The Exotic Garden Blog

A subtropical garden in a temperate climate that defies being in a city.

Stand back, I need a machete!

Posted on | July 4, 2014 | No Comments

Early moring Agapanthus...

Early morning Agapanthus...

Stand back, I need a machete! Growth in the garden, especially after last week’s torrential rains (here in Norfolk at least) is now going ballistic! Many plants that were only short things this time last year are now becoming ridiculously big! The growth on a Vitis coignetiae (Crimson Glory Vine) is astounding this year – this fast growing vine, thanks to it being so darn mild over the last six months or so now has more growth than it usually does by the end of the season, hence the front of the house here at the Exotic Garden has virtual been lost to its vigorous growth, and will look fabulous in the autumn when it lives up to its common name and turns the most fiery of orangey-reds!

Jessie Damond having fun underneath Vitis coignetiae (Crimson Glory Vine) in early November last year...

Jessie Damond having fun underneath Vitis coignetiae (Crimson Glory Vine) in early November last year...

Thinking of rampant growth – last year I planted a group seven Salvia ‘Amistad’ purchased from a local garden centre here in Norfolk. They produced good sized plants around three feet tall by late summer, but thanks to an extremely mild winter and spring cutting them back was not necessary and now they are a truly Mediterranean six feet plus tall. They have now melded into a huge fuzzy bush of deliciously scented green foliage, each stem topped with masses of dark purple flowers held in a lovely black calyx from June right through to first frost!  Salvia ‘Amistad’ is a resent introduction discovered by Argentine salvia expert Rolando Uria in a garden bed.  Salvia ‘Amistad’ first made its way to England via plantsman Rod Richards who popularized it and now it’s generally available here and in the US and deservedly so as it gives such impact to the garden – bees and hoverfly’s adore it!

Salvia Amistad

Salvia 'Amistad'

With over 900 species of salvia and countless hybrids, there are far too many to mention here other than a few of my personal favourites. Salvias have been growing rapidly in popularity in recent years and deservedly so as many bloom over a long period and do well in hot dry situations often providing fabulous fragrance, bloom habit and colour.0

Salvia 'Amistad'

Salvia 'Amistad'

Probably the most well-known Salvia is the summer bedding plant Salvia splendens, more commonly known as ‘Salvia’ in garden centres. This bright red perennial is traditionally used as an annual here in the UK as ‘en masse’ planting in parks and gardens throughout the UK over recent decades. The most traditional colour for these flashy plants is brilliant scarlet, but this showy salvia is now available at your local garden centre in a whole range of colours; purple, orange, lavender, yellow and white can now be found. Personally though I prefer the more woody sort like Salvia x microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ and oh boy what a wonderful Salvia this is! Growing to around 1m (3ft) tall, this delightful Salvia produces small green leaves, and unique two-tone flowers of scarlet red and white that can occasionally be solid red, flowering all though the summer without hesitation!

Salvia x microphylla 'Hot Lips'

Salvia x microphylla 'Hot Lips'

I have a bank of them growing against a flint wall where they enjoy being backed by our glorious summer sun.

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ happily growing against a south-west facing wall at the Exotic Garden…

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ happily growing against a south-west facing wall at the Exotic Garden…

Another Salvia that came through the mild winter and is now in full bloom (amazingly early) is Salvia gauranitica ‘Black & Blue’ – a glorious perennial that is quite simply breath-taking with its strong architectural presence at around 1.5m (5ft) tall topped with heads of sumptuous purple-blue flowers, held at their bases by near-black calyces – hence the name ‘Black and Blue’.

In general all salvias prefer full-sun and moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Most have to be treated as tender perennials, sometimes surviving mild winters like our last one where they remained evergreen, though normally they would be cut down by the first hard frost, hence it is advisable to take cuttings in late summer just in case!

If you like really dark flowers Salvia discolor is a must-have plant! It has white, woolly-covered, square stems up to a height and spreads of 51cm (20in). The mid-green leaves are densely white and woolly on the underside, less above.  From high summer it has handsome racemes of deepest intense indigo-black flowers, with contrasting green calyces and silvery bracts. The leaves and stems are very sticky to the touch and highly scented. I find this salvia is best grown as a container plant in a hot sunny position, where you can admire its beauty with great pleasure.

Salvia involucrata is one of my favourites growing to around 1.5m (5ft) tall, bearing dense, terminal racemes of exquisite rosy-magenta flowers, up to 5cm (2in) long from late summer to mid-autumn. ‘Bethellii’ is a real stunner, with slightly larger velvety leaves and showy, bright sugary-pink, furry flowers and is hard to about -5C (23F) and will re-grow from the roots if cut down by frost.

Salvia leucantha is a must for a warm corner of the garden though not particularly hardy. It also makes a great container plant.  This Salvia is an evergreen sub-shrub with very white woolly stems, especially when young, growing to a height of 60-100cm (24-40in) with handsome narrow lance-shaped; mid-green leaves which are thickly felted on the underneath. The terminal racemes of white or purple flowers extend from bell-shaped, velvety, purplish-lavender-blue calyces, from late summer to autumn. ‘Midnight’ is a stunning form with dark velvety purple flowers and calyces.0

If you want tall plants, Salvia confertiflora is a large one growing to around 2m (7ft) tall here at the Exotic Garden’. It is just about to flower and when it does, thin terminal spikes up to 30cm (12in) long, of incredibly furry orangey- brownish-red flowers appear that will continue right through to autumn.

The other well-known form of salvia is the common culinary herb Sage – Salvia officinalis which also comes in many forms. There are many species and cultivars that have become more popular in recent years that fit in well with the Exotic/Mediterranean style garden as they just don’t stop flowering, so why not give these stunning woody perennials space in your garden and relax into a wonderful summer of flowers with deliciously scented foliage.

For those of you that can’t visit the Exotic Garden on Sunday afternoons – from this weekend we are now open on Saturday afternoons as well for the rest of the summer season. If you live abroad, well, just follow us on Facebook as I post new photographs every few days – enjoy :-)

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The Exotic Garden is open every Saturday and Sunday from 1.00 to 5pm

Open at other times by appointment Tel: 01603 623167

Entrance £5.00 – children free. Afternoon teas available

Website: www.exoticgarden.com

Facebook (The Exotic Garden)

The entrance to The Exotic Garden can be found at the left side of the Alan Boswell Insurance building 126 Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1UL

What a fantastic start to summer – oh, it just started raining!

Posted on | June 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

The frount of the house at the Exotic Garden in late June!

The front of the house at the Exotic Garden in late June!

What a fantastic start to summer here at the Exotic Garden. We have only been open for a few weeks and the number of visitors to the garden is considerably up on resent years thanks to such a gloriously mild start to the first half of the year!

When all the visitors have gone, the evening watering begins and as there are so many container plants in the garden, this can easily take an hour and a half or longer depending on my mood and how much I’m enjoying looking at the plants I’m watering, really soaking the pots as they dry out so quickly at this time of year especially if it’s been windy. Some plants like standard Fuchsias drink water like mad when in full flower hence it’s very important to keep them all well watered. If they are allowed to dry out for any period of time, the leaves will soon go crispy taking weeks to grow new foliage, hence diligence is essential in warm weather to keeping all the container plants (unless they are cacti and succulent) in peak condition. Thinking of Fuchsias – many are now in full-flush, quickly producing fruits as soon as the flowers have gone over, therefore it is essential to keep them dead-headed (removing all dying and withered flowers) to promote more blooms throughout the summer season.

Two 15 year old standard Fuchsias…

Two 15 year old standard Fuchsias…

I love these long evenings, especially this year as many of our gardens are so colourful and verdant compared to resent years where they had to struggle against cold nights and decidedly chilly days, but this year it’s all change with comparatively balmy weather for us in Norfolk at least! As day slowly turns into evening, we enter the twilight zone which seems to last for hours at this glorious time of year. I like to sit (invariably with my cats in tow) at the top of the garden in the blue tiled loggia which overlooks the xerophytic (drought tolerant) garden. The many raised beds are filled with various cacti and succulents with quite a few different types of Aeonium, all thriving on neglect, but thanks to the spring rains it is particularly green this year.

Massed Aeoniums in the xerophytic garden…

Massed Aeoniums in the xerophytic garden…

I let dozens of foxgloves flower, giving an alluring softness to the hard edges of the Agaves and other spiky things. They are now near the end of their flowering cycle but still have a few flowers left on their towering spikes. Another purple self-sower in this garden, flowering to profusion at the moment is Linaria purpurea (toadflax) which during the daytime is perpetually busy with butterflies and bees – an absolute nectar Mecca all summer! Many gardeners may consider it as a weed like foxgloves, but I love to see its lofty three foot plus stems with their greyish green linear leaves topped with myriads of tiny purple flowers.

Linaria purpurea

Linaria purpurea

It is easy to grow and flowers prolifically in a sunny spot, thus is an undemanding perennial that is wonderful for naturalised planting schemes gravel gardens or herbaceous borders where it takes drought conditions in its stride! Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’ is a lovely form with pleasing pink blooms that really stand out at dusk like beacons in the diminishing light. At this time of day, bats appear as if on cue, ready for their evening’s insect feast darting between the tree canopies above.

Self sown Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’  in the bamboo garden...

Self sown Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’ in the bamboo garden...

The high sun of the day brings much activity and, as all gardeners know, there’s always something to do in the garden – rarely do I sit down during the day! Planting still has to be done in those forgotten corners, plants have to be tied up and the gravel always has to be raked and flowers regularly removed to keep up a constant display.

Earlier this year I visited Madeira in February and again in May (my 15th visit to this wonderful island). I stayed both times at the Quinta Splendida Wellness & Botanical Garden and as its name suggests, really is a sub-tropical paradise of luxuriant growth. One family of plants that struck me apart from all the enormous (in your face) exotics was the en-masse use of Pelargoniums and their trailing ivy-leaved forms.

Massed planting of Ivey leaved Pelargoniums at Quinta Splendida Wellness & Botanical Garden in Madeira.

Massed planting of Ivey leaved Pelargoniums at Quinta Splendida Wellness & Botanical Garden in Madeira.

I dislike seeing large beds full of the things as you get here in parks, which looks rather old fashioned and rather block-like, but used tumbling over walls and large containers where they can form thickets of colour in  shades from intense red though pinks and oranges to white. I have to admit for the last 30 or so years I have considered these easily obtainable plants as rather naff, bordering on Kitsch, but seeing them used in this way soaking up the hot sun changed my mind, so this year I have used quite a few around the front of the house, where they can get baked during the day continuing to flower however hot it gets, then in the evening glow with their intense colour.  It’s not too late to plant Pelargoniums and now is a good time as a few of the larger nurseries are now selling them off at half price!

Pelargoniums either side of the front door steps at the Exotic Garden.

Pelargoniums either side of the front door steps at the Exotic Garden.

If you like strong scent, there is nothing like the fragrance you can get when the foliage of scented Pelargoniums are gently rubbed between your fingers, such as Pelargonium ‘Chocolate Mint’, a favourite of mine with dramatic deep green foliage with chocolate zonal markings and a glorious peppermint scent – a must for planting near your front door so you can just brush against it to get a delicious waft of scent and of course the hotter it gets the more they smell.

Pelargonium 'Chocolate Mint'

Pelargonium 'Chocolate Mint'

Another plant I must recommend for extreme scent is Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora). It’s not much of a looker, but never-the-less pleasing with small, narrow bright green leaves topped in high summer with sprays of tiny lilac or white flowers, but its real gift is its very strong Lemon scent which is almost overpowering! It can also be used for making a refreshing tea as can another garden herb Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

For extreme scent, nothing can beat Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora).

For extreme scent, nothing can beat Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora).

There are so many wonderful plants, shrubs and trees coming into flower right now that it is almost overwhelming – but that is what we gardeners are best at, enjoying all the plants and flowers that surround us during our glorious British summer – enjoy!

Squeezey – one of my Devon Rex cats getting ready to do some weeding!

Squeezey – one of my Devon Rex cats getting ready to do some weeding!

The Exotic Garden is open every Sunday from 1.00 to 5pm unit mid-October and Saturdays in July an August

Open at other times by appointment Tel: 01603 623167

Entrance £5.00 – children free. Afternoon teas available

Website: www.exoticgarden.com

The entrance to The Exotic Garden can be found at the left side of the Alan Boswell Insurance building 126 Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1UL

Gosh – it’s the middle of the year already!

Posted on | June 20, 2014 | 4 Comments

Thunbergia alata and other glorious summer flowers...

Thunbergia alata and other glorious summer flowers...

The summer solstice is upon us at 11.51am precisely on Sat June 21st- British Summer time!

For those who are not sure what solstice means, it’s an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). It means we are now entering the second half of the year with all the glories of summer to come. Although the sun is at its strongest at the moment and can feel quite fierce on a blue sky day the air temperatures can still be chilly, never-the-less, the leaves on some of the more tender plants can get scorched by the sun at this time of year though soon acclimatize producing more sun tolerant growth. The ambient temperature tends to be warmer into July and August, so let’s hope the summer is kind to us and lives up to our expectations of a glorious summer. Well – one can be ever hopeful!

When I first moved my house and garden in 1982 there were dozens of very old rose bushes which were well past their sell by date and besides I didn’t think roses fitted in with the exotic style I had envisaged, so, they were summarily removed! Surprisingly though, and as a homage to all those roses that had graced the garden over the previous decades, I did plant one rose against the east side of the house – a climbing rose named ‘New Dawn’. It’s a bit of a straggly thing, but this year it has produced the most abundant blooms of highly scented pale pink double flowers.

Thinking of hot sun, visitors to the garden often ask me why my tree ferns Dicksonia antarctica are so green and lush. Most people don’t realize that the whole trunk which can be anything for 30cm-3.7m (1-12ft) tall (and more in the wild) is in fact an erect rhizome forming a trunk which prefers moisture at all times. The ‘trunk’ of this fern is merely the decaying remains of earlier growth of the plant and forms a medium through which the roots grow. If you desire huge fronds the trunk must be kept moist otherwise, year-on-year, they will become smaller and smaller. I have seen many like this in recent years struggling to survive and I find this rather sad as they are expensive items to purchase and slow growing, so do give them the attention they deserve and you will be rewarded with fine and glorious specimens for decades to come producing around one inch of growth a year and six foot fronds – wow!

Dicksonia Antarctica in all their glory...

Dicksonia Antarctica in all their glory...

In Norfolk with its rather dry atmosphere it’s difficult to keep tree fern trunks moist especially if they are grown in a sunny position, so a few years ago we put in an irrigation system consisting of black spaghetti thin piping (available form most larger garden centers) pined to the sides of all the gardens tree ferns discreetly hidden behind each one, with drippers placed in the crowns. In dry weather this is turned on for an hour or so to moisten the trunks as much as possible as the fronds in hot weather will transpire water exceedingly fast and become rather dishevelled and lose their turgidity.

Hardiness wise, Dicksonia antarctica took a low of -11C (12.2F) here at the Exotic Garden in the cold winter a few years ago with a good wodge of straw placed in each crown and although they did lose their fronds, all came back again flushing with vibrant new leaves in the spring.

Dicksonia Antarctica unfuling fronds...

Dicksonia Antarctica unfuling fronds...

There are a few other forms occasionally available from more specialist nurseries such as Dicksonia squarrosa and fibrosa which are smaller in stature and less hardy, not taking much below -5C (23F) for short periods. These are best grown as cool conservatory ferns that can be brought out into a cool shady part of the garden for the summer months.

There are several other tree ferns such as the Cynthia’s worth growing – again, unless you are blessed with a mild climate, they are best grown as conservatory plants summered outdoors, Cyathea cooperii and Cyathea medullaris more commonly called the Black tree fern is a stunning fern, though it is unfortunately only hardy to around 0C (32F), so best grown as a rather large container plant as I do!

When I moved into my house way back in 1982, apart from the large amount of borage, brambles and couch grass, there were several old clumps of the common Male fern Dryopteris filix-mas and some of those ancient clumps are still in the garden to this day, not only surviving but thriving! Along with bracken this is the commonest British fern, found in most wooded areas in Norfolk. This delightful and tough native fern forms a large clump of lance-shaped, mid-green fronds to a height of 1-1.2m (3-4ft) by 1m (3.3in) with green midribs.

Common Male fern Dryopteris filix-mas...

Common Male fern Dryopteris filix-mas...

Another native fern often found in our gardens and one of my favourites is the Hart’s Tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium. This enchanting fern has short creeping rhizomes and grows to a height of 45-70cm (18-28in) with irregular shuttlecock-like crowns of strap-like leathery, glossy, bright green fronds, often with wavy margins on short stems. There are several other forms worth trying like ‘Crispum’ with more wavy edges to the frond and ‘Cristatum’ another superb fern, with much more divided fronds, each ending in a spreading crest.

 Hart's Tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium...

Hart's Tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium...

There are dozens of garden worthy ferns, but only a little space here, so I will mention only one more as it is a favourite with visitors to the garden, the Japanese painted fern Athyrium niponicum var. pictum – a truly stunning little fern and one of the showiest electrifying shady areas. It has fronds in a soft shade of metallic silver-grey with hints of red and blue, while var. pictum ‘Ursula’s Red,’ has superb red-pink and silver fronds developing a blackish-red central stripe as they mature. An absolute must for brightening up those shady corners of the garden.

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

Time has run out again, so I wish you a good weekend in your garden enjoying the long evenings and of course a happy Summer solstice to you all…

New Woodwardia radicans fronds...

New Woodwardia radicans fronds...

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The Exotic Garden is open every Sunday from 1.00 to 5pm unit mid-October

Open at other times by appointment Tel: 01603 623167

Entrance £5.00 – children free. Afternoon teas available

Website: www.exoticgarden.com

Facebook (The Exotic Garden)

The entrance to The Exotic Garden can be found at the left side of the Alan Boswell Insurance building 126 Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1UL

First blog of the season from the Exotic Garden

Posted on | June 13, 2014 | 5 Comments

Front of the house at th Exotic Garden...

Front of the house in June at the Exotic Garden...

It’s wonderful to be back again – it’s yet another year on and not only myself but the Exotic Garden is raring to go and ready for the new 2014 summer season – let’s hope it’s a good one!

In all of my years as a gardener I can’t remember a winter and spring as warm as the one we have just had and what a contrast to the proceeding years! In late October, the usual big pull-in of tender exotics took place here at the Exotic Garden, though in hindsight most of them could have been left out as the lowest temperature recorded in the depths of winter was just on the edge of freezing which is amazingly mild for our temperate northern latitude and a total contrast to the spring and winter had in the eastern half of the US with searingly cold sub-zero temperatures!

The Brugmansia’s (Angels Trumpets) are some of the most fiddly plants to get in as they are all so darn large with their long branches sticking out all over the place – in fact one remained in the ground, outsized, as there was no room for it under cover! To my amazement it was only slightly nipped at the tips and is now totally back in leaf and like all the other Brugmansia’s in the garden coming into glorious bloom. What a delight they are in early evening when their intoxication scent magically switches on for us to enjoy!

Brugmansia 'Shredded white dress'

Brugmansia 'Shredded white dress'

Heating the gardens large greenhouse can be a pricey business during the long winter months, especially with the fuel hikes over the last year or so, but this winter saw many a night where no heating came on at all. With so many mild winter days, the doors could be left open more often keeping the dreaded winter mildew and botrytis at bay, the scourge of our long often damp winters.

Growing conditions in the garden in spring of 2013 were terribly cold running around six weeks late, in fact I remember being on the balcony at the back of the house with friends celebrating the longest day of the year wrapped in scarves and woolly hats! A week later towards the end of June though, it was all change and the weather thankfully warmed up for the rest of the summer, making it eventually one of the warmest for years and now with a clement winter and the third warmest spring on record let’s hope this summer is going to be even warmer! This year, the garden is around six weeks in advance which meant many of the more tender exotics could be planted out extra early giving them a tremendous boost – what a difference a year makes!

All the Exotic Gardens bedding was planted out a month early this year!

All the Exotic Gardens bedding was planted out a month early this year!

I normally plant out all the more tender exotics around the third week of May, but this year as it was so mild the big plant out started a month earlier as the chance of frost seemed so unlikely this year, hence the garden looks very advanced with some of the Cannas for instance now coming into flower with some already over 4ft tall!

Many of the Cannas are now over 4ft tall and it's only June!

Many of the Cannas are now over 4ft tall and it's only June!

This year I have gone a bit bonkers with cannas and now have over 50 cultivars and species, with many new to the garden, so I’m really looking forward to them all coming into bloom as the season progresses.

It’s been a glorious spring here with so many plants blooming early with many now long gone.

The last of the spring flowers such as this Foxgolve are still hanging on!

The last of the spring flowers such as this Foxglove are still hanging on!

Thanks to the exceedingly mild winter though, a large group of Echium pininana also known as Tree Echium, and Giant Viper’s bugloss has not only survived but thrived producing a small colony of towering 9ft tall plants. Echium’s are really easy to grow as long as the winters are mild like the last one. Sown from late winter to early spring, this fabulous Echium forms a low rosette of silver, hairy, spear-like leaves that can get several feet tall by the autumn. The following year (providing the winter has be clement) it suddenly spurts into growth and produces a single stem that can be anything up to up to 12ft tall in ideal conditions and location, festooned with blue, funnel-shaped flowers that become smothered in bees in hot weather! After flowering the plant dies, but not before scattering its seeds. In mild parts of the UK these may germinate where they land as they do here at the Exotic Garden, but in colder areas seeds should be sown under glass in spring. They biennial so flower every second year, hence seeds must be sown every year to ensure a continuous supply of glorious bee smothered blooms!

Echium pininana also known as Tree Echium, and Giant Viper's bugloss

Echium pininana also known as Tree Echium, and Giant Viper's bugloss

All the Alliums planted in the Xerophytic (drought tolerant) garden have gone absolutely bonkers this year producing dozens of fabulous blooms in different shades of purple to white.  Allium ‘Christophii’ for instance is now in full bloom. This highly desirable Allium grows to around 2ft or so tall, with enormous heads of silvery lilac star-shaped flowers on stocky stems.  Allium Christophii looks fantastic planted with Allium Schubertii which is also a fairly low grower at around 18ins tall with a huge flower heads. This is definitely the firework allium par-excellence, as it has vast wonderful dark pink, spiky, sweet-scented flowers in heads one foot or more across looking as though they have just exploded!  All Allium flower stalks can be dried for flower arranging and this one is certainly one of the most spectacular. I have been told by Lucy Baxandall, local paper making artist that the dried stems are good for paper making!

Alliums and Foxglove at the Exotic Garden..

Alliums and Foxglove at the Exotic Garden..

Allium Giganteum is another favourite of mine – a giant amongst Alliums growing up to a magnificent 3ft tall, topped with spherical heads consisting of countless small star-shaped flowers creating fabulous balls of light purple that nod in the slightest of early summer breezes. Allium Globemaster is another very aristocratic Allium growing to around 28ins tall topped with exceptionally large heads of deep violet flowers – absolutely fabulous. Even when their colour has faded to straw brown, the heads dry out and still stand out in the border with their sculptural form.

 Allium Christophii  - No shortage of bees here in the Exotic Garden!

Allium Christophii - No shortage of bees here in the Exotic Garden!

This Sunday sees the first grand open day of the season, so why not pop along and see for yourself. I will be there as usual to give advice or just have a Sunday afternoon chat with tea and cake in hand!

For those that live in far flung distant lands, I will be posting  my summer blog weekly with lots of tantalizing pictures for you edification :-)

Hosta 'Empress Wu' lookingf fab!

Hosta 'Empress Wu' looking fab!

The Exotic Garden is open every Sunday from 1.00 to 5pm unit mid-October

Open at other times by appointment Tel: 01603 623167

Entrance £5.00 – children free. Afternoon teas available

Website: www.exoticgarden.com

Facebook (The Exotic Garden)

The entrance to The Exotic Garden can be found at the left side of the Alan Boswell Insurance building 126 Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1UL

Cannas – fashion models on the Exotic Garden catwalk…

Posted on | October 3, 2013 | 2 Comments

Canna ‘Blueberry Sparkler’ to the left and Canna 'Whithelm Pride' in the centre

Canna ‘Blueberry Sparkler’ to the left and Canna 'Whithelm Pride' in the centre

As long as the days are mild and the nights don’t freeze all the plants in the Exotic Garden will just keep going. Last week I talked about growing Gingers for late autumn colour but my absolute favourites and an absolute must at this time of year are the Cannas. They are essential plants for the exotic border as they are big, brash and totally over the top giving a tropical look to the border.

More than 200 hundred cultivars have been created over the last 100 years or so with some now almost impossible to get hold of; never-the-less, there are dozens still available to the discerning gardener. Unfortunately with popularity comes disease and over the last ten years or so many retailers of Cannas have been selling virused plants and tubers which must be avoided like the plague as it distorts the leaves and stunts growth quickly spreading to other plants. This year I have been ruthless with all my stock discarding anything that looks vaguely virused and obtaining a good selection of new plants from growers that guarantee that their plants are virus free.

Virus on Canna 'Durban'

Virus on Canna 'Durban'

The common name for canna is ‘Indian shot’ as the round black seeds were allegedly used as ammunition for shotguns in the British Colonial period, mostly in India.

Here at the Exotic Garden, Canna rhizomes are started off in late winter to early spring in a cool greenhouse and finally planted out in late spring to early summer, where they will normally start flowering by midsummer. They also make spectacular container plants. It is essential to feed them well with well-rotted manure and Blood Fish and Bone if you want your cherished plants to grow and flower well. Watering and feeding these stunning tropical’s ensures that they grow quickly giving you a fantastic show all summer, right through to first frost.

During the winter months, unless you live in a warm frost free winter location the stems should be cut down after the first frost has blackened the leaves and the tubers then stored in their pots or for those in the ground dug up and stored dry in trays of chipped bark or something similar at a minimum of 5C (41F).

Cannas vary considerably in size and stature, from the very small such as Canna ‘Lucifer’, which grows to no more than 1½ft high, to giants like C. ‘Musifolia’, which can easily reach 9ft or more especially if the summer is warm like the one we have just had. Most cannas are green leaved, though a good percentage of plants have leaves in various shades of pewter-purple-maroon – bronze to almost black, and a few are truly spectacular with vivid variegation such as ‘Pretoria’ and ‘Durban’. The flowers on the specie cannas tend to be small where as many of the cultivars have large blowsy flowers in many shades from yellow, pinks, red to white, and many are bicoloured.

There are far too many to mention here so I will write about a few of the twenty five or so grown here at the Exotic Garden. Canna ‘Striata’ for instance also known as ‘Pretoria’ and ‘Bengal Tiger’ stands out as being one of the most heavily variegated, having large leathery paddle-like leaves of deep green with bright yellow striations, topped with large Orange gladioli-like flowers. Sometimes the flowers have a yellow edge and are referred to as Tropicanna ‘Gold’.

Canna 'Striata'

Canna 'Striata'

The other well know cultivar is ‘Durban’ , as it is probably the most ridiculously variegated of all the Cannas, making it an absolute must for the summer garden if you can find virus free plants! The foliage is red-plum coloured, striped and feathered with strawberry pink. The large flowers are bright mandarin orange.

Canna 'Durban'

Canna 'Durban'

‘Black Knight’ is a choice plant with elegant darkly-bronze leaves. The flowers are deep-red and large, contrasting well with the foliage. It is an excellent specimen Canna; or used in mass plantings, growing to around 6ft plus.

‘Cleopatra’ is a ‘chaemera’ – it can’t decide what colour it wants to be! Some flowers are yellow with red spots, while others are all-red, and some are a mixture of both! Often, petals are half red and half yellow spotted .The foliage is also indecisive – usually green, but occasionally a purple streak will appear. Despite the confusion, this is an excellent and very exotic Canna which grows to about 5ft.

Canna 'Cleopatra' foliage

Canna 'Cleopatra' foliage

Canna 'Cleopatra' flowers

Canna 'Cleopatra' flowers

‘Musifolia Grande’ is a big one! The name ‘Musifolia’ means banana-like, as the leaves are very large indeed, growing up to 3ft long and 1ft across. Each leaf is green brushed with red and a distinct red-purple border. The stems are thick and broom-handle like. The small red flowers are rarely produced in the UK as our summers are not long enough though you are rewarded with sheer size, as it can reach a whopping 10ft tall in one season!

My favourite Canna this year is ‘Orange Punch ‘, an absolute stunner, growing to from 3-4ft tall with green foliage and the brightest orange flowers with yellow centres forming racemes that arch over. The flowers are not the largest in the canna group but makes up for it by flowering continuously all summer often twice as much as most other varieties. In most cases it is the first and last canna flowering. I can safely say ‘Orange Punch has been in flower all summer long!

Canna 'Maui Punch'

Canna 'Maui Punch'

Another new one for me this year is ‘Blueberry Sparkler’, an absolutely fabulous Canna with purple leaves and blue-grey undersides, making the perfect foil for the sturdy, medium pink flowers. This new selection is tall, slender, and full of grace unlike some of the other bolder foliaged cannas.

Canna ‘Blueberry Sparkler’

Canna ‘Blueberry Sparkler’

For sheer flowering power nothing can beat ‘Whithelm Pride’. This gem has been in flower since July and is still going strong, with upright dark blue-green foliage with darker purplish edges. The large candy-pink looking stunning when planted en-masse forming a haze of pink right through until the autumn frosts cut them down.

Canna 'Whithelm Pride'

Canna 'Whithelm Pride'

There are a least a dozen more I would like to add to this list, but alas no room to mention them here so if you would like to see them why not visit the Exotic Garden this weekend.

Canna ‘Maui Punch’ a wonderful new introduction form Brian’s Botanicals in Kentucky...

Canna ‘Maui Punch’ a wonderful new introduction form Brian’s Botanicals in Kentucky...

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