Add passion to your garden
Passion flower has had a good year because the mixture of sunshine and showers suited it. Of course, it flowers best in a greenhouse where the temperature is that bit higher, and it is kept watered, but it can flower well outdoors too and even form yellow fruits. The passion flower species that is commonly grown in this country is the blue passion flower.
The flowers are very pretty, and up to 10 centimetres across. The outer bowl of white petals makes a good background for a crown of delicate filaments - white at the base and tipped with purple and a purple ring at the base of the flowers. The fertile parts of the flower are yellow and bright green.
Blue passion flower produces its flowers in summer and into autumn, usually running out of warm weather about now. In a good summer, it sets yellow-orange fruits, egg-shaped and the size of a plum. The fruit has a tough skin and red seeds inside and, although edible, it is rather dry and insipid, unlike its tropical cousins.
The plant is a vigorous climber with tendrils that wrap around any kind of support, including the plant's own established stems, to clamber upwards. In its natural habitat, passion flower grows over any shrubs or trees that it can reach.
It is a strong climber, generating a heavy mass of foliage that would smother smaller plants.
If it is grown outdoors, it is best planted on a warm wall to give it some heat and shelter.
Although it is not hardy, in mild areas the blue passion flower comes through winter largely unscathed. If the frost is hard, it can kill the shoots above ground - these tend to be somewhat soft. Although the plant can appear dead, it almost always sprouts back from below soil level. In a greenhouse, the top of the plant will normally survive. But it is vigorous and can become too large. It can be cut back in spring to allow re-growth.
Passion flower likes good fertile soil, well-drained and with plenty of humus, but very rich soil and too much rich feeding with nitrogen can produce lots of leaves and few flowers. Give a high potash feed to encourage flowers and do not over-water the plant in a greenhouse. Damp down the foliage occasionally to deter red spider mites and watch for green flies too.
My crab apples are small and scabby
Q: My Red Sentinel crab apple tree has had a problem with its leaves since June. It has very few fruits and they are small and scabby. Its blossom was fine in the spring. I did not summer prune it as I was afraid of doing more damage. Any ideas? M Kennedy, Kildare
A: It sounds like it has apple scab disease which comes with damp conditions. It is not possible or effective to spray. Try applying some high-potash fertiliser, such as sulphate of potash or tree and shrubs fertiliser, in spring to harden the tissue against fungal disease. Not all apple varieties get apple scab.