Plant of the month

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

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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APRIL
  • Botanical name:   Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’
  • Family name:  Myrtaceae
  • Common names:  ‘Bush Cherry’

This lovely spring flowering plant in the Myrtle family certainly catches the eye with its early spring foliage of bright red leaves. Eugenia ‘Etna Fire’ is new to the market as a result of plant trials at the foot of Mount Etna, hence its variety name. In garden centres this month, it would certainly rival Photinia ‘Red Robin for attractiveness, but is more suitable for growing in pots. Although it can reach heights of 5 metres in the garden, it lends itself to topiary or if clipped regularly would make an ideal pot plant for apartment dwellers. It can also be used as a hedging or screening plant.

Eugenia plants prefer acidic soil, so you may need to use some soil for acid loving plants in the planting hole or pot, or feed with Ferticit plant food. Add some bone meal if you can get it or some slow release fertiliser to the bottom of the planting hole.

Known as the ‘Bush Cherry’ in Australia, this evergreen plant is ideal for hot gardens, but does not like low temperatures. It performs best in sun, tolerating some shade. The small white flowers may appear several times a year, yielding edible red fruits that can be eaten fresh or made into jams or jellies.

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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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