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:  Fuchias
  • Family name:  Onagraceae
  • 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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JUNE
  • Botanical name:  Nigella damascena
  • Family name:  Ranunculaceae
  • Common name:  ‘Love in a Mist’, ‘Ragged Lady’ or ‘Devil in the Bush’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese lovely (usually cool weather) annual cottage-garden plants flower around this time of year in Cyprus, bringing colour and an interesting form to the front of the border. A member of the buttercup family and native to southern Europe, they can be grown in lots of northern countries as well. As its botanical name suggests it is thought to have been found originally in Syria. You may know it as ‘Love in a Mist’, ‘Ragged Lady’ or even ‘Devil in the Bush’, some of which refer to the lacy bracts that surround the flower.

Growing to around 20 cms, the flowers can be several shades of blue or even white or pink nestling in a frame of lacy foliage, which compliments any broader-leaved plants round about. Nigella, preferring to grow in well-drained sandy soil, will bloom for several weeks after which the plants produce seed capsules, which when ripe will shower seeds around the mother plant and germinate in the next spring. The dried flower stems can be used in floral art.

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MAY
  • Botanical name:  Kniphofia uvaria
  • Family name:  Asphodelaceae
  • Common name:  ‘Red Hot Pokers’ or even ‘Torch Lilies’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese showy South African plants are a welcome addition to our hot gardens. Whilst many of them are known as ‘Red Hot Pokers’ or even ‘Torch Lilies’, they may not all have red or orange flowers. In fact there are some 900 cultivars including a yellow flowered one with the name of ‘Pineapple Popsicle’ and others in shades of dark red, as well as green and white. The flowers open over several days from the bottom of the stem to the top, changing colour as they do so.

The narrow grass-like leaves of kniphofia can grow into huge clumps of about 1.5 metres. They prefer to be planted in well-drained soil and are ideal plants for coastal gardens. These unusual plants that can survive in full sun can be propagated from seed or by dividing up the clumps in spring, once the plants are at least four years old.  Sometimes offsets appear that can be gently levered off the main plants and potted up. Until they are well established, kniphofias need to be protected from cold temperatures, heavy rain and burning sun. Mulching around the plant but leaving the crown bare helps to achieve this.

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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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