30 Sep

Ricinus communis, Castor Oil Plant for Gardens and Landscapes

Ricinus communis, commonly known as castor oil plant, is an interesting foliage plant for warm climates where it grows as a small tree (up to 5 to 10 meters). Castor oil plant is usually grown as specimen plant in landscapes for its striking foliage. In the growing season, the plant can be seen covered with new foliage of purplish-red color in contrast with older deep green color. The flowers are insignificant but the seeds pods are quite showy and colorful.

Ricinus communis, the Castor Oil Plant

Ricinus communis, the Castor Oil Plant/ Image by Katja Schulz

Ricinus communis originally belongs to warmer climates of Africa and the Indian sub-continent, however, it is grown is many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Though it makes a good plant for horticulture, Ricinus communis is an important medicinal plant as well. The seeds of Ricinus communis are source of castor oil which is widely used for many commercial purposes. It is used in preparation of fine quality lubricant for automobiles and other machinery. Castor oil extracted from the seeds of Ricinus communis is also used in manufacturing of paints, cosmetics and soap industry.

Ricinus communis is a fast growing plant for warmer climates. In horticulture, various cultivars are grown as ornamental plants. Some of the popular verities of castor oil plants include: Ricinus communis ‘Red spire’ (red stem and bronze foliage), ‘Impala’ (reddish foliage), and Ricinus communis ‘Gibsonii’ (reddish foliage and pinkish seed pods).

21 Sep

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, the Sad Tree

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis has many popular names – Night Jasmine, Coral Jasmine, Sad Tree, Parijat and Lover’s Tree. The plant justifies all of these pretty names. Legend has it Parijataka who was a beautiful princess fell in love with the sun but the sun deserted her. The mournful princess committed suicide. From ashes of the sad princess sprung a beautiful tree. Unable to stand the sight of the lover who left her, the tree blooms only at night and sheds its flowers before the sun rises.

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis/ Image by Dinesh Valke

How to Grow Nyctanthes arbor-tristis

The plant growing in my garden is now 5 years old and these days it is blooming profusely. Every day, I see a carpet of white flowers under the ‘sad’ plant. Anyway, Nyctanthes arbor-tristis is a nice plant to grow in the garden. It is not fussy about soil or water. In fact, it is quite hardy and prefers a little neglect.

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis grows as a shrub or a small tree (up to 5 meters). The coarse leaves cover straggling branches and make it a good foliage plant for filling in empty spaces in the garden. Small flowers of white color with orange center appear in summer. These scented flowers are rather short lived – they bloom at night and drop before rising of the sun.

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis grows natively in tropical climate of Pakistan and spreads across tropical regions of India, Bengladesh, Nepal and Thailand.

Besides its ornamental value, Nyctanthes arbor-tristis has various medicinal uses. The leaves are antibacterial and are used for the treatment of fungal infection, cough, and snakebite. Flowers are source of a yellow dye which is used to color clothes.  The lovely flowers of Nyctanthes arbor-tristis are also used in Hindu rituals and for preparing garlands that is why it is the plant is also known as Haar Singhar (meaning: beautification or make up).

19 Sep

Spiny yet Lovely Plants of Mammillaria

Mammillaria is a large genus of globular or cylindrical spiny plants from Mexico and south-western part of the USA. It is also one of the best representatives of the Cactus family because of its beautiful formation and flowering.

Mammillaria sheldonii

Mammillaria sheldonii/ Image by Manuel M. Ramos

Most species of Mammillaria have small bristles-like spines that cover the globular or cylindrical body of the plant. Flowers appear near top of the plant and form a beautiful crown of silky and sometimes fragrant flowers. Flowering is followed by formation of colorful seed capsules that can be plucked and dried to obtain tiny seeds. Mature plants produce many offsets that usually appear at the bottom of the plant.

Mammillaria geminispina

Mammillaria geminispina/ Image J Brew (flickr)

Mammillaria are quite easy to maintain as they only require bright sunlight, well-drained soil and regular watering. Since it is the largest genus of the Cactus family, Mammillaria offers a wide range of ornamental plants for container gardening. Some Mammillarias remain solitary whereas some form large clumps. Some Mammillarias grow in cylindrical shape, and some attain globular shape. Some Mammillarias have long and hooked spines whereas some have tiny bristles.

Most species of Mammillaria grow easily from seeds or offsets. Like other plants in the Cactus family, Mammillarias are quite slow growers but easy to maintain and propagate. These drought-tolerant plants only require hibernation in winter and protection from frost and high level of humidity.

Mammillaria candida

Mammillaria candida/ Image by Blossfeldiana (flickr)

19 Sep

Growing with Mini Greenhouse in Your Garden

This guest post is written by owner of BetterGreenHouses.com.

Creating a greenhouse is not as difficult as it looks. If you are worried about budget and expenses and the cost of maintaining the structure of the greenhouse, you can be rest assured that even simple and small greenhouses, which require little upkeep and expense can be fully functional and serve your purpose easily. Juliana Mini Greenhouse is one such example of a really simple and small greenhouse which can be used to grow amazing vegetables and plants that generally flower in summer. You will be hard pressed to grow these crops in winter especially if winters are harsh where you live. Thus, the idea of a greenhouse, compact and easily operational, is capital.

There might be a lot of worries regarding the expenses needed to maintain a greenhouse. This is where the Juliana Mini Greenhouse steals the thunder. It is compact and easily accommodated in your garage, shed or backyard. It is about 5 foot in height and includes polycarbonate panels which are completely unbreakable. These are twin walled and are attached with aluminum walls. This also provides additional support and durability to the structure, making it long lasting, and thus, in the long run, cutting down on maintenance cost

What you can grow in the greenhouse is completely your choice. The range of plants that adapt to the artificial environment of a greenhouse is surprisingly wide. Care should be taken to factor in the additional parameters of a greenhouse environment. For example, if you wish to exclude artificial warming and lightening in the greenhouse during winter, the list of plants which can be grown in the greenhouse will automatically become shorter. However, with the Juliana Mini Greenhouse also, the range and choice of plants will not change. In fact it is ideal for people who have no choice but to build their greenhouses in constricted spaces.

The quality of food crops grown in a greenhouse is particularly good. This makes it ideal to grow your tomatoes or other veggies in the Juliana Mini Greenhouse. The artificial environment of a greenhouse is different from other artificial environments since the former is a controlled environment where plants receive additional care and attention. This leads to a proliferation of fruit and flower that is quite amazing and beautiful to look at. The quality is optimum as a result and the most aesthetically pleasing plant samples are also more often than not, greenhouse plants.

There are certain problems in a greenhouse environment as well. For example, diseases and pests are also part of the repertoire of problems which every gardener has to deal with. Despite being a controlled atmosphere, greenhouse plants are not exempt from these problems. However these problems can be neutralized to a great extent because the atmosphere is controlled. For example, even in a small-scale greenhouse like the Juliana Mini Greenhouse, the pest problem can be handled without the use of pesticides at all. Thus these are some of the benefits which makes the investment behind a greenhouse worth the time and effort.


17 Sep

Lovely & Aromatic Shrub for Gardens: Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosmarinus is a small genus of evergreen shrubs from the family of Mint. The genus is best represented by Rosmarinus officinalis, which has been grown for several centuries in the Mediterranean region where it became part of ancient culture, traditions and mythology. Rosmarinus officinalis is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 2 meters and makes a good plant for hedges and landscape schemes. The plant narrow, needdle-like leaves that are intensely aromatic and bitter in taste. The leaves are used fresh or dried for flavor in carious traditional cuisines of the Mediterranean Europe. The plant is also considered valuable in improving memory and stimulating brain.

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosmarinus officinalis/ Image by cliff (flickr)

Besides medicinal and culinary uses Rosmarinus officinalis has a significant place in horticulture. It is grown as evergreen shrub for hedges. Since the plant is easy to maintain and prune, it is good for hedges, border plant or as foliage plant in landscape schemes.

Rosmarinus officinalis is quite a tough and hardy plant that survives drought and neglect easily. It can be grown from cuttings or layers as a hardy ornamental plant in landscape or xeriscapaes. Rosmarinus officinalis requires full to partial sun, protection from harsh winter and frost, and a well-drained soil.

  • Rosmarinus officinalis has many popular cultivars that include:
  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Albus’ (white flowers)
  • ‘Arp’ (lemon-scented rosemary)
  • ‘Golden Rain’ (with yellow streaks on green leaves)
  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Gold Dust’ (with golden streaks on green leaves but stronger than Golden Rain)
  • ‘Majorica Pink’ (rosemary with pink flowers)
  • ‘Roseus’ (another pink flowering variant)
  • ‘Wilma’s Gold’ (yellow leaves)
12 Sep

Little, Lovely, and Plentiful Bloomer: Diascia, the Twinspur

Diascia is a small genus of low-growing annuals and perennials that bloom in all shades of peach, pink, mauve, magenta and purple. Most species are excellent bloomers that give stunning display of colorful flowers in spring and summer. These small ornamentals are perfect choice for containers, window boxes, borders and rockeries for their small size and prolific flowering.

Diascia Flowers

Diascia Flowers/ Image by Clive Reid

Most species of Diascia are low-growing and sprawling plants that are perfect for filling empty spaces in gardens, landscapes, containers or windows. These small plants bear small, oval leaves of dark green colors. The unusual flowers have two horns or spurs below them that give them their common name ‘Twinspur’.

Originally native to South Africa, Diascias are grown in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world where they grow under full to partial sun. These small ornamentals are usually grown from seeds and used as container plants for summer flowering. Most species of Diascia prefer regular watering and a slightly acidic and well-drained soil.

Popular species of Diascia include:

Diascia integerrima (Pink Adobe) – A small perennial (up to 450 mm) with pink flowers that bloom almost through the warm months.

Diascia ‘Sun Chimes Coral’ – A popular variety growing up to 1.5 feet with attractive coral-pink flowers.

Diascia ‘Whisper White’ – Another popular hybrid with pure white flowers.

Diascia ‘Dew Drops’ – A popular variety among horticulturists; produces beautiful white flowers with a yellow center.

Diascia varieties

Colorful Diascias/ Image by Alwyn Ladell

11 Sep

Pereskia, the Rose Cactus

Pereskia is a genus of shrub-like cacti that are naturally found in tropical regions of Mexico and Brazil. The genus is believed to belong to ancient species of cacti that managed to keep their leaves and shrub like structure and did not evolve in to other cacti that we know today.

Though the genus of Pereskia is not much popular in horticulture, many members of this small genus make interesting specimen plants. They have woody stems with clusters of long and sharp spines. The leaves are fleshy and elliptic to oblong in shape. Most species produce large and showy flowers of pink color in late spring or early summer. These species vary greatly in size and growing habit. Some Pereskias can gain the height of 15 meters or more whereas some grow as small succulent shrub of 1 meter.

Pereskia grandiflora var voilacea

Pereskia grandiflora var voilacea/ Image by Erick Lux

How to Grow Pereskia

Most species of Pereskia are not fussy about growing conditions – they just require average water (though regular watering in spring and summer encourage vigorous growth), a well-drained soil, and sunny exposure (though they can survive dark shady spots as well).

Popular species of include:

P. grandiflora (Rose Cactus) – Evergreen to deciduous plant that can grow up to 5 meters. The plant produces clusters of pink flowers followed by fruits.

P. grandiflora var. voilacea – A purple flowering species that closely resembles Pereskia grandiflora.

10 Sep

Ornamental Red Ginger Plant: Alpinia purpurata

Alpinia purpurata, commonly known as Red Ginger, is an ornamental perennial that forms large leafy clumps. Originally native to tropical regions of the Central America and Asia, Alpinia purpurata is grown in many parts of the world as ornamental foliage plant.

Alpinia purpurata, the Red Ginger plant

Alpinia purpurata, the Red Ginger plant/ Image by Cliff (flickr)

Like other plants in this genus, Alpinia purpurata grows best in a rich soil and under partial sun. The plant benefits from plenty of water in spring and summer and dry conditions in winter. Alpinia purpurata is a nice addition to tropical gardens because of its lovely foliage and bright red plumes of bracts. These attractive bracts surround white flowers of Alpinia purpurata.

Alpinia purpurata propagates itself from offspring that branch under the colorful bracts. Once the plant has bloomed, the branches droop to the ground level allowing small offspring to develop roots and become independent plants.

Alpinia purpurata is usually grown to add colorful effect to garden or landscape design. The plant can grow up to 5 meters; however, it is usually pruned back after every flowering season to obtain fresh foliage and flowers in the following season.

09 Sep

Lovely Foliage and Flowering Trees: Melaleuca

Melaleuca is a genus of evergreen shrubs and small trees from Australia. The genus is known for its horticultural use as well as medicinal effects and soothing properties.

Melaleuca are popular ornamental plants in tropical or sub-tropical climates where they are grown for their vibrant foliage and attractive flowers. The foliage is usually fragrant, the trunk has silvery bark, and the flowers that resemble the blooms of Callistemon are white, yellow, pink or red.

Melaleuca tree

Melaleuca tree/ Image by Tatiana Gerus

How to Grow Melaleuca

The plants in the genus of Melaleuca vary greatly in their size. Some species grow as shrubs that grow up to 3 – 5 meters whereas some of the species grow into small trees that can gain the height of 6 – 8 meters. Melaleucas can be grown easily from seeds or cuttings. They prefer sunny exposure, a well drained soil and regular watering.

Popular species of Melaleuca include:

M. nesophylla (Tea Myrtle) – Small tree (up to 6 meters) with spongy bark and pompon shapes flowers of pink color.

M. lanceolata – Clustering shrub (up to 5 meters) with small and narrow leaves. White flowers resembling bottle brush appear in summer and attract a lot of birds and butterflies.

M. huegelii (Honey Myrtle) – Evergreen shrub (up to 3 meters) with dense clusters of spiky flowers of white or pink color.

M. trichophylla – Small spreading shrub with globular clusters of pink, reddish pink or purple flowers in late winter to early summer.

M. lateritia – Commonly known as the Robin Red-breast Bush, M. lateritia grows as an erect shrub (up to 2 meters) and produces attractive red flowers in summer.