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.