Plant of the Month Calendar 2017

January - Mahonias

Mahonias
The plant of the month for January was the mahonia

Create a Winter Wonderland

Add the wow factor to your winter garden with striking plants that look their best right now. Whether you'd like to fill your borders with hardy shrubs covered with fragrant flowers, clad a fence or archway with colour, or plant a small flowering tree to create a focal point, you'll find a great range of seasonal stunners in garden centres this month.

Evergreen mahonias are equally impressive, with golden sprays of flowers forming at the tip of each shoot. There are several varieties to choose from with different sizes and forms, and flowers on most are followed by the formation of grape-like berries in spring, giving these shrubs their common name of Oregon Grape. Other great very hardy plants are:


  • Witch Hazel (Hamamelis varieties)
  • Oregon Grape (Mahonia varieties)
  • Winter Flowering Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense)
  • Christmas Rose (Helleborous niger)

February - Camellias

Camellias
The plant of the month for February was the camellia

Few hardy shrubs signal the end of winter better than camellias, highly valued for their stunning floral displays and fresh, glossy, evergreen foliage. With dozens of varieties available you'll be spoilt for choice, so pick from camellias in shades of pink, red, white and cream. 

Their ultimate size, habit and rate of growth vary immensely too, so consider how much space the camellia will need as it grows. Whether you'd like something that stays small and compact or will grow into a bold shrub or even a flowering hedge or screen, the choice is yours.

Camellia flowers vary in size and shape too, and their forms can be divided into six descriptive groups depending on the number of petals and their pattern or arrangement within the flower. These forms are described as Single, Semi-double, Anemone-form, Peony-form, Rose-form double or Formal double, so take your pick from the ones that most appeal.

Like azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias are ericaceous plants, and this means they need to grow in an acid or lime-free soil to ensure they stay healthy. A simple soil test kit available from garden centres can be used to check your soils acidity/alkalinity (often called its pH), and composts and fertilisers can be added to help make soil more acid. Alternatively, compact varieties of camellia grow well in large pots or half-barrels filled with ericaceous compost.

Grown in the right soil and position camellias usually flower reliably with little care and attention, growing larger over time to develop into impressive flowering shrubs. Most camellias rarely need pruning, but if they outgrow their position individual shoots can be shortened, and plants can even regrow well if cut back hard into old wood.Where space is available to develop a seasonal bed including a camellia or two and other evergreens and early flowering plants to provide welcome colour through late winter and into early spring.

March - Primulas

Primulas
The plant of the month for March was the primula

Spring has sprung with perfect Primulas.

Plant a rainbow of colour to welcome in spring by packing patio pots and filling flower beds with primulas and polyanthus. These cheerful bedding plants offer great value, flowering their hearts out for weeks on end to brighten your outlook on even the dullest of days.

New varieties are continually being bred offering outstanding garden performance, larger flowers and better resistance to the challenges of our weather. Although single-coloured flowers are always popular also look out for bicolours, double and rosebud types, plus wonderfully scented new varieties too.

Bold blocks of primulas always look striking, but impressive displays can also be created by combining them with other spring bedding, flowering bulbs and foliage plants too. Small pot grown plants are available now in full flower, making them perfect for creating instant displays in any garden, patio or courtyard.

Primulas are one of the most popular wildflowers too. Make your own grassy meadow or plant banks, verges and other natural areas with dainty Primroses (Primula vulgaris) and Cowslips (Primula veris). Keep watered if conditions are dry and these hardy perennials will quickly establish, flowering and setting seed to slowly spread and cover the area with their progeny.

Top tips for growing Primulas

  1. Deadhead regularly to remove faded flowers and keep displays looking their best.
  2. The compost in patio pots can get waterlogged during wet weather, so always put a layer of coarse gravel or similar drainage material in the base of pots before filling with compost.
  3. Raise pots off the ground by standing them on 'feet' to avoid drainage holes in the base of pots getting blocked.
  4. Temporarily move pots to a sheltered position if snow or bad weather is forecast.
  5. Cheeky sparrows and other birds sometimes peck at primroses, damaging their blooms. It's hard to stop these antics, especially with plants growing in borders, but try moving pots closer to the house to scare them away. Some people have noted that blue varieties often avoid their attentions.

April - Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons
April's plant of the month was the rhododendron

Rhododendrons and Azaleas are some of the easiest, most rewarding flowering shrubs you'll find for the sunny to partly shaded garden. The huge clusters of bright, colorful flowers bloom heavily for weeks with virtually no effort from you. Rhododendrons are great for use along foundations, in woodlands, and along garden or lawn borders and are available in all colors. Long known as a staple of Southern gardens, Rhododendrons are actually hardy for all but the coldest regions of the country.

Planting

  1. Plant in October or March/April
  2. Before planting, dig in plenty of neutral or acidic organic matter, like Ericaceous Compost . Avoid simply lining the planting hole; mix well into soil.
  3. Do not plant too deeply - all rhododendrons are surface-rooting and the roots should be just covered.

Watering

  1. Rhododendrons grow best in areas of high rainfall. Even on suitably acid soils they are more difficult to grow successfully in the drier parts of the country.
  2. Tap water, especially in hard water districts, contains too much calcium for rhododendrons, reducing acidity around their roots.
  3. Use rain water for watering rhododendrons, but if rain water runs out, tap water is satisfactory for a month or two in summer.

Feeding

  1. In spring, an application of ericaceous fertiliser, controlled release fertiliser pellets, or in cool, moist conditions is beneficial.

May - Herbs

Herbs
May's plant of the month was herbs

Thyme for herbs!

Create your own culinary herb garden that looks almost too good to eat!

Try planting a selection of tasty herbs valued as much for their ornamental appeal as their flavour. From sage to thyme, rosemary to clipped bay and flowering chives, combine herbs valued for their ornamental beauty to produce long-lasting displays as well as regular pickings for the kitchen.

Low-growing thyme is a herb garden favourite, perfect for making a herb carpet, softening the edges of gravel paths, or filling gaps between paving. With flavoursome foliage in greens, silvers and golds, plus colourful flowers too, they'll look good and provide pickings all year. Try flavouring casseroles, soups and sauces with homemade bouquet garni made from sprigs of thyme and parsley wrapped in a bay leaf.

Alternatively other herbs can be added to suit your culinary creations, such as rosemary, basil, chervil or tarragon. Herbs have so many uses from using fresh in cooking, making pesto, infusing into herb oils and vinegars, or making herb teas.

Whether adding to salads, cooking with new potatoes, or making herb teas, mint is a versatile herb with many uses. Their colours and flavours vary immensely from powerful peppermint and spearmint to those with an underlying taste of apple, citrus, banana, red berries, and many more. And for chocoholics everywhere there's even Chocolate Peppermint with a hint of dark chocolate. Irresistible! (Just remember that mint is one herb that's always best kept contained to prevent it invading your borders, so grow it in a pot or large bottomless bucket.)

Top tips for successful herb gardens

  1. Although many herbs are of Mediterranean origin and relish hot dry conditions, to get the best from herbs in pots most require regular watering to prevent their compost drying out completely. Try standing pots in saucers of water so pots can take up moisture as required.
  2. Add fertiliser to one watering a week to keep plants growing strongly, or mix slow-release fertiliser granules into compost at planting time.
  3. Regular picking some herbs, like basil, encourages side shoots to form, keeping plants bushy and productive.
  4. Pick and dry the leaves of herbs like thyme, sage, bay and many others to store and use when cooking.
  5. The flowers of many herbs can be used to brighten summer salads. Use flowers from chives, basil, coriander and thyme.
  6. Coriander has a habit of bolting or running to seed, but enjoy their flowers as they'll encourage beneficial insects, like hoverflies, into your garden. Let plants set seed, then collect and dry coriander seeds to grind and use when cooking spicy Indian dishes.