Plants thrive and flowers bloom as insects buzz about

As the early bulbs go over, then other flowers are desperate to take their places. The calla lily bed in my garden, which has been full of leaves for several months now, is sharing its pure white flowers in time for our Easter. Trees are looking fresh with their bright green foliage, except for one or two late performers.

Jacarandas last for ages it seems, but if your winter has been wet, you will have a wonderful display of flowers before the new green fern-like leaves appear. Sometimes jacarandas have a second flowering at the end of summer. They are not salt tolerant, so not really suitable for coastal gardens.

Another late flowering tree but with the most exquisite perfume is Melia, which keeps its yellow fruits on all winter. Commonly known here as mavromata or black eyed, its fruits are known to be narcotic and the birds leave them on the tree, despite the lack of much other sustenance during the winter. The fruits are also poisonous to humans!

A favourite in my garden, although somewhat short lived, is Echium webbii. This wonderful shrub growing to perhaps a metre and a half here has tall stems of beautiful blue flowers.

Some years ago, we were inundated with hundreds of ‘Painted Lady’ butterflies, which swarmed all over the bush as well as the rest of the garden, giving us so much pleasure as we watched them feast on the nectar. Alas, we don’t see many of these beauties nowadays, which is such a pity, except for ‘Cabbage Whites’ that tend to feast and lay eggs on my veggies!

However, a little later in the season we do have dragonflies that float lazily over the pool water and rest on the sticks we have put around the edge there for just that purpose. There is always something to look forward to.

Our wisteria always looks wonderful this month as the panicles of flowers open up and the leaves unfurl. The perfume is so wonderful and not only pervades our garden but the street as well. We often see passersby stopping to admire it. If you are considering buying a wisteria, make sure that it has fluffy flower buds on it. Wisteria can be grown from seeds but they take a very long time, seven years in some cases, before they flower and as a result are often grafted.

Annual sweet peas, will be flowering. I enjoy the ‘Heritage’ sweet peas with their heavily perfumed flowers, the seeds of which I begged from a friend and they do so much better, although their season here is short. The first year I was here I tried ‘Spencer sweet peas’ but without much success as they really don’t like the heat of our hot summers, whereas in the UK they flower all summer long.

My chasmanthe (not monbretia or crocosmia, as they are sometimes known here) have flourished in various parts of my garden. Last year the flower stems grew to nearly 2 metres high, really excelling themselves but needed staking to hold them up.

These early flowering plants originally from South Africa, were brought to Europe by Portuguese adventurers in the early 1500s. They belong to the iris family. Their common name is ‘African flag’. They flower profusely and make seeds that can shed themselves all over your garden if you leave them on the plant and as they fall will germinate very quickly. Occasionally the main plants need to be dug up and replanted.

The corms have a netting which should be removed and a hard core on the base, which if removed also helps growth and a garden knife will do that job for you. However, until they have settled into their new spot in your garden, they will not flower, so be warned! (Irises can be a bit like that too).

I have several kinds of irises. What are known as Dutch irises here, Iris zyphium, were named for the Dutch people who hybridised them, as they are actually native to Spain and Portugal! They tend to have blue, yellow or white flowers, which are often used by florists in bouquets.

Iris albicans, which is usually the first to flower in my garden, was very slow this year, but I do enjoy them despite the wait. These are followed a little later by Iris germanica, also known as the ‘common iris’, although they are not common at all. They are also known as ‘bearded irises’ as they have little tufts on their lower petals.

Hybrid irises have been cultivated over many years and there may be hundreds. These are very showy irises and much sought after in a variety of colours. All irises should have their rhizomes pointing into the sun, which will bake them, resulting in flowers for next season. Once planted they require very little attention, except some bone meal in the early spring if you can get it, or rose feed will suffice instead.

Annuals pop up everywhere and the choice is amazing when you consider that their seeds are mostly like the grains of pepper. There are ones with bigger seeds, like sunflowers of course and some of the harder, larger seeds may need a little moisture to start them off.

The bees will love the sunflowers, so it is always good to have something for them to feed on. A popular ‘bee’ shrub in our garden is Leucophyllum frutescens, commonly known as the Texas ranger, which attracts bees from everywhere roundabout, as does Echium webbii, which I mentioned earlier.

Summer favourites will be available in the garden centres like dahlias, hemerocallis and canna lilies, which all do well in my garden, although I tend to grow the canna lilies in pots rather than in the soil.

Dahlias, those bushy perennial plants native to Mexico and Central America, are related to sunflowers, daisies, chrysanthemums, and zinnia, all bright sun-loving plants and there is no need to dig dahlias up every autumn.

Day lilies are native to Asia. Despite the common name, it is not in fact a lily, but related to the Asphodel family, of which there are many flowering here in the springtime. Thousands of cultivars have been registered locally and internationally. Aren’t we lucky to have so many ‘foreign’ plants that do so well in our gardens here?

I expect that your summer veggie garden will be showing promise already. There are plenty of plugs in the garden centres these days, so no reason for failures along the way and as you pick them, they are very easy to replace. I love to grow sweet corn, but delay planting here until the end of the month in case we have any cold nights.

If you garden on a veranda, herbs in pots are always useful to have near the kitchen door. I find that mint in the garden can roam far and wide, so I plant mine in the garden inside a pot, so that the roots are somewhat contained.

There can be one or two problems with tomatoes, blossom end rot being one of them. This is not a disease or anything bacterial, but a calcium deficiency that affects the plant during fruit formation. It can also affect aubergines and peppers.

This lack of calcium may be due to low calcium levels in the soil or (more often soil that is over- or under-watered). When there are wide fluctuations in soil moisture, this reduces the plant’s ability to take up calcium from the soil. Usually, blossom-end rot appears while the fruit is still green or ripening, so it often affects the first fruits formed on the plants. I usually suggest sinking a plant pot next to the roots of the plant and watering into that.


Plant of the Month

feature garden plant of month alyogyne huegelii

Alyogyne huegelii


Alyogyne huegelii

This attractive garden shrub, known commonly as the ‘Australian hibiscus’ or ‘blue hibiscus’  has been grown in Europe since the early 1800s when it was introduced by Anselm Hugel, along with other plants from South Western Australia, into Austrian gardens.

These wonderful early flowerers are much admired by gardeners here. Sometimes regarded as a shrub rather than a tree, it can grow to around three metres.

It was first thought to be a hibiscus as it had all the characteristics of a hibiscus belonging to the Malvaceae family. However, the beautiful light mauve flowers, which can last for three or four weeks (much longer than the single-day flowers of the hibiscus) don’t seem to be affected by mealy bugs as the other hibiscus sometimes are.

Alyogyne is sometimes classified as a ‘desert plant’,  one for arid areas as it does not like cold winds or too much rain and is better to be planted in full sun in a sandy soil. It is thought to be disease free, although aphids may be a problem.

Prune this evergreen shrub to maintain a good shape as it can become rather straggly. Propagation is by seeds or semi ripe cuttings.