Posted on | October 12, 2012 | 2 Comments
The new Veggie garden and tropical Poly tunnel here at the Exotic Garden, both created by the inimitable Jamie Spooner and resident tree house hermit, have been a resounding success this summer. As for the vegetables, well, I don’t think I have ever eaten so many; especially the tomatoes which have been consumed every day for months and they are still hanging on – there is so much more flavour to be had from home grown tomatoes than the tough watery things you tend get from your supermarket. I used to dislike Tomatoes, but these are so mouth-wateringly sweet, that they have to be eaten every time I go into the tomato house –and that is several times a day!
The Tropical tunnel has been my absolute pride and joy this year and in many ways has made up for the rather cool and indifferent summer outside. The central borders in the tunnel were planted up as I normally do outside, though that sheet of polythene between them and the outside world has made a considerable difference to their growth, with everything growing to gargantuan proportions, even a couple of Ricinus seeds that were thrown in as an afterthought have now hit the roof! The Colocasia ‘Mammoth’ planted in the garden this year have been very disappointing, growing to a measly 3ft tall, whereas those planted inside are well above head height at around 7-8ft tall with huge 3ft plus leaves. Many other exotics were planted directly into the ground, which were surrounded with about ten different types of Tradescantia that have now completely covered the ground, looking like a true jungle setting.
I also planted a few Cannas inside to see how the extra heat would affect their growth. It has been a particularly poor year for Cannas outside, with the low temperatures and distinct lack of sustained light. Despite this though, Canna musifolia has reached good proportions, at 9ft tall, with thick, heavily veined, dark green, paddle-shaped leaves on very thick stems – alas this giant rarely flowers in the UK. Canna ‘Taney’ has also done comparatively well, also growing to 9ft tall in the garden, with huge, mid green, upright leaves, though alas no pale tangerine flowers this year, it’s been too darn cold for them!
I did plant one Canna in the tunnel that has been spectacular this year, given to me by Wayne Williams of Birmingham Botanical gardens. He sent me a large root which arrived on my Birthday last year which grew to around 4ft tall outside. This year though, I decided to really pamper it, so it was planted directly into the ground inside our new Poly tunnel. Canna tuerckheimii grows at elevations of 1,600 – 6,500ft in its native habitats in south and Central America. Reportedly growing from 13-16ft tall, mine has reached the Poly tunnel roof at 12ft tall with 3 x 1ft leaves on very thick stout stems and looks absolutely amazing! Unfortunately it hasn’t flowered yet, but if and when it does, they will be typical smallish specie flowers in a shade of orangey-red – so here’s hoping flowers will be produced in the next few weeks!
Some of my favourite exotics are now coming into bloom – the Nerines. They are absolutely breath taking bulbous plants when in full flower, brightening up the dullest of autumnal days and look absolutely radiant on the sunny ones. They flower outside from September right through to November depending on the season and temperature. The blooms last for weeks especially if it’s cool. Each bulb generally produces a single flowering stem that carries from 2-12 individual funnel-shaped flowers with recurved petals. After flowering, strap-like leaves are produced that last through the winter months then die down in the spring before withering away and going dormant for the summer months.
Nerines are indigenous to South Africa, especially the Drakensberg Mountains, where about 30 species can be found, though only two are reliably hardy plants outside here in Norfolk, N. bowdenii and N. undulata. There are now many smashing and exceedingly handsome hybrids that can be grown in containers then brought into frost free conditions for the colder months.
Some good performers I obtained a few years ago from Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers are now coming into bloom. Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’ is a whopper as its name implies, with large clusters of up to twelve deep pink trumpet-shaped flowers each one 9cm across with swept back petals, all on long stems totalling 80cm in height – absolutely stunning! This form will survive outside if given adequate protection in extremely cold winters hence I prefer to grow mine in containers as I have lost so many valuable plants in recent winters to freezing conditions.
Another more diminutive but equally beautiful hybrid purchased at the same time, was Nerine bowdenii ‘Stefanie’, a much shorter Nerine reaching up to about 60cm tall with tight bunches of 5-6cm spidery pale pink flowers with a slightly darker line down the centre of each recurved petal. This fine hybrid will flower to perfection from October to November.
I am rather partial to red flowers and a few years ago I bought several Nerine sarniensis bulbs which are flowering this year, with rich vermilion-red flower clusters with long stamens on the top of 30cm stems. Being such a gloriously rich red, they really do stand out like sentinels in dull weather and when the sun is out they shine like beacons demanding attention, saying come over here and look at me!
Last autumn on a trip to the flower market in Funchal Madeira, for only a few Euros a bag I purchased some gorgeous purplish-magenta Nerines which are now coming into bloom. I can’t stop looking at them, as they are absolutely divine, growing alongside my other Nerines, in terracotta pots on the staging were they can be enjoyed time and again at eye level – oh the joys of autumn!
This Sunday sees the penultimate garden opening before the end of the season, so if you haven’t been this year, why not pop along and enjoy a delightful autumnal afternoon surrounded by exotica – you never know the cats might even come out to play!