Mona Lavender and her Relatives
Judy Ziemba, State Horticulture Chm.
Many years ago when visiting LuthyBotanical Garden in Peoria, I noticed a plant that
caught my eye. I asked about its name but little was known. It had arrived either in a
donation or in a mixed collection without a tag. Of course, it was eventually identified
and displayed but before that happened, it was one of those plants that I was always
trying to identify with a horticultural name. Someone said the common name they
knew was Cuban oregano. Common names are comfortable like nicknames, but they
do little when you want to find, study or show horticulture. Looking at the square
stems, it was easy to see it was related to the mint family and that wasn't hard to
believe since it had a strong fragrance...not necessarily pleasant to some.
Fast forward and many relatives of this plant have come on my plant radar including
the most recent called Mona Lavender. As the plant trade continues to introduce new
varieties, Mona Lavender has shown up in garden centers in the spring. It was
developed from a project at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Capetown, S. Africa
and from thousands of cuttings, plants were chosen for foliage color, sturdiness and
long flowering habits. One of its strengths is that it does bloom well in the shade. It
also can tolerate hot, dry locations, though it may stop blooming a bit, but will perk up
with water and cooler temperatures and bloom boldly in the autumn.. It is not a true
lavender but it shares the Mint family heritage and planted in groups it appears as a
sea of blue.
The family to which both of these plants belong is the Lamiaceae family (Mint) and the
genus Plectranthus (Pliktran thus). Most varieties of the Plectranthus genus are not hardy in Illinois but serve as wonderful houseplants and enthusiastic annuals in our
gardens and containers. They are easy to grow and propagate by taking cuttings.
The Cuban oregano which started this article has many common names including
Spanish thyme, Mexican mint, Indian borage and Mexican thyme, but its botanical
name isPlectranthus amboinicus.
One of the most common Plectranthus is Swedish Ivy (P. australis). It has a trailing
habit with bright round green or variegated leaves and small scalloped edges. It will
produce a white bloom but only if the conditions are right and it is usually grown for
the foliage in bright or filtered light.
Another interesting variety is Plectranthus tomentosa, or Vick's Plant. It is a tender
perennial plant with leaves that smell like mentholatum or Vick's Vapor Rub when
crushed. The light green, succulent leaves are fuzzy and grow up to 3 inches wide.
The plants will vine but can be pinched to keep compact. They may bloom in early
spring and again in the fall with purple flowers. They prefer a bright window indoors
but do well outside in partial shade with good drainage. Indoors care needs to be
taken to allow the soil to dry before watering to avoid root rot. Some suggest to water
just enough to keep the leaves from shriveling.
Some other named varieties include Plectranthus 'Silver Shield' and the more
compact P. 'Silver Crest'. There is also one called P. 'ZuluWonder' with deep purple
coloring. Most of these plants come from the Southern Hemisphere and are considered
tender perennials with flavor and fragrance. Most originate from South andEast
Africa but have been cultivated and even naturalized in tropical locations to be used for
flavoring and medicine. All make quite a statement in containers and all make
interesting houseplants. They are tough enough to tolerate heat, low humidity and
weak light indoors and most do well outside in hot, humid Midwestern summers.
THE PERFECT PERENNIAL (Almost)
In my early days of gardening, my mother gave me a division of my grandmother's "lemon lily". It was one of the most fragrant blooms in my first perennial garden area next to the garage. It required very little care and reappeared each spring whether I was paying attention or chasing a toddler. Eventually we moved to the country and I was delighted to find a large bed of double orange daylilies that appeared that first year. Soon, I discovered most people referred to them as "ditch lilies" and they did grace the ditches in Peoria County without concern for highway maintenance or drought. Soon I was enthralled with the garden catalog pictures of hemerocallis with large blooms, bright colors and easy care. In addition to the trees & shrubs I planted in the early seventies, daylilies and peonies have been the easiest, hardiest and longest-lived members of my garden.
Hemerocallis comes from the Greek meaning "beauty" and "day" describing the single bloom that lasts one day. To compensate the gardener, the daylily sends up scapes (leafless stalk) with multiple buds so each day brings a new flower. If well grown, the plant develops multiple scapes to deliver many flowers. Daylilies adapt to any well-drained soil and full sun for lighter colors and afternoon shade to preserve color in the deep tones. Once established, water and fertilizer requirements are minimal and they increase each year with more flowers and more divisions to share with friends.
Daylilies are made up of fleshy tubers or slender fibrous roots. They are designed to be warehouses of water and nutrients as well as sturdy anchors. Leaves are multiple strap-like green fans, which attach to the roots at the crown which is a solid white core between them. The flower stalk or scape arises from the crown to carry the buds. It is nearly leafless to distinguish it from garden lilies, which flower on the leafy stem. Occasionally some varieties develop a tiny plant or proliferation on the scape and this can be rooted as a new plant. Hybrids have been developed with an additional set of chromosomes and are known as diploids. Triploids and Tetraploids have three and four sets of chromosomes respectively. Diploids are easier to hybridize and spider flower forms and double flowers are easier to produce. Tetraploids are usually larger flowered with more intense colors on stronger scapes. Considering that the original species have yellow, orange or rusty red blooms, it is amazing that daylilies are available in all colors except pure blue, white and black. Work is ongoing and you will see near-white and very dark hybrids. Besides the colors, daylilies have been bred with variations called blends, polychromes, bitones, bicolors. The throat or whole flower may have markings called being eyed, banded, halo-ed, watermarked, tipped, dotted or dusted. Petal and sepal shapes and their placement accounts for more variation from circular, triangular, star-shaped, ruffled, double, recurved or spider-like groupings in small, medium or large blooms with or without ruffled edges.
Other plant characteristics to consider include the height of the scapes, the branch position, blooming habit and bloom sequence of the flowers. Varieties differ in bloom time so choosing varieties carefully allows bloom from April until autumn and we have not even mentioned the reblooming varieties like bright yellow Stella de Oro and the reblooming traits of others. Foliage varies by size and colors but may not be as important to the viewer as the flowers. Hardiness has never been a problem as most are quite hardy in Illinois and if obtained locally, it is assured.
Originating in Asia, hybridizers have developed thousands of named hemerocallis cultivars since Dr. Stout began making crosses of daylily species at the New York Botanical Gardens in the early 20th Century. In his honor, the Stout Award is given to varieties that perform well nationally. New varieties are evaluated each year in each region of the United States and Canada from input of growers. In Illinois, we are in Region 2 of the American Hemerocallis Society and the top rated hybrids for us in 2009 are Ruby Spider, Primal Scream, All American Chief, 'Bela Lugosi' and 'Heavenly Angel Ice'.
The bloom color, plant and bloom sizes, bloom habit and branch and bud count available is enough to overwhelm you. Relax and visit a botanical garden, flower show or local garden soon, especially from June through July when these perennials are in bloom. Make a list of plants that please you and your color scheme and if cost is an issue, exchange with friends and use plant sales to find wonderful varieties. The pink collection I purchased in the early 1980's may not be the newest but they are persistent in any weather AND… my plot of ditch lilies
(H. fulva 'Flore pleno') reappear each year in an area where someone dumped a load of large stones so we do not have to mow there and dull the mower blades. Plant a daylily and enjoy and share it for years.
GARDENING WITH THE FAIRIES
All cultures have fairies and their legends and histories. From Europe and Asia, the Orient and Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic, Africa and South America, from a cottage on the Emerald Isle to a Native American wigwam, stories of the wee folk abound. Throughout the pages of literature we may read of enchanting tales of Shakespeare, Spenser, Barrie, and Hans Christian Andersen to name but a few.
Andersen describes the creation of fairyland: when Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden it sank into the ground, but kept its warm sunshine, mild air and all of its charms. The queen of the fairies lives there…. She is young and beautiful. In her palace, where the walls are the colors of the brightest tulips in the sunlight, the ceiling is one great shining flower.
It seems that Fairy Gardens fall largely into two categories: Fairy-originated and People-fashioned, the former being the natural phenomenon type where one comes upon a scene in a woodland or meadow and “feels” the magic sensation that fairies are present or have been recently. Whether it is the position of a leaf or twig or an “almost” sighting, we just know the wee folk were here! The second group has a further qualification of two different types: 1) Those gardens designed by mortals to attract fairies and 2) those patches purposely set aside or left untouched for fairies to tend and occupy. In both instances it is the role of the fairies to oversee, guard and direct activities in the garden. I like to think that I am gardening with the fairies. All that is needed to gain acceptance by the fairies is to have a child-like faith in good will and good relationships with others, an open mind and a respect for nature. If we are fair, not greedy or destructive; show our willingness to share and show our appreciation of their efforts, we are rewarded with enchantment.
The wee folk are responsible for bloom time, grooming, and smoothing petals and leaves. Keeping the lady bugs, bees and praying mantises organized, motivating the earth worms managing and guiding all the plants and keeping the general balance of the garden are their chief occupations. Otherwise the fairies dance all night in the moonlight and sleep all day in the flowers. Occasionally a fairy will assume the form of a bird or butterfly during the day or at least appear in that fashion. When you do see a fairy, respect their privacy and look away. Never be rude or stare.
The perfect site for a fairy garden may be on the crest of a hill, in a sunny meadow, at the base of a tree, or wherever you believe fairies would be most pleased. Remembering their love of privacy and pride, the place should be protected, nearly secret, subtle and “natural”. The folk would never be at home with anything gaudy or garish. They need a mossy smooth area to hold their dances and water (or a mirror) to reflect the moonlight. Some charming fairy gardens are located in containers with miniature accessories, and patios made from ceramic tiles, small fences added and of course appropriate plants.
Thyme is the chief plant for fairy gardens. The Victorians set aside a patch of time for the fairies. Shakespeare wrote of the “wild thyme” in his fairy story Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you observe a patch of thyme you can understand this. There is always a lot of activity of bees and other creatures around thyme. Lady’s Mantle, Alchemilla, is also necessary because you must drink the dew from its leaves to be transported to Fairyland. Foxglove Digitalis is the fairies’ flower. Other small plants work well, especially in a container. In larger fairy gardens there is room for ‘The Fairy’ rose and plants with names of fairies such as ‘Tinkerbelle’ and ‘Raspberry Pixie’ and ‘Blonde Elf’, ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’, ……the list is endless. And so is the magic that will enchant you when you work in a fairy garden.
Listen and observe and you may find that the fairies tell you that they have babies by planting mullein for blankets, or more “bells” of one kind or another for music. If you hear Fairy Music you may become enchanted and forever changed. And never, ever step inside a fairy ring for inside the ring time stands still and mortals caught in the ring may not get out. Do you think this is what happened to Rip van Winkle?
I wish you the joy of fairies in your garden, hours of enchantment and magic. Forever Fairies….