30 Jul

Lovely Shrub for Gardens: Myrtus communis (Myrtle)

Today’s featured plant is Myrtus communis – an excellent ornamental shrub from the Mediterranean regions of the world. Commonly known as Myrtle or Greek myrtle, this beautiful shrub has been in cultivation as long as the days of ancient Roman Empire where it was an essential garden element. Today, Myrtle is known for its beautiful and fragrant foliage.

Myrtus communis

Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Image by Tim Waters

Myrtus communis has a bushy growth. The plant produces glossy green leaves that emit strong fragrance when crushed.  Summer is the time of full bloom when small clusters of small fluffy flowers are borne on Myrtle – making it the center of attraction.

Myrtus communis is good for containers as well as landscape plant. When grown in containers, it serves as a nice accent plant for patios. Besides its bushy growth, Myrtus communis can be easily pruned to any shape. That is why it is often used in designing topiary designs.

Myrtle is easy to grow as it does not have any special requirement. The plant requires a regular soil mix, full to partial sun, and moderate watering. In fact, it can be grown as a drought tolerant plant in rock gardens or xeriscapes.

Myrtus communis can be propagated from cuttings.

15 Jul

Beautiful Flowering Plant for Landscapes, Alcea rosea (Hollyhock)

If you are looking for an easy to grow, hardy and rich flowering plant for your garden landscape, consider Alcea rosea. Commonly described as Hollyhock, a number of tall and dwarf varieties are popular among gardeners – majorly because of the variety of colorful flowers that ranges from beautiful shades of pink, white, maroon, purple, yellow and black.

Alcea rosea, Hollyhock

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock), Image by Charles Roffey

Hollyhocks make excellent ornamental houseplants because they do not require special care or climate. They can grow in ordinary soil mix under full or partial sun. These drought tolerant plants can be used to fill uncultivated spaces where they would grow up to 3 meters or more as biennial plants to produce showy flowers in the second year. Alcea rosea produces vigorous tap roots and should not be grown with plants that cannot compete for food and moisture. Hollyhock grows best when cultivated separately in background of landscape design or places where ordinary plants cannot be grown.

Alcea rosea originally comes from Mediterranean and tropical climates of Asia, thus it requires bright sunlight and moderate watering. Long stalks of flowers need to be protected from strong winds. Thus, Alcea rosea is grown against walls or in locations where they are not directly affected by strong winds or they should be provided with support of staking. Several dwarf species of Alcea rosea are also available that can be grown in windy conditions.

Alcea rosea can be propagated easily from seeds.

08 Jul

Spiny, Hardy, Lovely, and Flowery Cactus: Echinopsis

Echinopsis is the most popular and widely grown genus from the family of cactus. This genus includes more than 100 species varying in size, shape and growing habits. Most of the species in the genus of Echinopsis grow in clusters of globular heads. In some species, these globular heads remain solitary whereas some species produce several offspring around globular heads.

Echinopsis are fast growing plants, and with age they change their shape from globular heads to elongated succulent stems. Old plants can grow into large clumps measuring more than 60 cm in diameter. At this age, most species of Echinopsis produce profuse flowers in spring and summer. The funnel-shaped flowers come in all shades of yellow, white, pink and orange. The best known flowers are borne on Echinopsis multiplex (sometimes described as Echinopsis oxygana).

Echinopsis Huntigton Hybrid

Echinopsis Huntigton Hybrid, Image by epiforums(flickr)

Originally native to South America, Echinopsis multiplex is widely cultivated is many parts of the work for its lovely flowers. Though flowers last for a day or two, they appear in flushes several time during spring and summer – producing many flowers in each cycle. It is quite hardy plant that does not require special attention or growing conditions to thrive. Moderate watering, a regular soil mix with good drainage, and bright sunlight are more than sufficient for this hardy plant to grow. If kept dry, Echinopsis can easily withstand frost and cold.

Echinopsis multiplex

Echinopsis multiplex, Image by pizzodisevo (flickr)

Echinopsis can be propagated from offspring sown in spring or summer. The best and most sought after varieties of Echinopsis are Schick hybrids produced by the Huntington garden. These include (my favorites):

Echinopsis ‘Antares’, Echinopsis ‘Bacarole’, Echinopsis ‘Brigitte’s Beauty’, Echinopsis ‘Desdemona’ and many more.

Echinopsis Schick Hybrid

Echinopsis Schick Hybrid, Image by epiforums(flickr)

Common names of Echinopsis are Hedgehog cacti, Sea-Urchin cactus or Easter lily cactus.

02 Jul

Lovely, Evergreen Bush: Hamelia patens, the Firebush

Hamelia is a genus of evergreen shrubs and small trees from the family of Ixora, and like Ixora it makes an flowering bush for gardens and landscapes. The genus is perhaps best represented by  Hamelia patens, which is widely grown in hedges, borders and as an accent plant.

It is an easily grown bush that produces evergreen foliage and beautiful red or scarlet flowers almost all through the year – thus justifying it common name, Firebush. Hemalia patens grows quite quickly in tropical and sub-tropical climates and grows up to 3 or 4 feet tall with some woody growth. It grows well under full sun or partial shade and requires moderate but regular watering (though mature plants can withstand some drought). Firebush is best known for its flowers which are rich in nectar and attract a lot of butterflies. Flowering is followed by formation of small berries which are favorite food of birds especially hummingbird.

Hamelia patens, the Firebush

Hamelia patens, the Firebush, Image by Mary Keim

Grown as annual flowering bush, Firebush should be pruned regularly to keep the plant in proper shape. When allowed to grow on its own, Firebush tends to form large mounds with dense growth of evergreen foliage and small red flowers.

Besides its horticultural value, Firebush has been used by indigenous people of south and Central America for its medicinal benefits. The extract of the leaves and stems of Firebush is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, that is why, it has long been used a good remedy for all kinds of skin diseases including rashes, skin fungus, sores and insect stings. The extract is also used today for the treatment of headache, rheumatism, fever, and dysentery.

28 Jun

Pennisetum: Ornamental Grasses for Landscapes and Gardens

Pennisetum is a genus of annual and perennial ornamental grasses from tropical and temperate regions of the world. Some popular species from this genus include millet, grain and some fodder plants. These ornamental grasses are known for their foliage and flowers that really add ornamental value to gardens and landscapes.

Pennisetum are generally tough, drought-tolerant and easily grown plants. They usually grow in small clumps and produce soft, feathery inflorescence in late summer. Most species of Pennisetum are frost hardy in tropical climates; however they need protection from long winters of cold regions. These plants prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. In their native climate, these plants can withstand drought and require only moderate watering.

Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum'

Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum', Image by Matt Lavin

Some of the popular species of Pennisetum include:

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (Fountain Grass) – Grows up to 1 meter and produces rose-colored flowers on long spikes in summer.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (Dwarf Fountain Grass) – Relatively smaller species (50 to 75 cm) with small clumps of grassy leaves; grows in almost any soil. Prefers full sun and a little moist soil. Flowers appear in late summer.

Pennisetum orientale (Oriental Fountain Grass) – Ornamental grass with fresh green leaves that grow up to 75 cm. This species produces white, feathery flowers and prefers partial sun, moist soil and a regular soil mix with good drainage.