I have received a couple of calls from local folk asking me to come and identify a new monster plant that has appeared in their gardens this year. It turns out to be an old friend, a plant that was very popular borders in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a vigorous annual called Nicandra physalodes (The Shoo Fly Plant) that can easily reach a height of over 4’ in a growing season. It has lovely clear blue flowers with white centres in an open bell; it also has ‘chinese lantern’ like seed capsules that can be dried and used in flower arrangements. It is a member of the Solanaceae family (potatoes and tomatoes) originating from South America and although it is not known to be poisonous, small children should be discouraged from playing with it! The common name is given because it is believed to be effective as a fly repellent but I am not sure if it is really effective. This plant has a habit of appearing suddenly in garden soils and once established you are likely to have it for years due to the many seeds produced by the round capsules that readily split open when ripe. It is often found near bird tables, probably because it may be found in
bird seed mixtures.
This autumn looks like being a more traditional start to the winter season with milder weather – last year we
had some ground frost in September! I cannot remember ever having experienced three hard winters in a row. If climate change is not going to make a big difference to the rhythm of our weather, we should expect a more ‘normal’ winter with less early cold weather. If you have an outside tap now is the time to turn it off inside and leave the tap on to drain any residual water in the pipe to avoid a burst if it does get cold. If you have no means of switching off the water supply inside, then make sure you cover the outside tap in thick layers of insulation. If you have any irrigation equipment or outside hosepipes you should drain them down now. Remember that using lots of salt on hard surfaces can wash off and burn grass and soft plants; it is also very irritating to the paws of
cats and dogs!
If you have root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips, remember that a little frost can release the stored sugars and they will have a sweeter taste but be careful with carrots - heavy frost can cause a lot of damage. If your winter greens (Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli) are tall and developing nicely you might want to stake them firmly to avoid the risk of them being damaged in a strong wind.
Jon Allbutt (Tel:577100 Email: