Cheery African daisy is starting to flower now
There is something especially cheering about the daisy-flower shape. The flowers open to the sun, tracking the sun's progress across the sky. Daisy-flowered plants are sun lovers, the petals focusing the sun's rays on the flower centre to encourage pollinating insects to visit.
The African daisy will not even open its flowers on a cold dull day and closes in mid-afternoon if the weather is not warm enough for pollinators to fly. But this is no great harm, it simply means that each flower lasts longer and daisies are among the longest-lasting flowers.
The African daisy, or osteospermum, is from South Africa and usually seen in a white or pale purple pink form, normally darker on the reverse of the petals.
But there are yellow forms too, these appearing in recent years. It forms a low-spreading clump that grows wider each year and can reach a couple of metres across.
Its stems take root as they go and this helps to keep it from getting too straggly. It is weed-resistant and when well established keeps weeds down very well. There is a first flush of flowers in early summer and then a succession of fewer flowers as the buds form and open, but it is not unusual to see a scattering of flowers on the plants in late autumn.
Most garden centres sell this plant, notably the white and purple kinds, but the yellows too. Being a native to a sunny, warm climate, this plant likes a spot in the sunshine, although it will take partial shade, as long as it gets a few hours of sunshine, but it will not flower as well.
The soil should be fertile and well-drained, though not too dry. On very dry soil the plant tends to be stemmy and doesn't flower well, but it can tolerate spells of dry weather. It is ideal for a low bank, the front of mixed borders, path edges and the base of a wall. It is too vigorous for a rock garden and would swamp most smaller plants. The trailing kinds are not ideal adjoining a lawn as they tend to grow out onto the grass and get in the way of mowing. Some kinds are more upright and they are good at the front of flower beds.
A dry, grassy or rocky bank is ideal because it will compete well with light grass and slowly spread its area. Plants grown on a bank are less likely to be damaged by frost too. It is gets too broad, it can be trimmed back after the first flush of flowers and new growth will provide late flowers. It is best not to cut it back in winter because leaving the top growth in place helps to protect the lower stems from frost. Take a few cuttings in summer as insurance against losses in a cold winter.