Cape primroses, or streptocarpus, have to be the hardest-working houseplant ever. They normally start flowering around late May or early June, and keep going all summer long. They show little sign of slowing down in autumn and are often still producing a few blooms at Christmas!
And such an impressively long display takes hardly any effort from you. Even ‘houseplant killers’ I know have been successful with them. Their long, slightly furry leaves look a bit like ordinary garden primroses’, although they’re more slender. The plants form a rosette of these leaves, and it’s from the base of the leaves that the flower spikes are produced.
All you need to do is keep them watered and give them an occasional feed. I don’t like mine to sit in soggy compost, so I let their pots dry out to the point where the plants look as if they’re just about to start wilting, and then give them a good water.
In spring and summer I add a few drops of BabyBio houseplant food to the watering can to keep the leaves green and encourage more flowers.
Flower heads get snipped off at the base when they’ve faded and any yellowing leaves are removed, but other than that, very little needs doing. During winter, they rest, need less water and can look a bit scruffy as more leaves die back, but they soon perk up again when light and warmth increase. In spring, I sometimes re-pot plants whose roots have filled their container.
There’s a big range, from velvety purples and deep pinks, to white, bi-colours and petals with patterns. Two beautiful new ones were released by Dibleys at Chelsea last month: ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ with purple-veined star-like flowers and ‘Menai’, a rich shade of plum red (call 01978 790677; www.dibleys.com).
My favourite is a variety called ‘Harlequin’, with mauve upper petals and pale yellow lower ones. Most garden centres have a good selection in their houseplant areas, so don’t let a houseplant fear put you off giving these plants a go – they’re worth it!
MUST-BUY PLANT… Lavender
A reliable, stalwart English lavender to choose for bushes of aromatic silver-grey leaves, topped with scented flowers.
Lavender ‘Van Gogh’
A fancy French cousin with lime green tufty ‘ears’ at the top of each soft blue flower. www.downderry-nursery.co.uk
- Garden News is on sale every Tuesday or subscribe and try your first 4 issues for just £1 – Call 0844 848 8872 or visit www.greatmagazines.co.uk/YFIG and quote YFIG. T&Cs apply.
There's more gardening in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.