GROWING FLAMBOYANT PLANTS

Many of the houseplants grown in the home, trapped in small pots and kept in captivity, are never really able to display their full glory. In the wild they may reach magnificent proportions, but in our homes never produce the glorious flowers they do when in the wild. Some of the more flamboyant and colourful plants, although native to the sub-tropics, have become extremely popular for growing outdoors in those countries with a reasonably mild climate..Many of these plants also thrive in our homes, and most do not demand high temperatures. They grow especially well in modern homes where there are large picture windows. If the heat loss can be reduced by double glazing, they grow even better. Such plants also thrive in public buildings, offices and shops where there is space and the temperature is congenial most of the year. These plants have long been prized for decoration in greenhouses and conservatories as well as home extensions. Most can be kept reasonably compact by suitable culture and judicious pruning.

BOUGAINVILLEA

One of the easiest, and by no means the least colourful, is bouga’mvillea. Unfortunately it is of little interest when not in flower. Moreover, what appears to be the flowers are three brightly-coloured bracts – the true, central flower is insignificant. However, these bracts remain brilliant for several months, summer to autumn, and are borne in great profusion, so creating a most striking sight. The plants literally glow with colour – rich red, purple and orange shades predominating. There are about 16 species of bougainvil-lea, most of them scrambling climbers of shrubby character and originating from South America. There are a number of delightful and attractive hybrids. A common name sometimes applied to these plants is paper flower. Undoubtedly, the best bougainvillea for room cultivation is B. glabra and its cultivars. These can easily be kept from invading their surroundings, and have the great advantage that they will give lots of colour as a small and young plant.

By suitable training, they can be kept compact and bushy and dissuaded from rambling. Its species has bracts in various shades of dazzling red and purple. The fine hybrid B. x buttiaiia is interesting, because it was found growing in a Colombian priest’s garden by a Mrs. R. V. Butt early this century, and is presumably of natural origin. It is now sold as ‘Mrs. Butt’, and bears very large crimson to magenta bracts. Several variants – probably sports or mutants – have arisen and are also most desirable acquisitions.

Young plants can be grown in 15-20cm (6-8in) pots, John Innes potting compost No. 2 suiting them very well. If you wish to restrict development, snip off the tips of the stems when they reach 15cm (6in) long in their early stages. This encourages the free production of more shoots to give a bushy habit. These shoots can then be allowed to grow as much as space permits. If a plant with a taller habit is wanted, provide a cane for support to the desired height. Usually. about 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) high is advisable. Allow one or more stems to grow up the support, securing where necessary. Side-shoots on the main stem, or stems, should then be cut back to about 15cm (6in) from the main shoots. A position in good light is absolutely vital for bract production. Keep the plants well watered in summer, spraying them regularly. In autumn, when flowering is over, reduce watering and rest the plants. In winter, give only sufficient water to prevent the compost drying out completely. In March when growth begins again, watering can be gradually resumed.

Although it has to be done for convenience, bougainvilleas do not like being continuously cut back. In conservatories they are best allowed as much freedom as possible. Train them on wires or on a wall trellis. Propagation can be effected from cuttings taken in summer, but they need about21 deg C (70 deg F) for rooting. The seed is easy to germinate, although it is a gamble whether a plant will be produced up to the standard of the named hybrids. However, seed saved from fine forms is well worth trying, and is certainly a cheap way of obtaining plants.

STEPHANOTIS

Another climber to which the name flamboyant can be applied is Stephanotis floribunda, popularly called the wax flower because of the texture of the flowers. It is also called the Madagascar jasmine because of the exquisite and powerful scent of the flowers. This species frequently appears in florists’ shops as a houseplant. and is then usually in flower and trained around and over a wire loop. The leaves are evergreen, bluntly spear-shaped, thick. green and shiny, making the plant usefully decorative the year round. The flowers are tubular, with flared petals at the tip, giving a starry effect. They are borne in clusters, and are waxy white. These flowers are borne very freely from May to October on well-grown specimens. and their fragrance alone gives an

enormous amount of pleasure. One small plant fills the home with scent. Although when bought this plant is relatively small, it is able to reach at least 3m (10ft) in height, climbing by means of its twining stems. If height and space allow, it is a good idea carefully to disentangle the stems from the wire loop and pot into a larger pot equipped with stout bamboo canes. This species also makes a superb conservatory plant, but its temperature requirement is a minimum of about L0 deg C (50 deg F) in winter. and preferably a few degrees higher. The plant grows extremely well in the modern peat-based potting composts. and in summer should be given moderate humidity and slight shade. It needs to be freely watered. By keeping the plants in relatively small pots, their growth and development will

be slowed down, which is helpful when limited for space. However, if this is done the plants must be fed properly during their growing period, using a balanced houseplant fertilizer. Restriction of the pot’s size also tends to increase the freedom of flowering. In winter, reduce watering to maintain only moist conditions for the roots. If kept on the dry side the plants may survive temperatures much lower than the minimum recommended. They will probably lose leaves and become tatty-looking. but resume growth with the return of warmer conditions in spring. However, too much chill for too long is very risky and the plants may die.

OLEANDER

Oleander, sometimes called rose bay, and botanically Neiium oleander, has many romantic associations. It is freely grown around the picturesque beauty spots of Mediterranean regions, as well as in the sub-tropics and the Orient. In this country it may survive outdoors in very sheltered parts of the South and West, and on the Isles of Scilly. Although it is a shrub that will reach a considerable size, it can be flowered easily in small pots. Seedlings, for example, will flower in the third year from sowing, in 18cm (7in) pols.

The plant is extremely easy to grow and has pleasing, slightly shiny spear-shaped evergreen foliage, as well as a wonderful show of flowers from summer to autumn.

There are a number of types bearing large clusters of flowers in rich red to purplish shades, pink, and white. The blossom may be single or double. There is also a cultivar with smaller but very tight double flowers, and a form with cream-variegated foliage and pink dowers. Anyone with a spacious conservatory. little more than frost-free in winter, could form a most attractive collectoti of these plants. Neriums are also extremely useful for cool porches, entrance halls or foyers. provided the light is good. The plant grows well in any of the usual potting composts. It often grows naturally in very moist soils, and should be watered well from spring to autumn. In winter, very little water is needed, usually just enough to prevent drying out. If the temperature is very low. watering should be even more sparing. Where space is limited the development of neriums must be checked by drastic cutting back after flowering. New shoots will arise from the base. It is important to remove the shoots that grow from the bases of the flower trusses promptly. If this is not done the plants soon become large, straggly and ungainly. Even with constant cutting back and pruning. moving on to a 25cm (10in) pot or small tub is usually necessary. It is a good idea to raise new plants from time to time, to replace old, large ones. Cuttings taken in summer usually root easily even if stood in a jar of water. Sometimes, a flower will produce an elongated seed pod, which will ultimately burst open to reveal the seeds with silky hairs attached to aid distribution by the wind.

STREUTZIA

There is one plant which can be singled out as having created world-wide fascination. It is the bird of paradise flower [StrcHizia reginae) which, once seen, is

never forgotten. It is a native of South Africa and belongs to the banana family. The derivation of the name Strelitzia is of interest. The plant was named in honour of Princess Charlotte of Mecklenbcrg-Strelitz (1744-1818). who later became Queen to George HI of England. The dedication was made by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820).

Its spectacular appearance cannot fail to give the impression that it must have demanding cultural requirements, and jungle-like preferences. Indeed, in many gardening books it was – and still is -described as a stove plant. This means only suited to a very warm greenhouse. In fact, this is a complete nonsense. In the Isles of Scilly the strelitzia is hardy. It is also surprising to discover that it is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. Moreover, it will delight you with its amazing flowers at Christmas time, as well as in summer.

The plant is clump-forming, growing as rather fan-shaped groups of foliage. The leaves are large, stout, bluntly spear-shaped, evergreen, and borne on long. stout stems spear-fashion. The flower, formed at the top of a strong, long stem, is designed by nature to be pollinated by a tiny honey bird. This bird has bright colouring similar to the flower. The bird alights on the blue stigma, transferring another flower’s pollen from its breast. To obtain nectar from the base, the bird moves down the stigma and when bending to drink collects pollen on its breast feathers from the conveniently

positioned anthers. So the process is repeated from flower to flower. The entire flower is shaped like a bird’s head, hence its common name. The plumage consists of showy orange sepals, this colour contrasting strikingly with the bright blue stigmas. Both sepals and stigmas rise up out of a sheath-like structure which is held almost at a right angle to the supporting stem, thus creating even more the striking appearance of a bird’s head.

Well-grown plants produce two or more flowers twice a year at the times already stated, and this assumes they are growing in 25cm (10in) pots. The flowers are long lasting and can be cut for floral decoration.

Young strelitzia plants are now sold by a number of nurseries. When received. they should be given pots just large enough to take the roots comfortably. Any of the usual potting composts can be used.

Plants will not flower until they have reached maturity. From seed this may take from about three to five years. Before flowering, the plants will have to be large enough to demand 25cm (10inJ pots. Flowering may be encouraged by keeping the plants slightly pot bound. but feeding must not be neglected during summer. If plants tend to be reluctant to flower, a little superphosphate incorporated with the upper layers of compost in spring may help. Once flowering begins. it will usually be repeated every year afterwards,

The plants will eventually need dividing. This is best done in early spring. It may be quite a mammoth operation and the plant is best eut through with a very sharp knife, since this does less damage to the very fleshy roots than attempts to pull them apart, which may cause bruising and lead to rotting.

TIBOU CHINA

Because of its exquisite flowers, like giant purple-blue pansies with satin-like petals, borne from summer to autumn. Tibouchina semidecandra has long been a highly-prized conservatory plant, and has now been introduced as a house-plant. In a modern home, with large picture-windows, it will grow quite well. It is still widely listed and known by this name, but should be correctly called T. urvillesna. Although native to Brazil, it is easy to grow with a minimum temperature of about 7-10 deg C (45-50 deg F). In those countries with a climate mild enough outdoors, it forms a handsome. large shrub inspiring the popular name glory bush. As well as a profusion of glorious flowers, about 10cm (4in) across, the velvety dark-green leaves may give reddish tints in autumn where conditions are cool. The plant is then only semi-evergreen. As a houseplant. tibouchina can be conveniently accommodated in 18cm (7in) pots, using any of the modern potting composts, preferably a rich one such as John limes potting compost No. 3. Give one or more bamboo canes as necessary for support, and secure the stems as they grow. If the plant is a young one bought in spring, it may need stopping to encourage several shoots which subsequently should be (rained up canes. If possible, give young plants a minimum temperature of 10 deg C (50 deg F). Plants grown in conservatories or garden rooms are best trained up a wall trellis and given either large pots or small tubs, or planted in a border. During summer, give very slight shade and plenty of water. In winter, keep only very slightly moist. Proper pruning is important if the plants are to be kept within bounds. If in small pots, cut back drastically in February by reducing the main stems by about two-thirds and lateral shoots to two pairs of buds or leaves. Plants given a free run in conservatories need only be cut back to a convenient size, although the lateral shoots should be reduced to two pairs of buds or leaves, as for smaller pot plants.

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