Flowering plants for autumn and winter

Senecio cruentus (Cineraria). All the varieties grown in pots have been derived from this one species and are superb winter-flowering house plants. The leaves are green on top but ash-coloured underneath, and the daisylike flowers come in a multitude of brilliant colours, some single, others mixed. Most of the varieties grow about a foot high, and if you regularly remove dead flower heads and leaves the plants will remain attractive and bushy. Cool conditions, a light position and food and water while flowering are the main requirements. Discard after flowering.

Camellia. These are essentially hardy evergreen shrubs with shiny, dark green leaves, attractive single or double or striped flowers of white, pink or red, which make good house plants and require little attention. They grow 1-3 feet high in pots and flower through the dull winter months. Position in a light airy place and ensure the soil compost is kept evenly moist or the flower buds may fall. Sponge the leaves at intervals and keep the temperature at about 50°F (10°C). Remove dead heads and prune unwanted shoots after flowering. There are a mass of varieties to choose from and new ones are frequently introduced.

Chrysanthemum. Although these plants can now be produced in flower at any time of year, thanks to special growing techniques, people still regard them as autumn/winter plants. So complex has the formation of the flowers become that a botanical treatise would be required to explain them all. Essentially among pot-grown ‘Mums’, the florist offers pompons (with smallish heads of flowers made of many curved petals), sprays – some times referred to as American sprays (with single, semi-single or double blooms up the stems at intervals), decoratives or ‘mop heads’, (with a mass of petals that form one large ‘ball’ flower per stem), quilled (with very fine petals), and cascades (which produce a mass of daisylike flowers which literally pour over the side of a hanging basket or pot). With the exception of blue and black, Chrysanthemums can be obtained in virtually every shade of colour. Given a moderate temperature, a light position, regular watering, feeding and removal of dead heads, they are one of the best long-lasting flowering plants for the home. Generally discarded after flowering, they can be planted in the garden but will not make good pot plants a second time. So many varieties are grown that it is impossible to keep pace with the names, and one usually buys unnamed plants from shops.

Calluna (Heather or Ling) and Erica (Heaths). Together these are generally referred to as Heather, and in overall appearance and necessary conditions for cultivation there is little variation. Both form shrubby evergreen plants with needlelike leaves in various shades of green or a beautiful golden-yellow copper and autumnal russet. The flowers are small and tubular and, because there are so many varieties, many colours abound, especially purple, pink, red and white – generally singly but sometimes as bi-colours. Few Callunas are successful pot plants; the Ericas adapt more readily to indoor conditions. For autumn and winter flowers try E. gracilis (1-li feet, rosy purple); E. hyemalis (Winter Heath, 1-$- feet, pink-tinted white); E. persoluta (1-3 feet, soft red); and E. carnea (up to l£ feet, in many shades). New varieties are introduced regularly and you may find all sorts in the shops. Callunas and Ericas should be grown in lime-free compost and watered regularly (with rainwater if possible) all year round to keep the compost evenly moist. They do not like over-heated dry rooms and it helps to place their pot in an outer container of moist peat. They rarely flower a second year, so throw away after flowering.

Polyanthus. In appearance Polyanthus are very similar to Primulas and require the same growing conditions indoors. Their brilliant flowers are eye-catching in winter when colour is important and the primroselike leaves are almost swamped. One particularly attractive group are the gold-laced forms with narrow bands of golden-yellow round the edges of the flower petals. Other showy varieties are the Pacific, Festival and Giant Bouquet strains, but usually the plants are grown from mixed seed and unnamed and you just choose your preferred colour and flower form. Put the plant in the garden after flowering or discard.

Begonia. Fibrous rooted Begonias that bloom in spring/early summer have been described earlier. In addition there are several autumn and winter varieties known as Christmas Begonias, which are raised from B. Gloire de Lorraine. Usually the flowers are red, but the blooms of B. glaucophylla are pink and pendulous, ideal for hanging baskets, B. scharfianas are white and B.fuchsioides and B.froebellis are scarlet. Culture and care are identical to what is needed for spring Begonias.

Capsicum (Christmas Pepper). The flowers are insignificant on these shrubby pot plants which are usually grown for their highly coloured spiky red fruits which last for a long period of the winter. A warmish room about 60 °F (15.5°C) – and a light but not draughty position is required for healthy growth. The compost should be kept evenly moist and liquid fertilizer given every 10-14 days. Discard when leaves fall and fruits wither.

Solanum. This is a genus of numerous kinds of plants, most of them hardy enough for outdoor growing. There is one particularly popular for indoor colour in autumn and winter, S. capsicastrum, the Winter Cherry. It has unexciting flowers, but the bright orange-red fruits last for a long time and are very colourful. This small bushy plant should be kept in a coolish atmosphere, free from draughts and gas fumes, but it needs plenty of light. A moist atmosphere can be achieved by spraying the leaves and standing the pot in an outer container of moist peat in summer. After the berries have fallen stand the plant outdoors and cut back the stems to about 2 inches from the base. Sometimes (but unfortunately not always) this will encourage flowers and fruits for a second year.

Scented plants ‘Flowers are not as fragrant as they used to be!’ is a frequent complaint. Here is a selection which can be relied upon to fill a room with scent (a particularly lovely present for a blind person or an invalid). Treat them as you would any other flowering indoor plant.

Perhaps the first name that springs to mind is Jasmine, flower of many an Arabian Night’s tale. Only some varieties are scented, however, so be sure to get the right kind. Jasminum officinale (the common Jasmine) has white flowers which smell particularly sweet in late summer, especially in the evening, and is suitable for indoor growing. Its long stems, covered in neat leaves and flowers, can be trained to grow 30 or 40 feet along a wall or shelves. If you wish to keep the plant more compact, prune the stems before the flowering season, or train them around wire hoops, canes or similar supports. Other fragrant varieties, all white, are J. gracillimum (shorter and winter flowering), /. sambac (shorter, autumn-flowering and convenient since it does not shed its leaves), and J. grandiflorum (another long climber, flowering early in summer). All these are tropical varieties and so need a little warmth. J. officinale and /. polyanthemum will be happy in a cool room, as will the colourful /. stephanense, a climber which has pink flowers in the summer. At the end of winter, Jasmine needs a little pruning and tidying up and additional watering, preferably by spraying the foliage. The hardier varieties benefit from a spell outdoors during the summer.

Nip off shoots which have finished flowering. Cut off green shoots to start new plants: simply put them in pots of sandy compost.

Heliotropium, the Heliotrope, or Cherry Pie, is named after the sun (helios, Greek), which tells you what kind of conditions it likes. Compact and velvety, Heliotropes grow better if they are cut back to 2 inches-3 inches at the end of winter, and if their tops are pinched out when they are 5 inches tall to prevent them from becoming tall and straggly. Cuttings taken in autumn can be used to start new plants. Among the sweetly scented strains are H. marine (packed heads of violet-purple flowers), H. peruvianum and Lemoine’s Giant.

Of all the Gardenia varieties, G. jasminoides is the one usually grown, producing its fragrant waxy, white flowers for weeks on end in summer and growing to a height of 2-6 feet. If you like double blooms, ask for the florida variety. Gardenias need plenty of warmth, water and sunshine. Prune and pinch back shoots to keep the plant shapely. As it ages it will cease to produce flowers.

The botanical name of the Oleander, or Rose-Bay, is Nerium from a Greek word meaning humid, and it needs to be watered and fed freely. It is an evergreen shrub on which magnificent clusters of graceful pink flowers appear early in summer. N. oleander can grow 6-10 feet high, and so is suitable for arrangements in a big tub or urn. Spraying the foliage helps these shrubs. Prune any new shoots back after flowering has finished, and reduce watering until growth starts again. Oleander leaves are extremely poisonous and planting is not advisable where children or pets live.

Hoya carnosa, the Honey Plant, is an evergreen climber which can grow 10-12 feet long, bearing clusters of waxy, sweetly scented, pink and white flowers in the summer. It need moder- ate warmth, a sunny position and occasional thinning. But do not remove the bloom-stalks as a second crop of flowers will appear on them. Another evergreen, the Citrus sinensis or Sweet Orange Tree, makes a decorative room plant – tall, with fragrant white blossom and, later on, little oranges. Do not confuse it with other orange-fruited indoor plants whose flowers lack scent. It may need quite a big tub, and it is advisable to prune it during the winter, and water and spray it well during summer. Genista (Broom) is a familiar shrub outdoors: almost leafless, and smothered with small golden flowers. Varieties with a pleasing scent, like G. cinerea with its mass of summer blooms, are usually best grown indoors. Other fragrant varieties are G. ephedroides with small single flowers at the end of its stems in early summer; and G. mono-sperma with milky-white blooms. They need very little warmth, light pruning after the flowering has finished, and normal watering.

Stephanotis, a climber, has abundant clusters of waxy, white flowers. It is sometimes called Madagascar Jasmine because the fragrance is similar to true Jasmine. The flowers appear sporadically throughout the year and are often used by florists in wedding bouquets. Stephanotis likes a warm room and, once growth starts, it needs proper training up strings or a frame-work of sticks, or it will twine itself into a tangle. Unwanted shoots should be cut off promptly, and the whole plant pruned drastically in early spring. Give fertilizer when watering and, if any pests appear, use a systemic insecticide. New plants can be produced from cuttings.

Exacum affine is a small plant well worth seeking out not only for its fragrance but because of the abundance of its neat and cheerful little flowers, bluish-lilac with yellow centres which continue for many months of the year. Although Exacums need shade and moisture, they should never be allowed to get too damp or too cold. The world of bulbs opens up a whole new range of perfumed pleasure, from the heady sweetness of some Lilies, Hyacinths and Lilies-ofthe-Valley through to the more delicate fragrance of many Narcissi, Begonias and Mus-cari ambrosiacum, one of the Grape Hyacinths.

Of course, foliage as well as flowers can give a room a pleasant smell. Two herbs with decorative as well as aromatic leaves are Thyme and Rosemary, well worth including in a group of pot plants. Thyme remains a small neat shrub, rarely growing higher than one foot and easy to shape. T. citriodorus has lemon-scented foliage and pink or lilac flowers and there are many other attractive strains with variegated grey or golden foliage contrasting with flowers of white, pink, red, mauve or purple. Rosemarinus, too, comes in many varieties, of which the low-growing R. lavandulaceus is probably most suitable indoors. Its profuse blue flowers continue to bloom over a long period, and its leaves are particularly aromatic.

Several Pelargoniums (commonly called Geraniums), as well as true Geraniums, have scented leaves – some reminiscent of nutmeg, roses, apples, verbena, peppermint or orange. Among the most popular are the varieties which have a pronounced smell of lemons: these include P. crispum, P. variegatum, P. graveolens Mabel Grey and P. fulgidum Scarlet Unique. These varieties also produce flowers as an additional bonus and several have variegated leaves.

It would not be difficult, from the above selection alone, to fill a room with fragrance as well as colour. Then, through the window – if the sill has space for a plant trough – might waft the scents of still more sweet-smelling flowers, such as Stocks, clove-scented Pinks, Tobacco Plants, dwarf Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums and Honeysuckle, growing up from a carpet of Pennyroyal or miniature Mint.

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