WITH ONLY a few weeks to Christmas and facing the prospect of friends and relations coming here to visit, now is a good time to consider what plants will be flowering in your garden.
If you really want to make a good display, take out anything that is past its sell by date and try to make theme plantings around courtyards and patios. It doesn’t have to be precious, just co-ordinated.
Red and pink are the natural Christmas colours of choice and there is no shortage of candidates. Diascia is great for filling blank spots, whether in pots or borders, flowering non-stop until late spring. Whether you decide to keep or discard, it will depend on its condition, but, for the best results, flowering new plants should probably be planted each year.
Originating from South Africa, Diascias come in all shades of pink plus salmon and apricot, but it is the deep pink and reds of the integerrima variety that are most commonly found here. Their flowers resemble miniature snapdragons and they are members of the same family.
Diascia tolerate just about any soil and conditions, and will even root in rock crevices, although seldom recover if allowed to dry out. After their first flowering, they can look untidy but just give their wiry stems a good haircut and they will come back again.
A tricky customer
One cannot discuss red Christmas plants without mentioning the ubiquitous Poinsettia, or Euphorbia pulcherrimma to give its official name. Some of you will be lucky enough to have one growing as a rangy shrub, which comes back year after year, glowing with colour throughout the Christmas season.
Despite its Mexican origins, this plant does not like exposure to full sunlight from the south or west. This probably explains why so many fail when transferred from inside at the end of the Christmas season. But many plants are discarded needlessly, because their natural leaf-drop after flowering is assumed to be a sign of their imminent demise.
Poinsettias prefer rich, slightly acid, well drained soil and need to be kept moist, although watering should be reduced after flowering and they should never be allowed to sit in water. Taking all this into consideration, plus their dislike of exposure to hot or cold wind, makes them tricky to maintain, yet well worth the effort as a large Poinsettia in full bloom is an amazing sight. The best way of achieving this is to keep it potted under a warm veranda and wait until late spring before planting out with some slow release fertiliser in a sheltered spot.
My favourite Christmas flowering plant has to be Aloe arborescens whose red-hot flower spikes bloom all winter, brightening up the drabbest garden areas. They root very easy from stems cut off the main plant and will continue flowering unchecked, even on new cuttings. Starved of water, the plant will shrivel virtually back to the stem, yet put out beautiful green leaves arranged in rosettes as soon as autumn rains arrive.
Left unchecked, Aloe arborescens forms huge clumps as tall as two metres, making it very useful for screening and as a windbreak. In Africa, it is widely grown and farmed for its cosmetic and medicinal properties, being normally exported as a dried powder.
• If you have any garden questions, contact Clive by e-mail at [email protected]