Posted on | August 16, 2013 | 3 Comments
The year is moving on apace and the evenings are noticeably drawing in though the Exotic Garden is only just coming up to its yearly crescendo of intense foliage and flower. The xerophytic garden, up until the rains of the last week or so has lived up to its name of growing drought tolerant plants. All the Alliums took well to the dry conditions flowering profusely in May and June, though their rich colours have long gone leaving their skeletal frames behind lending their dramatic shapes to the arid garden.
In one corner close by, where passed garden cats reside is a thicket of Cyclamen hederafolium which have slowly spread over the last 30 years or so, with some corms over ten inches across looking like dried out cow pats! During the summer months Cyclamen hederafolium is dormant, their corm heads sticking through the dried leaf litter showing their twisty stemmed seed capsules tightly hugging the ground. These autumn gems usually start their show in late summer, though a few solitary pink flowers have already started to appear. I always hate it when the weather forecasters start to use the word ‘autumnal’ in their predictions, but these particular cyclamen have already started their inevitable autumn cycle and more flowers will be coming into bloom over the weeks to come with a peak display in September and November. By late autumn their foliage appears and remains throughout to the winter months forming a thick carpet of silvery green marbled foliage brightening up those dull winter days.
Enough of autumnal thoughts – we are still very much in high summer when the garden explodes with a rich tapestry of colour and texture. All the different banana’s in the garden go into overdrive over the next month or so with their massive paddle like leaves, in fact between now and the end of October many will almost double in size and stature from where they are now! I was worried that the bananas weren’t going to put on much of display this year after such a long and cold winter, but the last six weeks or so of delightfully clement weather has really boosted them into large leaf production. Apart from looking tropical they have great leaf colour, especially Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ which is one of the most dramatic in the garden. As the sun goes down in the afternoon and descends into evening, the show really begins as the sun punches through their foliage creating the most fabulous display of diverse shades of green and purple to almost black. These lighting effects are very transient and have to be enjoyed in the fleeting moments before the sun sets behind the taller shrubs and trees in the garden. As the sun lowers in sky day by day in the weeks to come the lighting subtly changes giving different patterns of colour to be enjoyed. Of course all the cannas are excellent to for their stained glass backlight effect.
One plant that has been in the garden since I took it over 32 years ago, is a handsome pale pink Anemone japonica (Japanese anemone) which has been happily growing in a shady corner of the garden, never failing to bloom whatever the summer weather brings. This pink delight came into flower a few weeks ago and will keep on flowering as we slowly progress towards autumn. It has tall upright stems that do not need staking. I love this plant as I remember it coming into bloom when I took the garden over all those year ago – a good nostalgia plant!
The term Japanese anemone is misleading. A. hupehensis is actually a native of Hupeh province in eastern China, though it was grown in Japanese gardens for centuries before this, hence the confusion. It was introduced by Robert Fortune (1812-1880) into Europe in 1844, after apparently discovering it growing between tombstones in a Shanghai graveyard!
One plant that always attracts visitor’s attention is the easily grown annual Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. Yes, it is common, but none the less beautiful for that. I like its randomness as it will self-sow in places you would never think of planting them such as the edge of a pot full of succulents or on gravel paths. At this time of year they are around 3-4ft tall with their long tassels of magenta or pale green. It is a bushy, erect annual or biennial in a mild winter, with large ovate leaves and drooping, crimson tassel-like racemes of tiny flowers in summer and right through into autumn.
Amaranthus caudatus ‘Viridis’ is equally attractive and I grow both here at the Exotic Garden. It produces long, pale lime-green tassels which dangle almost to the ground.
Many parts of the plants, including the leaves and seeds, are edible, and are frequently used as a source of food in India and South America, so it could be grown in the vegetable garden.
In late winter I was sent some seed of Red Orach (Atriplex hortensis) and suggested to plant it in the flower borders. It truly is a majestic annual with matt purple arrow-shaped leaves topped with fine billowing tiny flower heads and if planted en masse as I have, soon form a thicket of foliage and flower around 4-5ft tall – a great foil for larger foliaged plants. Most gardeners will know this more as a vegetable garden plant as it is a good substitute for spinach and probably very tasty though I have yet to try it.
This is a very exciting time of year here at the Exotic Garden as there is so much coming into bloom and busting with energy. Most traditional herbaceous borders have now finished as they reach their climax in June and July but not so with exotics – they just keep on going until the first frosts of autumn cut them down and thankfully that is still a long way off yet!
Have a warm and pleasant weekend wherever you are and if you have a chance, why not visit the Exotic Garden. As usual I will be here to answer your questions and the cats will probably be lurking in the undergrowth to greet you as well.