Plant of the month

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

OCTOBER
  • Botanical name:  Narcissus papyraceus
  • Family name:  Amaryllidaceae
  • Common name:  Paperwhites

This lovely early bulb is a native of the Mediterranean region and should be available in garden centres this month. Paperwhites, the strongest-scented of the narcissus family, do not require chilling to promote bloom and will begin to grow as soon as they are planted, with flowers appearing in 3–4 weeks. Bloom time is probably variable when the bulb is planted outdoors and they can bloom from late autumn into spring. The mid-green stems grow upright and can bear up to 10 pure white flowers. They can reach a height of between 30 & 45 cm, though this can vary.

If you wish to grow them outdoors then plant them as you would an ordinary narcissus bulb in a sunny spot with well-drained soil, about 2-3 times the height of the bulb. They look quite magnificent in great drifts and should flower year after year once they are settled in.

Some people like to grow them indoors or give them as gifts at Christmas time.  They can be grown in soil, in water or in pebbles and water and it is fun to see their roots begin to show. Choose a tall glass and pour some pebbles or glass stones into the bottom, up to 1-2 inches. Add water to just barely reaching the top of the pebbles and put the bulb on top of the pebbles.  Keep your eye on the water and make sure that is just barely reaching the top and you may need to top it up occasionally, but do not let the bulbs become wet!
They are fast growers, so stand back and watch them grow!

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SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Cleome hassleriana
  • Family name:   Cleomaceae
  • Common name:   ‘Spider Flower’, ‘Pink Queen’ or ‘Grandfather’s Whiskers’

Although this lovely flowering summer annual originally came from South America it grows extremely well in our Cyprus gardens. Grown in many northern gardens since the early 1800s it is a rather unusual summer favourite in flower borders. It has several common names like ‘Spider Flower’, ‘Pink Queen’ or ‘Grandfather’s Whiskers’ because of the long thread-like stamens and the equally long, thin seed pods that appear as the flower is dying.

It can become quite a tall plant, reaching perhaps 150cm, so should be grown towards the back of flower beds, but it will grow equally well in large flower pots. Victorian gardeners liked to have them in pots in their green houses, which were a feature of many large gardens at that time and they gradually found their way into cottage gardens as well. The flowers, with four petals and six long stamens, may be white, pink, rose or purple and are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Watch out for prickles on the underside of the palmate lower leaves.

Grow these plants in moist but well drained soil and in full sun for best results. I have found that scattering the seeds onto the top of large pot of soil and covering them thinly with more soil makes them germinate quicker than in a seed tray. Insects are not usually a problem and neither do there seem to be any diseases of note, although the flowers are said to have a musky scent. If you want to collect the seeds, watch out for the seed pods to turn yellow as they ripen, when they will split open and cast their seeds everywhere. Propagation is by these seeds which need to have a winter before germinating. So once the seeds have been harvested, pop them into an envelope in the fridge for a spell in order to chill them.

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AUGUST
  • Botanical name:   Jasminum sambac
  • Family name:   Oleaceae
  • Common name:  Foulli’

Foulli, (Jasminum sambac) can be a little tricky to grow and not everyone can get them to produce flowers. The old Cypriot way to grow them was to plant them in an old oil-drum, filled with earth from the base of a carob tree and left to get on with it!  If you do not have a carob tree handy, try a good quality humus-rich, slightly acidic compost instead, but keep the plant reasonably dry, as it detests wet conditions. Try feeding with a balanced fertiliser once a month during the summer months (that is the one where all the numbers on the back of the packet are the same – such as 7-7-7). If it is happy where it is growing, it can reach 3 metres. Some varieties have double flowers but all smell heavenly on the evening breezes. Prune after flowering to keep the bush in shape.   Pests and diseases are not usually much of a problem with this plant, but it is important to be aware of the ones that most commonly affect them.  White flies, scale insects and mealy bugs sometimes land on these plants, but can usually be controlled by mechanical or chemical means. If the surface of your foliage is turning black with a soot-like mould, this could be the excreta of sap sucking insects, usually a good indication that one of these pests may have made a home on your plant!

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JULY
  • Botanical name:  Leucophyllum frutescens
  • Family name:  Scrophulariaceae
  • Common name:  ‘Texas Ranger’, ‘Texas Sage’, ‘Purple Sage’, ‘Silver Leaf’, ‘White Sage’, ‘Ash Bush’, ‘Sensia’, ‘Wild Lilac’ and even the ‘Barometer Bush’

Leucophyllum frutescens has many common names such as ‘Texas Ranger’, ‘Texas Sage’, ‘Purple Sage’, ‘Silver Leaf’, ‘White Sage’, ‘Ash Bush’, ‘Sensia’, ‘Wild Lilac’ and   even the ‘Barometer Bush’, as it reacts to humidity and moisture after rainfall, when a profusion of flowers appear on the stem-ends, causing the local bees to have a feeding frenzy!

This lovely hardy drought-tolerant shrub with so many names is more usually known as the ‘Texas Ranger’ and is a welcome addition to the summer garden. The pink flowers growing at the ends of the silver stems look like miniature foxgloves, which open as the insects dive inside. Originally the shrub came from Mexico and the desert regions of Texas, but it is widely grown in the hot parts of the world. The Texas Ranger prefers uncultivated soils and doesn’t need feeding at all. Surprisingly it also does well in damp humid conditions too. The plant can even withstand salt sprays, which makes it a good choice for seaside gardens. It can also be grown in a pot, making a wonderful addition to any patio or veranda.

This lovely showstopper likes a very sunny spot, becoming somewhat straggly if it is grown in shade, which may cause you to think that it needs water. Treated as a desert plant, it will reward you with lots of flowers. Give it an annual spring prune and use the softwood cuttings to propagate new plants. It is such a good-value plant for dry gardens and the leaves and flowers make a pleasant tea, which is mildly sedative.

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JUNE
  • Botanical name:  Acanthus mollis
  • Family name:  Acanthaceae
  • Common name:  Bear’s Breeches, Sea dock, Bears Foot or Oyster plant

This very striking architectural plant with handsome glossy lobed foliage is a must in any big garden, as it does need space, growing in some areas to between one to one and half metres and almost as wide.  Commonly known as Bear’s Breeches’, this clump forming perennial will appear every year once it has become established and is native to the Mediterranean area, being one of the earliest cultivated species. It can also grow well in the wild – in dry areas, roadsides and wastelands, being tolerant of drought and shade and certainly does well in gardens up to around 300 metres elevation.

The flowers appear in tall, cylindrical spikes, with up to 120 white blooms enhanced with light pink bracts (modified leaves). They encircle the stem in late spring and early summer and are much sought after by bees. The handsome leaves, replicas of which you may find carved in marble atop Greek columns, are also very attractive to slugs and snails, which may chew them to death when the first fresh foliage appears. Plants may also be susceptible to powdery mildew.

Propagation is by tubers from the mother plant or by seeds.

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