Brighten up your garden with a splash of colour in the form of a hibiscus plant. Reporter SOPHIE BROWNSON discovers its appeal..

WITH the special feature of attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, the hibiscus plant is a popular large shrub or small tree known for its ability to produce huge, colourful, trumpet-shaped flowers over a long season.

The plant is famed for show-stopping, trumpet-shaped, hibiscus flowers, which can be anything from 4-18cm across, with gardeners around the world valuing the plant which can have white, orange, pink, red, purple and yellow flowers.

The National Gardeners Association said that stand-out varieties of Hibiscus syriacus (the most commonly grown ornamental species) include ‘Woodbridge’, with its large, deep cerise-coloured flowers, ‘Dorothy Crane’ which bears white flowers with cerise hearts, ‘Diana’ with its pure white flowers and ‘Blue Bird’ which produces mauve/purple flowers.

Hibiscus are deciduous shrubs with dark green leaves; the plants can grow to 15 feet tall in frost-free areas.

They can be planted singly or grown as a hedge plant; they can also be pruned into a single-stemmed small tree.

To have success with hibiscus you do need plenty of sun, so think twice if your garden is shaded (although it is a fully hardy plant).

They benefit from an annual feed with rose fertilizer and flower better if pruned hard in early spring – this stimulates development of side shoots and encourages prolific flowering.

The National Gardening Association said that the hibiscus can be planted all year round spacing plants three to six feet apart.

They recommend gardeners dig a hole only as deep as the root ball and two to three times as wide. Hibiscus plants require at least one inch of rain (or equivalent watering) each week as they like to be constantly moist, but not wet.

Hibiscus plants can be fed twice a month during the growing season and need to be pruned as necessary to control plant size and cut back errant branches.

They are sensitive to cold and should be protected when temperatures dip; container-grown plants should be brought indoors.

Interesting and easy to grow, hibiscus flower petals have a range of medicinal uses because of their high flavonoid, or anthocyanin, content. Tea made by infusing hibiscus flowers is said to ease painful or excessive menstruation and even prevent miscarriage. Herbalists claim that it can also reduce feverish illnesses and promote hair growth. There is also evidence to suggest that hibiscus tea can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, with resulting benefits for a healthy heart.

Traditionally the hibiscus flowers are also an important constituent of in the traditional Pacific garland or lei which is offered in greeting to visitors.

The Japanese also offer the hibiscus, as part of their welcome, as a representation of the hospitality offered to esteemed guests.

Meanwhile in Tahiti and Hawaii, the hibiscus flower is worn behind the left ear by women who are married or in a relationship, behind the right by those seeking a partner or behind both by women in a relationship but prefer their lovers to their husbands