CRE­ATE A TROP­I­CAL GAR­DEN

Accrington Observer - - LEISURE -

FANCY a taste of the trop­ics at home? Walk around the new ex­otic gar­den at RHS Gar­den Wis­ley, the hor­ti­cul­tural char­ity’s flag­ship site, and you’ll be trans­ported to far­away places amid great, leafy ba­nana plants, pint-sized pineap­ples, zingy yel­low and orange can­nas, lush-leaved ginger and waft­ing palms.

You might think that the Bri­tish cli­mate won’t easily ac­com­mo­date such ex­otics, but only 30% of the plant­ing is not hardy, ex­plains Wis­ley’s cu­ra­tor Matthew Pot­tage.

“We wanted a good range of hardy palms, some of which were UK-grown. But some orig­i­nate from Mex­ico, China and the Mediter­ranean.

“I also wanted some ex­otic-look­ing conifers which didn’t say ‘typ­i­cal conifers’, so we have some long leaf pines, the Mex­i­can pines, Pi­nus mon­tezu­mae, with the big nee­dles and other large leaf ev­er­greens like eri­obotrya.”

Some of the less hardy spec­i­mens such as can­nas, dahlias and abu­tilons will be mulched over to pro­tect them in the win­ter.

But how can you cre­ate an ex­otic space in your own gar­den?

Find a sunny, shel­tered spot

Trop­i­cal-look­ing plants such as can­nas and palms of­ten thrive when they are baked and if you have sandy soil, they are less likely to be­come wa­ter­logged in win­ter. Palms love the heat - put them up against a south-fac­ing or west­fac­ing wall, where you have hard land­scap­ing, which will help hold heat. Make sure your soil is free-drain­ing be­cause ex­otics don’t like to be wa­ter­logged. Feed palms reg­u­larly.

Cre­ate an ev­er­green hardy back­bone

Use un­usual conifers placed be­hind flower power and herba­ceous lay­ers com­pris­ing can­nas, ginger and other colour­ful plants. If you leave them in the ground, you will need to cut them right back and then mulch over them.

Take in­spi­ra­tion from hardy things like the eri­obotryas and var­ie­gated fat­sias. But if you grow ba­nana plants they will need wrap­ping. And save up for the big­gest palm you can af­ford. The more ma­ture the palm is, the hardier it will be. Young seedlings may have a hard time get­ting through the first few win­ters.

Make the most of dahlias

The ex­otic gar­den in­cor­po­rates a host of red, yel­low and deep orange dahlias, in­clud­ing the strik­ing red D. ‘Ed­win’s Sun­set’ and the deep orange ‘Bishop of Ox­ford’ and the deep red ‘Karma Choc’.

Con­sider un­sung he­roes

“The un­sung he­roes in­clude gin­gers, which will be OK in a bit of shade or in full sun and they flower too. They are a lot tougher than peo­ple think and are quite un­der­used plants,” Matthew ex­plains. “They typ­i­cally flower later in the sea­son. They have this ex­otic fo­liage through sum­mer and flow­ers can go right through to the au­tumn de­pend­ing on how the sum­mer’s been. The frost will take them back and they need to be mulched over in the win­ter.

“We also want to ex­pand the eu­comis col­lec­tion, have more echi­naceas and zant­edeschias, which have sur­vived over win­ter in other parts of the gar­den.”

Mix in things you might see in other plant­ings, such as per­si­caria. Hardy hi­bis­cus can sit easily with arundo and abu­tilons. Deep red hardy Lo­belia tupa and ‘Queen Vic­to­ria’, also have an ex­otic look. Bromeli­ads, which are re­lated to pineap­ples, are also hardy. Eu­comis make great bed edges.

Look after non-hardy ex­otics

Pineap­ples will need to come in, says Emma Allen, Wis­ley’s gar­den man­ager. “Over­win­ter them and take them out again next year. The idea is to make the area much more di­verse, with plants which look ex­otic, but are much more hardy, such as Echi­nacea ‘Hot pa­paya’, which has a funky, hot-look­ing flower. We also have dark orange Rud­beckia ‘Sum­me­rina Orange’, which have an ex­otic look but will sur­vive.”

Han­nah Stephen­son

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