Small is still beau­ti­ful – six al­ter­na­tive Christ­mas trees Ex­otic house­plants

The Herald Magazine - - etc GARDENING -

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

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