I have always been fascinated by plant names. Some are Greek and some are Latin, whilst some only have common names. Most plants have two names, one is the family name whilst the second one, usually written in italics, is the descriptive name, which could be where the plant was first found or something to do with the shade or shape of the flower or leaves.
One of my favourite plants is called Nicotiana langsdorffii. Nicotiana, as you may well be aware, is the tobacco family and quite noxious to many people. Having lived in Germany for many years, langsdorffii suggested to me ‘long village’ and I wondered how it got its name.
Well, for a start it is not German. Nicotiana langsdorffii, part of nightshade family, is native to Brazil and was named ‘Langsdorffs tobacco’ after the chap who found it. Nicotianas were named after Jean Nicot, a 16th century Ambassador, who is credited with introducing tobacco to the French court.
Some plants, which hailed from South Africa have the descriptive name of capensis, meaning that they came from the Cape Area, which was really a generalisation and now that horticultural scientists have a hold on the DNA of plants, they can be more specific and therefore change the names.
Plumbago, formerly capensis, is now Plumbago auriculata, which refers to the leaf base. Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish botanist in the late 1700s, who is credited with finding and naming it in 1794, must be turning in his grave!
Hollyhocks, those old-time cottage garden plants, have the botanical name of Alcea rosea from the Greek, but were originally from China. Alcea means a kind of mallow, which is the family name and rosea means rose coloured, as you might expect. Holly is said to derive from Holy Land from where the seeds grown here were originally collected.
Chasmanthe, erroneously called Monbretia here (now an invalid name by the way), is part of the Crocosmia family. Crocosmia and chasmanthe are two small genera of similar-looking plants in the iris family and whilst chasmanthes tend to flower here in the early spring time, crocosmias tend to be late summer flowering.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
After the very long and extremely hot summer, at last temperatures have dropped a little and it is time be serious about the garden again. You may have been lucky to have had a few showers by now, which will have helped things along, although it does encourage the weeds to grow too! Hedges may start to grow again so may need some attention on a cool day. Keep cutting back dead flower heads, especially osteospermums, whose seeds are very fertile. It is a good idea to crop those that have developed tall stems to a point where there is a side shoot showing, so that they should become the more rounded cushions that they were originally.
The earth in flower beds and veggie gardens may be rather thin at this time and would benefit from some well-rotted garden compost or manure if you can get it. In some garden centres you may find some soil enrichers if you don’t have any of your own, which will greatly enhance your intended crops. Once you have dug over the plots then you may have to wait for the rains to dampen them before you can plant anything.
You can take cuttings of favourite plants now until around March. Cuttings are best taken in the evening or first thing in the morning, when the plant will be much fresher. Choose a non-flowering shoot or cut any flower buds off, and after removing the lower leaves, dip the end of the stem in a hormone rooting powder and using a dibber or even a pencil, make a hole in the soil, firm it in well and water lightly. You can probably get 6 or 7 cuttings around the edge of a pot. Put the whole pot in a plastic bag and tie the top and put it in a light but shaded place. My pelargoniums took a hammering this summer but I was able to get some cuttings which I have been nurturing in a shaded spot, so that when I am sure that they have good root balls they can be transferred to larger pots.
This is also a good time to sow seeds of perennial plants, those that come up every year, but usually don’t flower until the second year. It is possible to sow some annuals, but there is a danger that they may rot off if we have a very wet winter. So only sow HALF the packet of seeds so that you have a fallback position come the spring if they fail.
Bulbs can be planted now in pots or in the garden. Daffodils can be left in from year to year, although if they fail to flower it may be that they are too crowded or they weren’t fed after they had flowered last season. Sometimes the bulbs appear above the soil during the year because the soil gets washed away, so either cover them up or better still lift them gently and replant them lower down in the soil, but do it now!
Hyacinths are big bulbs and the white outer case denotes a white flower. Blue flowered hyacinths have a reddish bulb, as do some of the pink ones. Nowadays you can sometimes get yellow hyacinths as well, but traditionally they are grown in pinks, blues and white and there is nothing quite like hyacinths for that sensuous perfume in the springtime. A general guide for planting small bulbs like cyclamen or anemones is about 3-5cm deep; muscari and crocus 8cm and large bulbs such as Narcissus and tulips round about 10-16 cm depending on the height of the bulb. Plant in groups for effect.
Cycads can look rather tired this month with dying leaves around the perimeter of the plant. Refresh the plant by carefully cutting back these old leaves and very soon bright new green ones will appear from the centre of the plant. A plant called Papyrus here, which can be grown in the garden or in a pot, may look rather tired and lots of the heads may look unattractive and rather baked! Remove all the dead stems and if the plant has lots of congested roots, then maybe it is time to repot it. Take care unpotting them and separate out the root ball before repotting in fresh compost and pots.
Those lovely stalwarts of gardens here, Canna lilies may need some attention too. Don’t let them form seed pods and or if they do appear remove them, taking care not to nick a flowering bud! Although they grow well in the sun, those with coloured leaves like Durban, do much better in a more shaded position.
The lovely fluffy-leaved tradescantia, Tradescantia sillimontana (common name ‘white velvet’) may have finished showing off is pretty pink flowers now and is starting to die down. The only way to propagate this plant is to take root cuttings during the winter and nurture them until the spring.
If you like to grow your own vegetables there are many plug plants available in the garden centres now. Mainly grown on from seed by Solomou Nurseries in Nisou, they take the guess work out of sowing and you can choose just enough for your plot. It can be fun to grow your own plants from seeds, but there is no harm in helping nature along if you can!
Plant of the month: Ruscus hypoziossurn
Looking for a small shrub that will grow successfully in our Cyprus gardens? Then ruscus would suit you. This small evergreen shrub reaching to only around 45cm when mature, is able to cope with our Cyprus climate, as it hails from Mediterranean regions as well as other parts of Europe. It is not a recent introduction to gardens by any means, as it has been cultivated in British gardens since the 16th century.
Commonly called ‘spineless butchers broom’, in some parts it is also known as ‘mouse thorn’ or ‘horse tongue lily’, although it is part of the Asparagus family. This drought and shade-tolerant evergreen shrub copes well in our gardens here and requires little watering, much preferring a shady spot to one in full sun, which may scorch the leaves.
The interesting feature of ruscus is that it has modified stems, which take the place of true leaves. There are male and female plants and you need both to get the bright red fruits, which appear in the centre of the leaves on the female plant.
Propagation is usually by separating the rootstock, which may be entangled somewhat, so be careful that you do not damage any of them. Plant them up in a pot and as they grow transfer them to a shady spot in the garden.