Delightful gift that is blooming fabulous

Sometimes when a plant comes your way unexpectedly, most likely as a gift, it can be one of two things, something that you feel obliged to keep but do not like for you know that the donor will ask about and probably expect to see it annually or it can be a real stunner.

This happened to me when a friend who was leaving Norfolk for pastures further afield and did not want to take his collection of large plants with him included in this collection was a plant called Alyogyne huegelii 'Mood Indigo' which I am exceedingly glad to say really is a fabulous plant.

Alyogyne are members of the mallow family closely related to Hibiscus and they come from areas of Australia where they grow in the wild in scrubby places. Since I have had this rather stunning but, frost-tender shrub it has doubled in size and now measures an impressive 1.5 by 1.5 metres growing in a large flower pot.

On looking this plant up in the Royal Horticultural Society's encyclopaedia of Garden Plants I see that it is said to flower from spring to autumn. This is not how my plant has behaved, mine flowers throughout the winter in cool temperatures of around 13 degrees centigrade under glass. When all danger of frost had passed I stood the plant out in my kitchen courtyard where it continued to bloom until late July. It then took a sabbatical until late September when suddenly I noticed a proliferation of new flower buds.

As I write today the plant is in glorious full bloom again covered with lilac-mauve, funnel-shaped, flowers, whose petals have a satiny sheen, each of which is an impressive 10cm (4in) across so you can see that a plant in full bloom is rather fantastic.

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However, should you wish to acquire this plant you should be aware that there are some inferior forms around. I speak from experience for having Alyogyne 'Mood Indigo' do so well for me I decided that I should get some more for growing in our summer pots. This I did but, when the plants arrived they looked decidedly inferior and they were just plain old Alyogyne huegelii, not a named variety!

I put them into our propagation house in intensive care and was soon glad to see some signs of recovery however, when the first flowers opened I was disappointed to see that they were inferior in every way to 'Mood Indigo', the flowers were miserably small and much paler in colour, quite wan in fact, needless to say they went onto the compost heap forthwith!

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I then decided to take cuttings from my original 'Mood Indigo' which rooted with great success; in fact I had a 100 per cent success rate so I decided that it might be rather good to train some of these cuttings into standards to use in the summer pots in the Dutch Garden.

You must of heard of the saying, 'The best laid plans of mice and men', well I was in the greenhouse with Ian when he told me that he had nipped the tops out of all my cuttings to promote bushy growth thus rendering this particular batch of cuttings useless for making into my intended standards! Alas, there was nothing for it but to take more cuttings which Ian did immediately, I think that he felt a little guilty, so hopefully we are on track to have yet more standards of this rather sensational plant although these might be two years in the making.

The reason for this is that I prefer my standards to have a decent stem length, possibly as much as two metres from the bottom of the plant to the top. However, the plants that Ian pinched out will really come into their own for planting in the Diamond Jubilee Walled Garden which opens to our visitors in 2012 where they will look fabulous during the summer and I might be able to pot some, provided they are not too large, for bringing into the house to flower throughout the winter, there is another named variety of Alyogyne that is good called 'Santa Cruz'.

For most people this coming week will be one of the busiest of the year, especially if friends and family are coming to stay for next Saturday is Christmas Eve. This year I hope to be in the position of being able to take a count of the flowers that are blooming in the garden here on Christmas Day.

Last year this was impossible because we had already experienced a period of cold, frosty weather that had ruined any flowers that were around, this started on November 20th and although it thwarted my efforts of picking flowers, I did manage to find and extremely interesting and jolly bunch of evergreens both plain and variegated to decorate the house.

Although it is nice to have flowers in the house at all times, if you cannot manage that then bunches of different coloured foliage is equally satisfying I think, just keep this as varied as possible and to add variety to your bunch, include some seed heads but remember that these are a precious source of food to birds and other garden occupants.

This leads me to explore the question, 'What do you buy that really difficult person who appears to have everything that they need?'

My answer to that question is easy - don't! Get them something that they can use that might be helpful to garden wildlife, bird feeders (those that are squirrel-proof of course), bird boxes, bee hotels, a hedgehog house, a bird table or bath. A book explaining the importance of garden wildlife, even some wild bird seed for the recipient of your gift will get very great pleasure out of sharing such gifts with the inhabitants of their own garden and it will also make them feel important!

•This article was first published on December 17, 2011.

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