Plant of the month

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

APRIL
  • Botanical name:  Antirrhinum majus
  • Family name:   Plantaginaceae
  • Common name:   Snapdragon

Snapdragon

This popular perennial plant has the common name of ‘Snapdragon’ and is a well known favourite in many cottage gardens and courtyards. Although the plant may last for a couple of seasons or so, it is best grown as annual. Some antirrhinums can reach 1 metre in height in ideal situations, but they may need some support. The tall flower stems are ideal for cutting to bring indoors, but they are generally shorter than that and make ideal plants for the front of the border or planters. The flowers can have strong or pastel colours and some are even bi-coloured, which contrast well with the dark green elongated leaves.

The name derives from the Greek – anti – meaning like, whilst rhis means a nose or snout, which is where the name snapdragon came from – a dragon’s snout.  If you examine the flower closely and press on the two-lipped flower, it opens up just like a mouth.  The bees love them and are easily able access the flowers to find the nectar inside. The plants are hermaphrodite, which just means that it has male and female organs.

Although their native habitat was the Mediterranean, in very hot summers such as ours, they may not last all summer.  They prefer to grow in light sandy well-drained soil in semi-shade. Scatter the seeds thinly over the ground and spread a light covering of soil over them. It might be necessary to thin them out as they grow. Rust and mildew can be a problem with this plant, which is why it is better to grow new plants every year from seed.  They may also be attacked by aphids.

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MARCH
  • Botanical name:  Ruellia
  • Family name:  Acanthaceae
  • Common name:  Wild petunia or Mexican petunia’

Ruellia are herbaceous perennial plants that belong to the Acanthaceae family and are sometimes described as invasive plants, as they can wander away from their original planting spot, given half a chance! They are generally to be seen in older gardens here. Native to Mexico and South America, they were named for Jean Ruelle who was a herbalist and physician to Francis 1 of France. They have the common name of ‘Mexican Petunias’ in some parts of the world, although they don’t belong to that family.

These multi-stemmed ornamental plants, regarded in some areas as desert plants, may have tall or short stems, depending on their variety. They will quickly grow into quite large clumps but are easily divided by digging up around the root area and replanting elsewhere. Autumn or early springtime are the ideal times to do this. They are much visited by butterflies and moths that feed on their slender dark evergreen leaves, but usually they are not bothered by other invasive insects. The flowers are a lovely shade of violet and rather papery to the touch, but they usually only last for one day. However, many more flowers will quickly follow on. Generally they are drought tolerant, but in very hot gardens will fare better in a shadier spot or under trees, although they do need sun to bring out the flowers. An all-round fertiliser dug in around the roots in the springtime is usually enough for the season.

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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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