Pentas are flowering workhorses of the garden
GARDENERS get excited about "new'' plants, but many of us also have a soft spot for the old-fashioned, hard-working plants: those that have been around forever and continue to perform well, even if they don't get as much attention as the new arrivals.
One old-fashioned favourite that is enjoying a bit of a resurgence is pentas. Growing into a shrub anywhere from about 50-80cm tall, pentas have dark green, pleated leaves, and bear numerous heads containing dozens of small, star-shaped flowers in shades of white, pinks, mauves and red. The nectar-rich flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies, so you will have the added bonus of enjoying watching these visitors to your garden. The flowers are also good for cutting, lasting a week or more in a vase.
Pentas flower almost year round, and thrive in full sun or part shade. A thoroughly neglected pentas may look a bit shabby but it will come back beautifully after a hard prune.
Look out for a series called Starcluster, which has huge flowers on tall, sturdy stems. They are fabulous in pots or in garden beds, and are available in red, lavender, white and rose. They are well branched and compact in habit, and have been bred to perform well in hot summer conditions.
Another old-fashioned beauty enjoying a new lease on life is angelonia. These small perennials are grown for the pretty spikes of flowers held in abundance above glossy soft, mid-green foliage. In a palette of white, pinks, blues and mauves, they look very delicate but in fact are remarkably tough. They form neat, tidy mounds about 30-60cm tall, and are lovely in pots and garden beds. Native bees love the flowers. A sunny to partly shaded position is best.
Prune angelonias pretty hard during winter to produce lovely fresh new growth. I have some plants in their third season looking great despite the hot, dry conditions.
Both pentas and angelonia are readily available in 125mm or 140mm pots as well as in advanced seedling packs, so that makes them a really affordable option for mass planting. Pentas are also easy to grow from cuttings, and, although I haven't tried myself, I imagine angelonia might be too.
These workhorses have minimal needs. They are not too particular about soil conditions, so just incorporate organic matter when you plant, or use a premium potting mix if you are growing them in containers. Mulching, adequate watering during dry times, an occasional feed with a fertiliser suitable for flowering plants, and removing the spent flowers will keep them looking great.