Posted on | October 3, 2013 | 3 Comments
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.
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’.
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.
‘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.
‘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!
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.
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.
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.
Posted on | September 28, 2013 | No Comments
The equinox has now come and gone bringing the autumn to the Northern Hemisphere with its lengthening nights and shortening days. Thankfully, our gardens can still be in flower with the many late flowering plants available to us. At this time of year Gingers and Dahlias are some of the most prolific showstoppers here at the Exotic Garden though gingers in particular are still a rare sight in most people’s gardens which is a shame as they are as tough as Dahlias when left in the ground over winter! I don’t say this lightly as we have had some pretty cold winters in recent years though I haven’t lost a Dahlia or Ginger to penetrating frosts yet!
We grow four different gingers permanently outside with a couple of the more tender species brought into frost free conditions for the winter months. One of the most cold-tolerant gingers grown here is Hedychium densiflorum which has been happily growing for at least fifteen years here at the Exotic Garden, with lows down to -11C with around 2ins of permafrost with no mulch at all! Luckily they all survived and have grown to perfection this summer and if anything are even more prolific than ever. It is one of the easiest gingers to grow in our Norfolk gardens, growing to about 4ft tall with slightly arching stems and strap-like green leaves, topped at this time of year with dozens of densely packed 5-8ins long racemes of bright orange flowers. ‘Assam Orange’ is similar but with orange honey-scented flowers. If a flower stem is broken in half, it gives off a strong scent of camphor which for some reason always reminds me of my grandmother! Hedychium densiflorum is one of the first gingers to break through the ground in April.
A second and very welcome display of bright red berries is produced in late autumn, so they shouldn’t be cut down until first frost, when the seeds can then be collected for sowing the following spring. If you want something more dramatic ‘Stephen’ has larger more open flowers in a shade of warm apricot with burnt-orange stamens and of course that essential if not irresistible scent and in full bloom at the moment.
‘Sorung’ is a fairly recent introduction by the late Cornish plantsman Edward Needham. It is somewhat similar to ‘Stephen’, but with spikes of alluring salmon pink, fragrant flowers making this a very desirable ginger for the garden. I bought my ‘Sorung’ on a trip down to Cornwall about seven years ago and from the original two stemmed plant I now have at least fifty flowering stems every season flowering at around 4-5ft tall.
One of the tallest that can be grown in our gardens is Hedychium forrestii, a robust ginger easily growing from 7-8ft tall in one season, towering well above head height, giving a very exotic feel to the garden with its rather bold glossy, mid-green leaves which can easily reach 2ft long. From late summer to early autumn, it bears loose terminal spikes up to 1ft long of purest white, slightly scented flowers with pale-yellow stamens. A large spreading clump of this hardy ginger is a joy to behold giving a very tropical feel to the garden, even though it is dead hardy!
Although not considered as hardy as the others, Hedychium gardnerianum more commonly known as the ‘Kahili Ginger’ is one of the most spectacular gingers that can be grown in our temperate gardens. Until recently it was considered as a tropical plant, only suitable for greenhouse culture, but it can be planted out permanently if exceedingly well mulched, otherwise it should be dug up before the first frost and overwintered as an evergreen. If grown outside it never grows to more than about 3½ feet tall, though if overwintered frost-free it can easily be double this height. It has thick stems with large, shiny-leathery leaves. The flower heads can be up to 1ft tall by 8ins wide consisting of massed intense yellow flowers with greatly extended orange-red stamens and of course that heady scent that accompanies such a beautiful H. gardnerianum is quite variable with some forms being more floriferous than others. If grown outside it is usually rather late breaking ground, often not until June, but it soon catches up.
Two gingers I prefer to dig up before first frost and over winter as evergreens are Hedychium greenii and Hedychium wardii. H. greenii is a highly ornamental evergreen ginger growing from 3-4ft tall with exquisite dark green leaves that are rich maroon on the underside and on the stems. The short, fairly small, cone-like terminal spikes have individual bright orange-red flowers with a large, showy lip, borne from summer to early autumn depending on the temperature though they do respond well to a hot summer. Unfortunately, this beauty is unscented. It has the added bonus of producing small plantlets or bulbils from the inflorescence once the flowering has finished which can be collected and propagated for fowering the following season.
Hedychium wardii is a very special ginger as it looks quite different when in flower to the others mentioned here. It produces six or more large flowers from an upright bract which, as they go over, are followed in sequence by new flowers for up to six weeks or more, unlike most gingers which produce flowers that only last a week or less. The individual blooms are very large and purest almost day glow chrome yellow and produced from a fat 6-8ins cone-like bract from early August right through September. If the bract is slightly squeezed it oozes a scented sticky soapy liquid. A large clump of this fine ginger is a joy to behold really brightening up the dullest of days.
This is defiantly a woulderfull time of year in the garden and one to be savoured and enjoyed before the dark days of winter return, so do get out in your garden this weekend, weather permitting of course and enjoy the fruits of all your labour and if you have the time why not come and visit the Exotic Garden this Sunday afternoon and enjoy some woulderfull autumn colours.
Posted on | September 20, 2013 | No Comments
The weather is so fickle at this time of year – oh the joys of living in on an Island with a temperate climate! Last Sunday was pretty much a write-off as it was wet and windy, never-the-less, a good number of hardy gardeners turned up wrapped from head to foot against the driving wind and rain! Luckily the damage to the garden was light as the worst weather was over Scotland and thankfully the Exotic Garden being surrounded by tall tree and hedges fended of the worst of the storm.
Last week I had the pleasure of having James Wong filming in the garden for a new series being aired during the winter called ‘The Great Garden Revival’. James was absolutely in his element as I soon discovered that he is a devotee of large leaves and over the top flowers. Luckily, this has been a fantastic year in the garden thanks to that wonderful warm and pleasant summer, making the garden look its best for many a year – marvellous!
For those who intend to visit the garden on Sunday 22nd, you are in for a big treat, as we are not only having one, but two groups of musicians playing in the garden from 1pm. Firstly, The Poringland Singers – a choir that has sung at many venues in Norfolk including several stunning performances in Norwich Cathedral in recent years. There will be around twenty singers performing in the garden singing a selection of their favourite songs. The second treat is yet more music in the form of The Bell’s Baton Ensemble, a new group of young inspiring musicians, all of whom are part of the Norfolk County Youth Orchestra. Whatever the weather decides to throw at us, the performances will still go ahead, though the forecast is looking really good – an afternoon not to be missed!
I know I keep banging on about this, but I just love the softer light at this time of year as the sun lowers in the sky towards the autumn equinox! As many of the leaves in the garden are so large, especially after all the abundant rains of late, they have become perfect catchers of sunlight. The large leaves of the various bananas and cannas look absolutely sublime when lit from behind with the lowering sun, producing colours that are often much brighter and more vivid, rather than when the light is reflected off the leaf surface, thus bringing a whole new world of detail. This can only be experienced when the sun is shining through these stained glass windows of the garden. In fact a walk around the garden at twilight is rather magical – my favourite time of day all through the seasons. The quality of light is much softer at this time of year, lacking the harshness of June, though the sun still brings a pleasing warm glow to ones face.
During the day, Brugmansia’s more commonly known as ‘Angles Trumpets’ with their large one foot long flowers have little sent; only after the sun goes down, can you appreciate their hauntingly seductive perfume as it begins to permeate not only the whole garden, but half the neighbourhood as well! No other flowering plant growing here has the ability to fill the garden with such an intoxicating fragrance. In their native homeland the Andes of South America, they are pollinated at night by moths that search for their rich, sweet scent at sunset and all through the night - the only thing I cannot supply are the sounds of tree frogs and Cicadas . Brugmansia’s thrive on the cool nights, totally unabashed by the rather chilly nights of late in fact they prefer it!
Many of the more tender flowering plants have reached their peak, such as Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’, which blooms almost constantly from spring until first frost with huge scarlet panicles hanging down in contrast to their lush, dark green, glossy leaves. These begonias have the ability to make partially shaded beds look as though they are in the Caribbean when combined with plants like bananas, cannas, elephant ears, and gingers.
Begonia sutherlandii is another beauty I have grown since way back when, though they are prone to mildew at this time of year. It is a dense, branching, clump-forming, tuberous begonia, growing to a height and spread of about 46cm (18in), with bright green, lance-shaped leaves often with red veining. Throughout the summer, panicles of small pendant orange flowers are freely produced in profusion. As they die down over the next month or so, tiny bulbils will be formed in the leaf axils, which can be collected for growing the following year or let fall on the ground where in a mild winter they root freely.
In late May I plant out half a dozen large pot-full’s of the ‘Swiss Cheese Plant’ Monstera delicious which thrive well here with their huge dark glossy green leaves up to 50cm (20ins) long. These jungle giants are much tougher than might be thought as they also take our cool nights well, only being brought under cover in early November just before winter frosts get a hold of the garden and send it into winter slumber.
On warm days there are still plenty of bees in the garden and I have enjoyed trying to photograph them, especially on the Rudbeckia’s with my trusty macro lens. Many photographs have to be taken, as they only land for a second or two on each bloom before buzzing to the next flower, though this isn’t really a problem as there are so many of them creating a delightful background hum.
This is also the time of year when all the different gingers in the garden have reached their peak so there is no shortage of wonderful things to see here at the Exotic Garden – let’s hope the weather is kind to us this weekend.
Posted on | September 14, 2013 | No Comments
We may have lost the hot days of summer and the nights are becoming decidedly cooler, but there is still plenty of heat in the sun when it shows – the summer isn’t over until it really gets cold as far as I’m concerned and that isn’t quite yet!
I love this time of year with misty mornings and days of mellow fruitfulness – just perfect for a stroll around the garden, often with cobwebs across the paths, breathing in the cooler fresh air of early autumn. The Cyclamen hederafolium I mentioned a few weeks ago are now in full bloom, pirouetting across the ground and through the dried leaves, like little ballet dancers in shades of pink to white. Did you know – that once the seed pods have opened they are taken away by ants as they love the sticky coating surrounding the seeds which are then discarded away from the parent plants?
Half way up the garden and just below the steps to the tree house is a terrace – one of the first areas to be paved some thirty years ago. It is a surrounded by a large Aucuba japonica, spotted laurel and a hedge of Ilex – Holly, both being evergreen taking the terrace though the winter months. The terrace is heavily shaded by a large old tree during the summer months; hence it has always been a difficult place to plant, so this year a few changes were made. I wanted two tall columns to give height and stature to the area. My personal brief was to carry out the project as cheaply as possible using reclaimed materials, so I decided to use two heft telegraph poles roughly 15ft X by 1ft in width with 3½ feet cemented securely into the ground. The capitals (column tops) were made from large chunks of wood in layers from a local reclamation yard covered in lead to stop them rotting.
Once completed, two large terracotta containers were placed on the tops of the columns and planted for the summer months with specimen Japanese sago palms, Cycas revolute, with their stiff green fronds. These were under planted with Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ (Sweet potato vine) a tender tuberous perennial with heart-shaped, lobed, almost black leaves. I wanted plants to trail from the pots, so planted Plectranthus madagascariensis ‘Variegatus’ along with Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ with very silvery foliage to hang down the sides of each column. Now, in mid-September, the containers are looking full with foliage spilling down the sides.
As the area is roughly paved with red bricks and pamments, there is no room for planting, hence this year I decide to use seven specimen pygmy date palms – Phoenix roebelenii, all planted in very large terracotta pots (these are overwintered under cover as they are not hardy). In the centre of the terrace I have planted the largest double trunked specimen I could find, some eight foot tall in a large Chinese dragon pot. The whole area is overlooked by a headless female statue inside an arched flint constructed niche. After thirty years, I feel it is just about looking right, though there is always room for change, only time will tell, but for now I’m happy with the way it looks.
The rest of the garden is growing at a pace and more late Dahlias are coming into bloom, but I must tell you a little story first.
Several years ago I went to the annual autumn plant fair at Great Dixter in East Sussex with Ian Roofe. After purchasing a boot full of plants we walked around the late Christopher Lloyds magnificent garden and when turning a corner near the main house, we were greeted by a monster Dahlia which stopping us both dead in our tracks! It was around seven to eight feet tall with thick stems, large leaves and enormous blooms around one foot across and the most ridiculously large buds – the whole plant looking as though it was on steroids!
I just had to have this giant of a plant, as it would fit in so well with the other planting here at the Exotic Garden. After a bit of hunting we found the head gardener Fergus Garret lurking in the gardens old dusty potting shed. Fergus had kindly written the preface to my last book, ‘The Encyclopaedia of Exotic Plants for Temperate Climates’, though this fine monster wasn’t listed in it! He told me that it was called Dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ but alas had none to spare. A quick search on Google came up with tubers for sale at Cottage Garden plants in Essex. For the first few years the growth on my new acquisitions was rather measly, but this year it is growing into a specimen like the one I saw at Great Dixter. It has just produced its first dinner-plate sized bloom of the season with countless fat buds to follow on shortly. I am glad now that I used some very thick stakes to hold this giant up as those flowers look very heavy! I also think that a thick layer of manure around the base really helped it grow well this season.
Another resent acquisition this year from Woottens of Wenhaston nursery in Suffolk was a new Agapanthus to add the gardens expanding collection. For many years I had a large pot full of a very dark form of Agapanthus inapertus which I was given to me many years ago by Mike Nelhams the Curator of the Abby gardens on the Island of Tresco. Alas, I forgot to bring it under cover in the cold winter a few years ago – a sad loss as it was such a woulderfull form with its dark drooping flowers. The form I obtained from Woottens is also very dark purple named A. inapertus ‘Graskop’; it’s not quite the same, but stunningly beautiful never-the-less.
Don’t forget – for those who can only visit The Exotic Garden on a Saturday, ‘today’, is you last chance, though the garden will still be open every Sunday come rain or shine until mid-October, whatever our fickle weather decides to throw at us!
If you can’t get here, you can now follow the garden on Facebook, where you will see new pictures of what’s happening here daily – just look up The Exotic Garden.
Posted on | September 6, 2013 | 3 Comments
Visitors to the Exotic Garden here in Norwich are already asking me when am I going to start bringing in all those wonderful tender exotics – I have to admit, I really don’t want to think about it yet as winter will come soon enough without wishing it on! Summer 2013 may be considered as virtually over (by some) though I would rather think of it as one of the most ’summery’ summers for many a year, with hopefully an Indian summer to come – well I can wish!
We have been blessed with warm September weather this week really pushing the growth of all the plants in the garden, with some such as the Brugmansia’s (Angels Trumpets) actually preferring the cooler nights as it simulates the cooler conditions they prefer in the Andes of South America. I remember last year many of the Cannas struggled to get to 3-4ft whereas this year they have gone absolutely ballistic, many towering well above head height and only now reaching maximum bloom and if the weather stays kind, they will just keep on going until the first frosts of autumn finally cut them down.
The new 8 x 10m Poly tunnel erected here at the Exotic garden in the Spring of 2012 was emptied of all its overwintering plants in late May this year though when you go in to it now, it still looks absolutely full, thanks to such a warm and glorious summer. Many of the plants in there were purchased from one of my favourite nurseries in North Norfolk – Creek Plant Centre owned by the inimitable Trevor Harris in South Creek near Fakenham. It may be small in comparison to some of the larger nurseries, but when visiting, I never fail to find interesting and often rare gems lurking in many of its corners.
Last June I purchased two 3ft tall Pasiflora’s from Trevor, including Pasiflora ‘Amethyst’ which grew rampantly last year, almost swamping the tunnel with growth this year, where it now hangs in massive curtains across the Polly tunnels struts. It is never out of bloom producing myriads of typical Pasiflora flowers in in a delightful shade of lilac-purple – superb indeed.
I must add the central part of the tunnel has all its planting in the ground in a long bed about 2.5m X 10m long. This has produced the effect I always desired when I was a little boy, of having a covered area that looked like a section of the Palm house at Kew!
Obviously some plants have hit the roof at 3.5m and have unfortunately bent over such as large specimen Strelitzia nicoli which really wants to be 5-10m tall! Planted next to it, again, as small plant last year, is Ipomoea indica syn. learii, a very dark and handsome purplish-blue Morning glory that has also reached gigantic proportions spreading down the centre of the tunnel to the top then trailing down to the ground amongst all the other planting where its long tendrils trail snake-like across the ground. It is never out of bloom, as it produces dozens of new flowers everyday with their splashes of intense colour.
Near the entrance is the Buttercup Bush – Senna corymbosa, with bright green pinnate leaves and racemes of brightest yellow flowers, set off by a large ‘Persian Shield’, Strobilanthes dyerianus, with its almost metallic-purple leaves. In the main border are also planted several different types of Colocasia and Alocasia with their massive architectural leaves giving a really jungle-like effect. There are several tall gingers including a handsome variegated form named ‘Dr Moy’, from the late plant breeder Dr. Moy of the San Antonio Botanical Garden in the US. It is a probably a Hedychium flavum x coccineum, with white paint-like speckles covering the otherwise green foliage. It hasn’t flowered yet though looks promising and when it does should produce fragrant, peachy-orange flowers with a darker orange throat!
The whole area is under-planted with a wide range of Tradescantia’s forming large carpets of differently coloured foliage, intersperses with ferns, Plectranthus and many Bromeliads lurking in the undergrowth. My cats can often be seen darting in and out amongst the dense planting!
Either side of the tunnel are raised benches absolutely stuffed to the gunnels with a large collection of oddity’s I have collected over the years including many different types of Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorne’s) One that really stands out for me is Euphorbia milii variegata which has thin green leaves prominently splashed with yellow and topped topped with red flowers – quite divine!
Another beauty in full flower at the moment is Duranta erecta, formally known as D. repens. This fine shrub is native to the New World from Florida, the Caribbean and south to Brazil. It has 1cm blooms that are edged in white lace, born in grape-like drooping clusters from summer right through into the autumn. I have seen this fine shrub on visits to the Caribbean over the years and have discovered that it makes an excellent conservatory plant as long as it’s kept at a minimum of 7C during those long cold days of winter.
I must admit when I see how full the Polly tunnel is at the moment, I struggle to think how we are going to get all the tender exotics in from the garden later in the year especially as they have put on so much growth! Never-the-less, with lots of judicious pruning and stacking, it will be stuffed like a large Sardine can by early November ready to go through the winter!
Enough of being inside – the garden is beckoning me as it is such a glorious day outside and many plants need deadheading to keep them in peak flowering condition right through into October.
For those of you who braved the Norwich City football match cars which unfortunately coincided with some of the Saturday openings here at the Exotic Garden in August, we have decided to extend the Saturday open days to the 7th and 11th of September as the Canary’s will be playing away on those dates – let’s hope the sun still smiles on us all for at least few more weeks yet – enjoy.keep looking »