August 2020: Tropaeolum speciosum and Itea illicifolia
Welcome to a new venue for our ‘plant of the month’ – on the website. We hope many members will contribute to this with pictures and information about their favourite plants. Someone has to start the ball rolling – so here goes!
It’s great to start in August as there is so much to choose from, and we have never covered this month in our winter sessions. I’ve chosen two plants – one is growing up the other, so you get two for the price of one.
The first one is the climber – Tropaeolum speciosum or flame flower. I have grown this a few times over the years and usually it has died out pretty quickly. This particular one I got from the member’s plant sale table at the Paeony Group back in 2016. I planted it on the north side of a large evergreen Osmanthus delavayi, exactly as the books suggest is best. The north side of a yew hedge is a classically recommended spot. It is an annual climber and dies down to an underground tuber in the autumn, to, hopefully, re-appear in the spring. This means it doesn’t mess up the winter outline of whatever evergreen you have chosen to be its host. In the first two years it rewarded me by growing and flowering quite well, so I felt quite smug. It then shrank and last year I couldn’t find anything at all. What is it they say comes after pride? So, imagine my joy when earlier this year I could see shoots of it coming up, not under the Osmanthus, but under the Itea illicifolia planted next to it. And not just a single shoot, but quite a few. Who knows what it will do next year, so I thought I would flaunt it while I could.
The plant it has now decided to grow up is also a splendid August plant, albeit more subtle and certainly more reliable. Itea illicifolia is a great wall plant and mine is tied into some wires on the north side of an ugly garage, which its evergreen, holly-like leaves completely mask. It was planted 4 years before the Tropaeolum and has performed well every year while steadily growing to its current height of around 10 feet. In August it produces an ample veil of long, greenish-yellow flower racemes which hang delightfully. A north wall or similar suits it best, but otherwise I think it’s fairly tolerant. It produces new shoots from the base readily, so you can keep rejuvenating it if some stems get too old and woody. I only hope the Tropaeolum likes it as much as I do!