I enjoyed some time on the south coast this week. As I walked down the avenues of the quaint coastal villages the beautiful bushes clothed in flower caught my eye. I identified them as hibiscus bushes, and promptly decided that I would come back home and pick some stems from my hibiscus flower this weekend and write up about them in my weekly column. However, as I came back to my rainy northern county I found my hibiscus far from flowering, they are still struggling to show the buds of the flowers! As I like to write about a flower which is in season all over the country, I changed my plan to write about a very similar flower that I call the poor man’s hibiscus –it is one of its close relatives with similar flowers – The lavatera. This bush grows with ease all over the country in all weathers and being now in flower all over the country it deserves its place as the flower of the week!
Botanical Name: Lavatera Common Name: Mallow
The older text books mainly concentrate on the annual species known as Annual Mallow, they grow to around a metre high and are planted as hardy annuals from seed in the spring or autumn. The bush lavatera has only become a common plant over the last few decades, but it has proved itself as a very rewarding shrub. This shrubby plant can make a very impressive display with loads of trumpet shaped flowers along its stems right through the summer, but only if pruned and dead headed correctly. Many a shrub will look tired by now with hardly any flowers- this is because the owner has neglected it and has not bothered to prune it, consequently, after the first flowers at the beginning of summer the plant will concentrate on changing every flower into an unattractive seed head, and very few more flower stalks will emerge. To avoid this and keep your lavatera blooming beautiful throughout the summer, when the last flower stalk begins to fade the flower stalk must be removed and another will follow in quick succession. When pruning, aim at pruning the stems at different heights which will ensure a more rounded bush. Most varieties can reach 2m but it is not necessary to leave it to grow to this height. An advisable height for a tidy bush is to prune to around a metre high. Recently I found a dwarf variety for sale by the name of ‘Tree Mallow lavatera arborea tortoise’, which is definitely worth considering if you are short of space. An added advantage of lavatera is that the leaves are semi evergreen and the semi wooded stems will usually last through an average winter.
Lavatera – Buying and planting guide.
The plant can be bought as a potted plant at any time of the year, and as long as it is planted in a place that receives a few hours sunshine each day it should do well in any common garden soil. The colours vary from white or pink to deep red, with many varieties beginning as one colour and changing colour over time. As always, check the label for size and colour before buying. They can also be easily be propagated from a friend’s bush – plant a semi ripe twig in a cold frame in late summer or early autumn. Another option is to remove a rooted sucker and pot it up.
Cutting Guide : Most people would not class the mallow as a cut flower, but I would advise you to try it. Cut a few stems, remove the lower leaves and any flowers which have already died and place them in a tall vase. The higher flowers should open in the house as you remove the lower faded ones.
Next Week: Soft fruit picking
Have an enjoyable gardening week!