Western Morning News (Saturday)
BRANCH OUT WITH EXOTIC INDOOR PLANTS
These unusual choices can add a little something different to your home
GROWING unusual plants and curiosities from seed is a great way to cheer up long, dull, wintry days while the garden is out of action. It’s fun following the progress as seedlings turn into proper plants, and watching their characters unfold along with the foliage.
As a bonus, you end up with a range of very unusual indoor plants you could never have bought in the shops – for mere pennies.
All sorts of unusual tropical species are available as seeds. Chiltern Seeds (chilternseeds.co.uk) has a particularly wide selection, and just reading the descriptions in the catalogue is enough to set your chlorophyll racing.
Some of the Mediterranean trees you may have seen while on holiday (remember holidays?) make great houseplants. Since they’re only slightly tender, you can move them to the conservatory when they outgrow a windowsill, or stand them out on the patio for the summer.
Jacaranda is particularly elegant, with its precise, geometrically arranged, delicate ferny foliage – though it is unlikely to produce the big bunches of blue flowers you see when it’s grown around the Med.
Eucalyptuses also make great houseplants. The few hardy species we see in gardens are just the tip of the iceberg – in their native Australia there are dozens of attractive, tender types such as Eucalyptus citriodora, which is lemon scented.
Treat them the same way as Mediterranean plants.
If you have an experimental turn of mind, take horticultural pot luck and splash out on even more obscure tropical oddities, which you can be quite certain no one else you know will be growing.
You could try the evergreen camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) – the famous moth-repellent substance was once extracted from its bark.
Or how about Cubanola domingensis, an evergreen from the Dominican Republic that can produce enormous scented flowers, as a baby on a British windowsill? Or the Panama tree (Sterculia apetala), with leaves that are a foot across? The African Linden (sparrmannia africana), with its delicate white blooms, can be tricky to grow from seed but is worth the effort.
Things like these usually sell themselves from their catalogue description, but are often well outside the scope of your average plant encyclopaedia.
Find out more about obscure plants by searching the internet or looking for specialist books on exotic tropical plants. It’s all part of the fun for oddity enthusiasts.
The trick to growing such very unusual species from seed is to follow the instructions to the letter – some need sowing immediately on delivery, while others need special pre-treatment. Indoor oddities are worth making a fuss of, so unless otherwise advised, sow them thinly on the surface of fresh seed compost, then cover them to their own depth with horticultural vermiculite.
To water, stand them in shallow, tepid water for a few minutes to avoid disturbing the seeds, then keep them on a warm windowsill out of direct sunlight.
Some species take ages to germinate, but once you have strong seedlings, pot them up singly into small pots.
If you want to keep indoor oddities windowsill-sized, don’t shift them to bigger containers until you really have to.
Keeping them slightly pot-bound helps to “dwarf” them.
And if you want to keep them tiny, you could train them as indoor bonsai.
Either way, they’ll take you out of your armchair and turn your winter indoors into a tropical voyage of discovery.
Eucalyptuses also make great houseplants. The few hardy species we see in gardens are just the tip of the iceberg...