By Mark Hoskins
Nursery Supervisor at Thorngrove
Holidays overseas are a bit difficult this year, but we can always bring a touch of the exotic into our gardens.
Many tropical and subtropical plants are available to gardeners. They often have bold, dramatic foliage, as well as glorious flowers, and some are hardier than you might think.
We’ve all seen palm trees swaying over tropical beaches, but there is a palm that will happily grow in the UK, the Chusan Fan Palm (Tracycarpus fortunei). It has the classic fan- shaped palm leaves, but will take pretty much anything a Winter can throw at it, and looks great in a large container on the patio.
‘Another plant that can bring lush foliage to your garden, but remain evergreen and give year-round structure and colour is Fatsia japonica. They have palmate leaves up to a foot across, deep green, or variegated with white in the lovely variety ‘Spider’s Web’.
The New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax) has broad strappy evergreen leaves, often in shades of bronze, orange, yellow and red, and will produce spikes of deep red flowers. Very exotic but very hardy.
Another New Zealander is the Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis) with narrow evergreen leaves, often striped in yellow, or suffused with red and brown, and eventually making a small, multi-stemmed tree.
Less hardy but truly spectacular are the Cannas. They have large oval leaves, often tinged bronze or red, with the leaf veins sometimes picked out in yellow or orange.
The leaves are thin and the sunlight shines through them, making them glow. They also have wonderful Iris-like flowers in shades of red, orange, pink and white. They’re not hardy enough to come through the winter but produce large tubers which can be dried off and kept through the winter, just like Dahlias.
Some of the biggest and most exotic flowers of any plants we can grow in this country come from Hibiscus (above. The flowers can be the size of dinner plates, in red, pink or white and often have dark blotches in the centre of the flower.
As an added bonus, some varieties such as ‘Pink Passion’ and ‘Red Wine’, have large leaves mottled in deep red. They come from the southern states of the US where they are known as the Swamp Mallow. They like a damp soil, and should come through most winters given a good thick mulch to protect them.
If you want to try something truly tropical, why not grow a banana plant. You won’t be picking any bunches of bananas, but you will get the biggest leaves of any plant in the UK, six feet or more long, and in the variety Musa Maurelii mottled and striped in deep red.
They need loads of water and will need to be kept frost free over the winter, but are well worth the effort. Good luck and happy gardening.
Common Mead Ln, Gillingham SP8 4RE. 01747 822242