For the start of 2016, I´d like to introduce you to the plectranthus family. They´re little known, although there are over 350 species worldwide, and they´re incredibly useful plants. So let´s get to know them a little. They take their name from plectron meaning spur and anthos meaning flower; they are closely related to members of the mint family, characterised by their square stems, lipped flowers and aromatic leaves. Many of the family are commonly used as culinary or medicinal herbs – sage, oregano and basil all belong - and some, such as plectranthus edulis, commonly known as the Ethiopian potato, produce edible tubers. Plectranthus are all tender (though generally hardy enough for our Mediterranean climate) originating from warm areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Silver-leafed varieties are for hot sunny positions whilst the greener and lusher looking ones are happier with more shade. Some even have fleshy succulent-type leaves; many are very aromatic. Some you will know and recognise; coleus with those fiery coloured leaves are now reclassified as plectranthus and plectranthus coleoides, or Swedish ivy, is one of our most popular hanging basket plants. We have five species in stock at the moment; all make fine and easy-going garden plants – no green fingers needed. Plectranthus argentatus, silver plectranthus: this stunning beauty is an Australian native and has soft, silvery-white, sumptuous leaves which make for stunning combinations with bright geraniums, purple heliotropes, black ophiopogon grass, burgundy New Zealand flax – the list is endless! The leaves seem to be coated with soft silver velvet, making a magnificent mound; the flower spikes are pale pink/lilac and, for me, are somewhat insignificant compared to the glory of the leaves, but they are very much liked by bees and butterflies. Young plants show their true platinum winning beauty best; they become rather woody with poorer leaves as they grow old, so best to replace them regularly. Plectranthus ecklonii Mona Lavender, lavender spur flower: As daytime hours start to shorten, Mona Lavender comes into her best and will often flower right through autumn, winter and spring as long as conditions aren't too hard. This perennial low shrub is one for partial shade where her mounding growth of deeply green leaves, with intense violet undersides and stems impart a rich dignity. The showy lavender flowers with purple striations are prolifically produced. In the ground the plants will reach approx. 0.75 high x 1m spread in a good humus-rich soil. Water regularly to keep it fresh-looking and turgid and fertilise when not in flower. It´s also a lovely pot plant for a terrace, its colour intensifying when in good bright light. In the ground it will take some sun, though it will probably stay lower growing, especially in strong sunshine. Pinch the tips to encourage bushiness and a well-rounded shape. Mona Lavender was many years in development and is a real South African winner. Plectranthus caninus, (syn. p. neochilis) scaredy-dog plant: A little fleshy-leaved plant, again, from South Africa with rounded and slightly scalloped aromatic leaves, said to smell somewhere between marijuana leaves, fox and skunk! It is noticeable when crushed, though not particularly objectionable, but many animals, insects and reptiles do not like it at all. It is said that it deters not only dogs but deer, snails, snakes, ants and flies too – so a useful planting. The plant is pretty with soft grey-green leaves and lilac-blue flower spikes and forms useful ground cover. It will grow in full sun to part shade, reaching 0.30m high x 1m spread. Prune back hard after flowering to avoid legginess. Plectranthus ornatus, scaredy-cat plant, lobster flower: Very similar to the above with a slightly smaller leaf and blue flowers and said to be even more objectionable to cats! Both species will tolerate very poor garden conditions and are ideal groundcover on dry difficult sites such as banks. Plectranthus tomentosa, Vick's Vapor Rub plant: And, yes, it really does smell just like Vick's with the advantage of being petroleum free! Another South African, the leaves on this one are rounded and fuzzy, blue flower spikes and a menthol aroma that is both relaxing and will keep your nose clear! Birds, bees and butterflies seem to love it but mosquitos do not. Try it in pots around the house. One of the best aspects with all the plectranthus is that they are so easy to grow and range from good-looking to absolutely stunning. Combine this with their useful qualities and you just have to have some in your garden! Keep checking our web page for latest news and exciting new stock arriving at the garden centre. Join our mailing list to keep in constant touch. Shop on-line with us for unusual plants, plug plants, scented roses, bulbs, coloured iris, organic products and my books. Winter Hours, October to May: 10 – 4, closed Sundays & Mondays. Summer Hours, June, July & September: 9 – 2, closed Sundays & Mondays and August. Christmas Hours: We will be closed on 1st, 2nd and 6th January 2016 Viveros Florena, Crtra. Algarrobo/Cómpeta, km 2, Cómpeta, 29754, Málaga Tel:689928201 Web: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. And see us on Facebook – Lorraine Cavanagh's Garden Centre

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