The Choysia or Mexican orange blossom, (family Rutaceae) is one of my long time favourite plants and I suspect popular around the world for its easy growth habits and stunning floral display in the spring, early summer period. It will even flower a second time over the late summer if it is happy with its position in the garden. The adaptability of the plant means it can be grown in pots and containers as well as garden situations that range from full sun to part shade.
They are natives of Mexico and the environs of the southern US, hence the name Mexican Orange Blossom. The evergreen leaves are a glossy green and pretty in their own right even having a smell if the leaf is broken, a smell admittedly you will either love or hate! The five leafed white flowers resemble stars and have a wonderful orange blossom perfume. The growth habit of this small shrub tends to be rounded and dense but does depend on where and how it is grown. It will reach on occasion, heights up to 3 meters, spreading a similar distance!
My plant is one I have grown from a semi-ripe cutting that I tried growing for fun! While generally it requires a light soil and a warm and sheltered position, my own grows very satisfactorily in a heavy soil and shaded place along side the house. It is protected from frosts in this situation, as they can get frost burn. They recover well by shoots emerging from the base of the damaged plant. Choysia ternata tolerates trimming back if it outgrows its position. Choysia make suitable cut flowers or for the lovely foliage in floral arrangements. The fragrance of the flowers pervades the room when used this way.
Choysia Ternata Sundance is a yellow leaved variety and a cheerful addition to a garden particularly where there is a dark or hedge background. Keep in mind when planning your garden this is an evergreen shrub; use it for hedges and garden screening. A useful plant grows in acidic soils as well as in seaside environments. Appreciate the flowers perfume by growing it on patios and decks in containers or close to walkways. You do need to be aware that container plants may suffer from a root disorder that will affect their health and growth. As they are easily grown, it is best just to throw the offending plant out, and avoid planting another in the same pot. Because it is evergreen, it can be used near swimming pools or ponds to soften the area, being a reasonably tidy plant!_
One of the delights of cooking is the ability to add your own homegrown ingredients. Nothing more so if you think you need green fingers to do so. Growing seeds for eating and being able to harvest them with in a week or a few weeks is within the grasp of anyone with a windowsill! The modern need for fresh
eating has made this possible.
Watercress is one of the easy grown herbs or salad plants that can be grown this way. We pick this from a nearby flowing stream if the livestock have not beaten us to it! It grows very quickly and easily and in the wrong place a weed. The peppery flavours of the leaves are particularly nice in sandwiches. Watercress is a relative of the cabbage or Brassica family with genetic links to radish and mustard.
While the cress we pick grows big, in some cases over a metre in length, we never pick it if its flowering as the taste is too bitter. The beauty of growing your own on a windowsill is any one can do it as seeds will grow in pots that just stand in water. Cut it at the size you want. Watercress is reputed to have many
benefits including anti cancer properties, as well as containing calcium, iodine, and folic acid so it is well worth including in the daily diet if possible
Mustard is another salad leaf growing quickly and easily at any time of the year. Mustard has been around for thousands of years and mentioned in the Bible. Grow mustard seeds in a seed raising mix. Spread the seed out and cover with the soil mix and water gently. Keep seeds moist and the seedlings will normally appear within a week depending on conditions and warmth, earlier or later. They can be cut at any size but leaving the seedlings to grow for three or four weeks until they reach 10-15 cm high, will provide a better return for your efforts and bigger sandwiches! Sow mustard seeds successively at two to three week intervals so you have an ongoing supply.
Rocket lettuce or herbs are another quickly grown green. Like both Mustard and Watercress has a peppery taste. It is best to eat just a few weeks from sowing as it grows so fast the leaves take on a bitter taste if they grow old. Grow it quickly with plenty of water, and sow successively for a continuing supply.Enjoy your homegrown greens, they are worth it!
Tulips are some of the more popular bulbs in the world. Reading the book “The Black Tulip” by Alexander Dumas as a child created an interest for life in these bulbs. Introduced to Europe from Turkey over 400 years ago, Holland soon became home to them. The Dutch became synonymous with the Tulip, and became
renowned for their abilities in their breeding and cross breeding. The storyline of the book was to breed a black tulip. There was a time in Holland when tulip bulbs were worth a good deal of money and where fortunes were made and lost on a bulb! Similar to our current share markets where people can be carried away paying a lot of money on the current favourite stocks. Nothing has changed! There are now over a hundred different species of tulips, with the resulting hybrids running into thousands of varieties.
Plant Tulip bulbs in mid to late autumn. It is fun leafing through catalogues and nurseries choosing what to plant. Preorder bulbs if you require something a little different. Choose large and unblemished bulbs
without black spots, mould or growths on them. As tulips are cold weather bulbs, they can be encouraged in warmer areas by placing the bulbs in the refrigerator for up to 6-8 weeks by making them think winter! I generally keep them in the crisper area of the refrigerator out of the way of day-to-day food and fruit.
Like most bulbs, Tulips prefer a well-drained soil, whether it is in a garden, container, or rock gardens, include some fine gravel or sand when preparing the soil to enhance the drainage. Good preparation of the soil with well-rotted compost and a complete fertilizer will ensure a good base for a stunning display of flowers in the future. The depth of planting bulbs is generally taken to be twice that of their size, lengthways. Mulch protects the bulbs once they are planted. I tend to plant and forget, delighting in seeing them pop up as they start to flower. Some people will label the bulbs so they know where to find their bulbs. Tulips varieties today will tolerate some shade but their preference is for a sunny spot in the garden. They come in many colours and mixtures of color but the black colour has not been reached that I am aware of yet. There are some very deep reds that on first glance you think “wow, a black tulip”.
The depths that tulips are planted allow some of the smaller bulbs to be planted over the top of them to make the most of the area. The tulips are not fond of an acid soil, so if it is likely that your soil is likely to be acidic add some lime prior to planting. It is best not to leave bedding tulips in the ground after the leaves have died down, they are better lifted and stored in a cool dry place until the next season. There are varieties that may be left safely in the soil, ask your nurseryman for those suitable for your area.
In my experience, from growing tulips in warmer areas, a better display is achieved by buying in new bulbs each year. After flowering deadhead the flowers, but leave the leaves to die naturally ensuring the bulb is ready for next year’s flowers. Tall tulip varieties are likely to be affected by strong winds, so if this is a problem in your area, ensure they are sheltered, or alternatively grow some of the smaller
varieties. Enjoy this beautiful flower as a cut flower in a vase. Watch them open and close depending on the time of the day and be enchanted