!

Agapanthus can be grown in tubs or in flowerbeds and are the most accommodating plants in that they can survive with little water, making them ideal for hot gardens. If they are pot-grown, do ensure that there is good drainage, as they do not like to be excessively wet! In fact, if you water them too much the leaves will turn yellow at the ends. They like to grow in light places, but to be kept out of the burning mid-summer sun, which will scorch their strap-like dark-green leaves.

The rounded flower heads can have up to 50 or more tiny blue or white umbels. It is a common fallacy that the more crowded together they are, the more flowers they will achieve.  Move them up a pot size each season and feed with a good fertiliser in spring and summer, alternating between Phostrogen and a tomato feed. Eventually you will have to split them up though, or you will end up with an enormous pot full! If you have lots of patience you could try growing them from seed, but it can take up to 5 years before there is any chance of a flower!

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MAY
  • Botanical name:  Plectranthus neochilus 
  • Family name:  Laminaceae
  • Common names: ‘Smelly Spur Flower’, ‘Lobster Flower’,  ‘Mosquito Bush’ or Snake Plant’

Plectranthus neochilus are attractive ground-cover herbaceous plants that grow well in hot gardens. However they may die during very cold nights. These southern hemisphere plants can adapt well to high temperatures with the minimum of water and they are also salt and wind tolerant. Growing best in a shaded position in part sun in loamy to sandy soil, ensure there is good drainage, as root rot can occur if over-watered.

The succulent highly-fragrant grey-green leaves are toothed or wavy-edged and the flowers appear on very short stems amongst them.  These prolific light blue two-lipped flowers are small and are attractive to bees and butterflies. They can be used in planters or hanging baskets but be aware that these plants put on a lot of growth and in the garden can become somewhat invasive.

Stems root easily in water at any time or from soft-wood cuttings.  Mealy bugs or spider mites can sometimes be problematic.

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