Small is still beautiful – six alternative Christmas trees Exotic houseplants
WHETHER you’re an indoor gardener during the cold winter months or an all-year-rounder, why not include herbs, a lemon tree or exotic ginger among your houseplants? They look, smell and taste good, so they add a little extra to a room.
These edibles can be divided into two main groups and, as ever, you get the best results by trying to mirror their natural growing conditions.
Some wallow in a hot, sunny environment while others are from forest floor habitats. These forest dwellers need warm temperatures, some humidity and bright, but not intense, light.
Although some of our favourite sun-loving Mediterranean herbs will cope with our uncertain summers, they’re worth bringing indoors over winter.
Rosemary thrives in a warm dry atmosphere and captures enough light when grown close to a sunny windowsill. Mediterranean herbs grow more slowly during the short daylight hours, but can still be picked.
Bay, thyme and sage, with all their different sizes, shapes and aroma, do equally well, but there are more exotic possibilities.
The forest floor ginger family, the Zingiberaceae, includes 52
genera and more than 1,300 species, and although most would struggle indoors here, a few will work.
The hardiest ginger is Galangal, Alpinia galangal, which I’ve been growing for more than a decade. For several years I had it in the house in partial shade, but it’s now in the new greenhouse, even surviving last winter.
Virtually all the foliage died back and I was convinced it was a gonner.
But it burst into life and, at a metre, achieved a little over half its normal size. And because of the higher light levels, it even produced three white flower spikes with a wonderful fragrance that permeated the whole greenhouse. And this vigorous grower produces more rhizomes than you could manage. A winner in any book.
It’s almost impossible to buy galangal plants, but the fresh rhizomes are sold in Thai food shops and online.
So choose one with a fat growing point and pot up. Let the rhizomes build up over one-two years before cutting any for use. They’re a little less fiery than true ginger.
The leaves of other gingers, Zingiberaceae, are also invaluable.
The tender young turmeric, Curcuma longa, leaves will soon be ready for you, even if, as a houseplant, this metre-tall spice won’t produce useful roots.
And you’ll get plenty of mildly fragrant leaves, though not seeds, from Cardamon, Eletaria