Light up with lanterns

Though not com­monly seen the abu­tilon is a pro­lific flow­erer

Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - with Ma­ree Cur­ran Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­

THERE are some re­ally lovely plants that are easy and re­ward­ing to grow, and yet are not well known. One of th­ese is the abu­tilon, com­monly known as Chi­nese lanterns thanks to the brightly coloured flow­ers that hang from the branches.

They must be close to the per­fect shrub – not too big (about two to three me­tres), easy to care for, a good range of colours, non-stop flow­er­ing – what more could you want?

They are mostly simple, sin­gle forms re­sem­bling a small­ish hang­ing hi­bis­cus flower, but there are some dou­bles.

The abu­tilons that we grow are hy­brids, most likely orig­i­nat­ing from tropic and sub-trop­i­cal Asia and Amer­ica. They will tol­er­ate heat and hu­mid­ity, and nor will they fret if they are sub­jected to the oc­ca­sional frost.

Use them as a back­ground plant­ing in a trop­i­cal or cot­tage-style gar­den, or as a fea­ture shrub. I’ve seen abu­tilons form an ef­fec­tive screen hid­ing a fence in a semi-shaded po­si­tion in a trop­i­cal gar­den. Be­cause they are nat­u­rally a bit open in their growth habit, you would need to prune a cou­ple of times a year to main­tain the tight, bushy growth needed for this sit­u­a­tion.

The ideal po­si­tion for an abu­tilon is one that is fairly shel­tered in full sun to semi-shade in fer­tile, well-drained soil which is rich in or­ganic mat­ter. They need to be kept well-wa­tered dur­ing dry times, and ap­pre­ci­ate some pro­tec­tion from the hot af­ter­noon sun in sum­mer. Keep the plants well mulched, and feed a cou­ple of times a year with a bal­anced fer­tiliser. If they get stressed, usu­ally from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hot, dry con­di­tions, they may be at­tacked by scale in­sects. Treat that us­ing Eco-Oil oil, and do what you can to im­prove the grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Abu­tilons are drop-dead gor­geous if you grow them as a stan­dard. Choose a plant with a sin­gle tall, straight cen­tral stem and re­move all the lower branches. Keep prun­ing the top to cre­ate a won­der­ful ball that will be smoth­ered in flow­ers.

Every year in my gar­den cen­tre we have some stan­dards which are cre­ated by plait­ing the stems of three dif­fer­ent coloured abu­tilons to­gether. All three colours flower at the same time, so the ef­fect is a spec­tac­u­lar riot of red, yel­low and or­ange lanterns. With a to­tal height of about 1.8–2m, th­ese make a great state­ment in a large pot, ide­ally in a semi-shaded po­si­tion.

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