*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Winter bloomers

24 January 2014

iStock

STRONG will-power and clement weather are needed to get me working in the garden in January. I enjoy gardening in my mind, viewing the stark framework from indoors and bending it this way and that with new paths, beds, and planting. But for something to nurture, my small collection of house plants comes into its own.

Three tender plants have served me well over the years. The first started as a cutting taken from the parent plant, which grew in the glasshouse at Cannington College, where I first trained as a gardener 20 years ago.

It is a cultivar of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis called "Dorothy Brady". It flowers out on the patio in summer, and continues through autumn, moving into a cool, light, spare bedroom when frosts threaten. The show of red blooms is admittedly drawing to a close now. Next month, I will prune back the woody framework to keep it to a manageable size. That, and summer/autumn feeding with tomato fertiliser, are small payment for such a heart-warming display.

The second pot-plant also spends summer outside, and resides on the kitchen window-sill in the winter. This is Mandevilla "Sundaville Red", and was an impulse buy from Lidl. Festive washing-up gave plenty of opportunities to study the umbrella-shaped buds unfurling into "toy windmills" of a deep royal red.

Third, and the most reliable of winter bloomers, is Streptocarpus "Crystal Ice". Lynne Dibley, of Dibley's Nursery (www.dibleys.com) bred it to flower year-round. This perennial develops a rosette of delicate, lance-shaped leaves, is easily accommodated on a bright window-ledge, and sends out sprays of white flowers with deep violet veins on the lower lobes. But restrict watering to when the surface of the compost begins to feel dry.

If you fancy seeing what common house-plants can aspire to, I recommend that you pop in to the Barbican Conservatory, in London, on a Sunday. The decision to glaze over this section of the iconic development was an inspired afterthought. Now, in the shadow of the wall that forms the fly tower of the theatre, grow towering weeping figs, and Swiss cheese and rubber plants.

There are more unusual species, too. I found a member of the potato family new to me. Solanum betaceum, commonly known as the Tamarillo, or Tree Tomato, comes from the Central Andes, but is cultivated, particularly in New Zealand, for its egg-shaped fruit, which are akin to tomatoes. They have a tough, bitter skin, but the flesh is sweet and tangy - suitable for making preserves and sauces, and also desserts.

Also, don't miss the Arid House, where, alongside the cacti, cymbidium orchids are in full bloom. A great tonic on a cold, grey day.

The Barbican Conservatory is open on a number of Sundays throughout the year, 11 a.m. till 5.30 p.m., and on Bank Holidays, noon till 5.30 p.m. For further information, visit the website www.barbican.org.uk/visitor-information/conservatory.

Forthcoming Events

26 January 2022
Book launch: Entering the Twofold Mystery
Author Erik Varden in conversation with Sarah Coakley.

1 February 2022
Cathedrals and social justice
Book free tickets for this Church Times webinar with Mark Russell, Anne Richards and Adrian Dorber.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)