Plant of the month

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

MAY
  • Botanical name: Laurus nobilis
  • Family name: Lauraceae
  • Common name: Bay tree, True Laurel, Sweet bay or Grecian Laurel

Bay flowersLaurus nobilis can be grown as a tree or a large shrub.  In some countries it is sometimes known as ‘Daphne’ due to its associations with Greek mythology. It is a very handsome tree when mature and an asset to have in any garden. The dried leaves make a welcome addition to cooking in many households around the world. This aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub is native to the Mediterranean region. It will thrive in well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. It grows slowly and can been used as a hedge or as a topiary but beware, in the right conditions it can reach heights of between 10 – 16 metres. In domestic gardens it can be kept to a reasonable height by pruning. In pots it needs to be brought indoors during the winter in order to prevent frost damage.  

Laurel has a tendency to throw out suckers around the root area, but apart from that it is a very easy tree to maintain. Wind scorch can occur on young foliage in the early part of the year, whilst some cracking of the bark of the trees can be caused by over-watering; although in their natural state they are found to be growing near streams and springs. In the springtime lovely sweetly-perfumed cream flowers appear in clusters of between three to five blooms, followed later by a black drupe – a one seeded berry. Laurel leaves were widely used as a symbol of honour, when poets and other people of renown were crowned by laurel leaves – hence the term Poet Laureate.

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APRIL
  • Botanical name: Dahlia
  • Family name:  Asteraceae
  • Common name: Dahlia
Dahlia Stolze of Berlin
Dahlia Stolze of Berlin

Dahlias are herbaceous perennial plants, natives of Mexico and Central America. Summer wouldn’t be summer without dahlias. Their beautiful flowers come in almost every colour imaginable, from pale pastels to hot, vibrant shades, in a range of flower shapes – small pom-pom balls to ‘water-lily’-like blooms the size of dinner plates.

Yellow dahlia with bee
Yellow dahlia with bee

Dahlias are available in a range of many different sizes. The dwarf varieties can be grown as bedding; more compact varieties grow very well in pots, whilst Dahlia imperialis, known as ‘Tree dahlias’ can reach 5m tall, so do need some space. All modern dahlias were bred from this impressive dahlia. There are around eight different shapes of dahlias from the small single ones, to huge cactus dahlias and ‘in your face’ decorative dahlias with such wonderful colour schemes. Bees prefer the open-faced small flowers, as they are easier to penetrate. 

Dahlias require a fertile, moist but well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. The taller varieties may need staking. In autumn, dig up the tubers and over-winter them somewhere dry.

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MARCH
  • Botanical name:  Iris xiphium
  • Family name:   Iridaceae
  • Common name:  Spanish Iris, Dutch iris
Dutch Iris yellow and white
Dutch Iris yellow and white

This pretty iris is commonly known in other parts as the ‘Spanish Iris’, as that is where it was originally found growing, as well as in Portugal.  In Cyprus it is usually referred to as the ‘Dutch’ iris, probably because the bulbs are imported from Holland.

Iris xiphium, whose foliage has been above ground for quite some time, has tall slender leaves (around 80 cms) which appear well ahead of the flower stems usually during our late winter here.  The flower stems growing to around 60 cms will shortly be topped with white, light blue, mauve or yellow flowers with petals of around 8 cms.  This iris is grown from a bulb unlike albicans and germanica, both of which grow from

Dutch Iris blue and yellow
Dutch Iris blue and yellow

rhizomes. This perennial  will form a clump over time, preferring to be planted in a well-drained flower bed in light soil and away from windy spots, which may blow the tender stems over.

‘Dutch’ irises are often for sale as cut flowers in florist shops but be sure to buy them with the flowers unopened or they will not last as long as those in the garden. 

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FEBRUARY

  • Botanical name:   Iris albicans
  • Family name:  Iridaceae
  • Common name:   White Flag Iris
Group of Iris albicans
Group of Iris albicans

Iris albicans, sometimes known as the Cemetery Iris or White Flag Iris is one of the first irises to flower in spring time here. Originally from Yemen and Saudi Arabia they are now readily available here. They have a long history and have been in existence since about 1400 BC when mention was first made of them. The plants are known to have been planted around Muslim graves.

Iris albicans with Dionconotus neglectus beetle
Iris albicans with Dionconotus neglectus beetle

The lance-shaped leaves grow in a fan shape and can reach between 30 – 60 cms, which is much less than the other favourite iris, Iris germanica. They look attractive in large clumps and require very little attention, other than some rose fertiliser a couple of times a year. It is good to split them up after flowering every several years and replant them in a sunny position with the top of the rhizome exposed to the sun.

The attractive flowers with white falls and standards and yellow beards are slightly fragrant and appear from late February onwards, but like most irises the flowers last only for a couple of days or so.  They prefer to grow in full sun and are particularly drought tolerant, lasting for years. Snails may be a problem as well as red Dionconotus neglectus beetles which may eat through the flowers and leaves, so watch out for them. Propagation is by division, as the flowers and do not make seeds.

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JANUARY
  • Botanical name:  Alternanthera dentata
  • Family name:  Amaranthes
  • Common name:  Joy weeds; Joseph’s Coat
Alternanthera dentata
Alternanthera dentata

A ‘new to me’ attractive plant that I bought in the autumn was Alternanthera, a member of the Amaranthes family, (whose flowers usually hang down in attractive green or red tassels). The plant grows well in tropical America, Asia, Africa, and Australia where they are sometimes known as ‘joy weeds’ or even noxious weeds in some countries, so I hope that it doesn’t run riot in my garden! Those with multi-coloured leaves go by the name of ‘Joseph’s Coat’ and are available in shades of burgundy, purple, lime green and orangey-red. It’s a hardy, low maintenance plant best suited to frost free zones and it thrives in areas with high humidity.

Alternanthera dentata
Alternanthera dentata

Usually bought for the colour of their leaves, these attractive plants look particularly well in the summer garden. They are very low maintenance but may flower for only for a short while, and the flowers are quite insignificant, looking like white spiky balls.  However, the highly coloured leaves make up for them. In the garden, plant them out after the last low night temperatures in moist but well-drained soil. Full sun produces the best leaf colour, but plants also grow well in partial shade. Prune to maintain a small size. Under cover, grow in full light and water freely during the growing season. During the winter, keep the plant in a well-ventilated spot. It prefers regular, very light watering, just enough to avoid letting the soil dry out completely. Propagation is by seeds or by taking cuttings in late summer. Overwinter young plants under glass.

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DECEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Cyclamen
  • Family name:  Primulaceae
  • Common name:  Cyclamen
Cyclamen
Cyclamen

A welcome change from the ubiquitous poinsettia at Christmastime could be a potted cyclamen, available now in garden centres in a variety of wonderful colour combinations.

These plants don’t need much feeding – otherwise they will produce lots of foliage rather than flowers. So, feed only occasionally with a house plant fertiliser if you hope to keep your plant thriving. Water from the base once the soil begins to feel dry (rather like poinsettias) and stand the plant in a saucer or shallow bowl of water until the compost is moist but not soaking wet. Then let any excess water drain away. If water collects in the base of the saucer or pot-holder, tip it out and don’t water again until the compost is almost fully dry.

Mixed cyclamen
Mixed cyclamen

Remove any dead or dying flowers or leaves by tugging them away gently. Yellow leaves in autumn or winter probably mean that the room is too warm and that can also lead to poor flowering or the plant has been under- or over-watered. Bright sunlight can also be damaging so keep your plant in a cool room. Yellow leaves in spring are normal, so stop watering as the plant is dying back naturally before going into dormancy. Put your plant somewhere cool and dry for the summer – a sheltered, shady spot outdoors is ideal and keep the compost barely moist. Your cyclamen should start to re-grow in September, when you can bring it indoors, repotting it if necessary, and start watering again when you see fresh growth

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NOVEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Freesias
  • Family name:  Iridaceae
  • Common name:  Freesias
Freesia group
Freesia group

The freesias that we know today started life in South Africa, probably in Cape Province, and are regarded as one of the most favourite flowers around the world.  Imported into Europe around the end of the 19th Century they were named after the German Physician Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese. They grow from corms and are classed as herbaceous plants, meaning that they should come up every year if they are left in the ground. The long slender foliage appears far ahead of the eventual highly perfumed flowers, with the pink and red flowered varieties having the most perfume. The flowers can be in single or double form.  Sometimes double freesias have thicker stems than the singles and a shorter stem of flowers but the perfume comes in double quantity and that is what they are mainly grown for.

Freesias golden
Freesias golden

Freesias like to grow in full sun in well drained soil about 10 cms apart.  When the growing tips appear, the soil should be kept moist. Once the flowers have died off, gradually reduce the amount of watering until the foliage dies down as well. Then you can lift them out of the ground or pot, keeping them in a dry place until the autumn.  Replant them once the soil is moist in late autumn. These plants don’t do well in the cold, so are best grown where temperatures don’t go below freezing. Although they are generally available as florists’ flowers all year round, they flower in the spring garden here.

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OCTOBER
  • Botanical name:  Gerbera jamesonii
  • Family name:  Asteraceae
  • Common name: Gerbera Daisy – Transvaal Daisy
Gerberas pot
Gerberas pot

Gerberas, those colourful daisy-like plants, are more often than not grown here in pots. Natives of South Africa, but much admired plants all over the world these days, they bloom profusely throughout the summer. The large flower heads of these flowers have ray-like petals showing that they are part of the Asteraceae family. Some may have single or others double flowers whilst the leaves are coarse and often toothed

Pink Gerbera in a pot
Pink Gerbera in a pot

Gerbera daisies can reach from 20 to 60 cms tall and the flower heads grow from 4 to 12 cms across They can be grown both indoors and outdoors and are commonly used as cut flowers, although the stems often have to be supported with wires as the heavy heads can cause them to bend. The gerbera daisy is a popular house plant due to its bright and beautiful colouring. To grow them indoors, you’ll need a delicate balance of sunlight and moderate temperatures, so not in a spot on a windowsill which may be too hot and end up scorching the leaves. Gerberas can tolerate bright light in the morning and shade in the afternoon or moderate sunlight all day.

Watering is important and only do so when the top soil feels dry, and rather like poinsettia plants, let the pot drain before replacing it in its decorative outer pot and keep the water from the leaves. The plant can be fed with something like Phostrogen in the spring and summertime.

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SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:  Canna Lily
  • Family name:  Canaceae
  • Common name:  Canna
Canna Lucifer
Canna Lucifer

Canna Lilies came from tropical or sub-tropical America and the bright orangey-red flowered variety can be seen in gardens all over Cyprus. The cannas available here are grown in soil, although some species in other parts of the world prefer to grow in water. They like a sunny spot where the soil has been enriched with some compost and will flourish if there is a regular supply of water. They will grow equally well in pots, but need to be split up every couple of years.

Canna Durban
Canna Durban

Plant height varies according to variety and can range from 45 cms to 1 ½ metres. They can grow into huge clumps ‘walking’ across the garden as they send up new shoots away from the centre. Cannas are excellent garden plants flowering over a very long period as long as the dead flower heads are carefully removed in order to let further growths appear from down the stem. Cut off any seed heads as the plant will think it has done its job for the season and there will be no more flowers. Cannas will winter outside certainly up to 350 metres, although they don’t like very low temperatures and in mountain regions should be protected from frost. Plant them about 10 – 15 cms deep – not too deep or they won’t flower and not too shallow or their tall stems with their huge paddle-shaped leaves could be blown over in any gales as the leaves are surprisingly tender and can be torn by winds.

Leaf colour can be dark mauve or light or dark green and some varieties even have striations which are very attractive, but those prefer some shade.  The lovely flowers come in red, orange, yellow, pink, peach and cream with some, like ‘Lenape’ having spots and ‘Lucifer’ has the attractive colouring. Over-moist soil may cause Canna Rust in which case they should be taken up and burned but that shouldn’t be a problem here. Some of the leaves may fall prey to Canna Leaf Rollers, which as their name suggests cause the leaves to curl up around the insects. They can be uncurled and the insect destroyed.  Other than that they are remarkably pest and disease free plants. 

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AUGUST
  • Botanical name:  Alcea rosea
  • Family name:  Malvaceae
  • Common name:  Hollyhocks

POTM Aug

Hollyhocks are natives of the Eastern Mediterranean and it is thought that the Crusaders may have collected the seeds on their journeys in this part of the world all those years ago. They can have single or double flowers in a vast range of colours.  The Latin name for hollyhocks is Alcea rosea and they belong to the Malvaceae family, along with Hibiscus. The blooms appear in May and June here and flower for a long period.

You can start them off by sowing the seeds in pots before transferring them into their places in the garden, remembering that they may reach heights of over 2.5 metres in full sun. They are better planted at the back of borders or along hedge or fence lines for impact.  They will grow in poor soil, but you will get better results with some feeding. They are fairly drought tolerant but when you water take care not to wet the leaves, as this can lead to rust forming on them, so ensure that there is good air circulation around the plants. At one time every cottage garden in England had hollyhocks around the doorway and they have been used in herbal medicine from time immemorial. They can be used for gastritis, coughs, cystitis, bruises, falls, sunburn and as a gargle for sore throats and whilst young leaves are edible, the petals can be used in tea. The fibres on the stems and leaves can cause skin irritations, so do take care. I am told that growing them next to beehives makes for beautiful honey.

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JULY
  • Botanical name:  Fuchias
  • Family name:  Onagracea
  • Common name:  Ladies Eardrops

FuchsiaFuchsias are generally classed as small shrubs and although regarded as a European plant where they can be grown indoors or outdoors, they started life on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola. They belong to the Onagraceae family, which includes evening primroses as well as gaura, much seen in mass planting here these days. They generally grow up to 30cms although they can be standardised and reach greater heights. They are many species of fuchsia, although the ones we have started to see here in recent years are hybrids, of which there are many thousands!

Fuchsias thrive best in humidity, so if you live in a dry climate, misting your plants should keep them sufficiently moist, although they prefer their roots to be moist but not soggy. Test the surface of the soil before adding more water. They have become popular pot plants here and are ideal for hanging baskets or planters, being much admired for their hanging, bell-shaped, bi-coloured flowers that look like colourful dancing skirts and sometimes referred to as ‘Ladies Eardrops’. The flowers appearing on new growth last all summer long and there are thousands of varieties available, in shades of white, pink, magenta, purple and red. Feed them regularly throughout the season with diluted liquid fertilizer.

Planters and hanging baskets with fuchsias thrive better here in a semi-shaded position, despite their origins. An added bonus to these interesting plants is that the flowers can be crystallized and used to decorate cakes and desserts.

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