Plant of the month

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

JANUARY
  • Botanical name:  Narcissus ‘Salome’
  • Family name:  Amaryllidacea
  • Common name:  Daffodil

There are gardeners who declare that pure yellow is the colour for daffodils and there are many old favourites such as ‘King Alfred’ which fit that bill.  Narcissus ‘Salome’ is equally as reliable and a fantastic looking flower in the early spring garden. It is such an excellent bulb that the Royal Horticultural Society awarded it an AGM – Award of Garden Merit – a high accolade. Having been bred in Ireland by Lionel Richardson as long ago as 1958 it is not a new bulb, but it still  popular although not as well known perhaps as ‘Cheerfulness’ or ‘Ice Follies’.  Nevertheless Salome is a most attractive addition in the flower beds and even in pots.

Preferring a moist but well-drained soil, Salome will grow in sun equally as well as shade. Like all bulbous plants they should be given a high potassium feed as the leaves die and start to make the flower for next season. Don’t remove the leaves until they have completely died down. Plant new bulbs between 10-15 cms deep, remembering that like many other bulbs, they can irritate the skin. The flowers of this large-cupped daffodil can exude a strong vanilla scent and will grow up to 9cm across, so they put on an impressive display when they appear in early spring. One of the most intriguing features of this pretty daffodil is the way the ruffled cup changes in colour from butter yellow to apricot as the flower matures. For maximum effect grow them in great drifts.

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DECEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Zantedeschia aethiopica
  • Family name:  Araceae
  • Common name:   Lily of the Nile, Call Lily or Arum lily

This lovely introduction from South Africa, Zantedeschia aethiopica, also known by the common names of ‘Lily of the Nile’, ‘Calla lily’, or Arum lily, is neither a lily nor an arum. Its botanical name suggests it started life in Ethiopia, as the word was used in historical times meaning lands below Egypt and Libya, including South Africa. It appears to have been grown in European gardens since the mid 1600s and is a popular addition to our spring gardens here.  The rhizomes are usually available when the spring flowering bulbs come into the shops in the autumn. The smaller, coloured varieties, which are very popular nowadays in the floristry trade and greatly used by brides, tend to arrive with the summer flowering bulbs in March.

A perennial plant emerging from a rhizome-like rootstock, Zantedeschia can grow in the same spot for many years. The striking trumpet-shaped white flowers atop long stems have a slight scent to attract pollinating insects to them. The best time to divide the clump is when the plant is dormant and it has become too large for its space. You may have to use a sharp spade or knife to cut out a section and then replant both pieces about 5 cms deep. It is possible to collect the seeds and sow them thinly in a tray of potting compost, but for better results plant new rhizomes in the autumn for spring flowering. Zantedeschia will thrive in a shaded spot in gardens here, but will grow equally well in moist soil in partial shade or full sun.

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NOVEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Nerine bowdenii AGM
  • Family name:  Amaryllidaceae
  • Common name:  Guernsey Lily, Jersey Lily, Cape Flower Japanese Spider Lily

The bright, almost florescent pink flowers of Nerine bowdenii, certainly brighten up the late autumn days here. They were first collected in the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa and legend has it that the first consignment was shipwrecked on the Channel Islands where they were thrived and were eventually called The Guernsey or Jersey Lily.  True to their South African origins, nerines require a dry, sunny location to thrive and are happy in poor soil, as nerines in the wild also grow in very poor soil too. Bulbs grown in richer soil grow bigger and have more leaves, but at the expense of flowers. However, they will not flower in shaded situations and do not compete well with other garden plants. Otherwise they are very easy to grow and disease free, their only enemies being slugs or snails who like the strap-like leaves.

They have the most stunning flowers with a faint perfume on warm days. Like many plants they look best in large groups, which may take some time to establish. They do not like being moved and will sulk and not have flowers if moved about too often, so ensure that you choose the right place for them when you first plant them.

Plant them in the spring 7-10cm apart, leaving just the tips above the ground. They will send up some leaves but will only produce flowers for a year or so afterwards. If planted outdoors they should be in a well-drained spot, preferably against a warm wall, but they grow well in pots too.  They are remarkably drought-proof but dislike cold damp soil and humid temperatures. They lie tucked under the soil for almost all of our hot summers and start to grow again as the weather cools down in late October or November.

They have been given the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society as they are a really truly amazing flower.

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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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