Well we have not been allowed to go to anywhere remotely tropical in many months. Interestingly (not sure if there is a connection) I have been asked how to create a tropical feel in the garden. Obviously many tropical plants do not like our climate so need winter protection but there are many that look the part and are totally hardy.
There are many palm trees in the world but only a few put up with the British Climate. The most reliably hardy ones are Trachycarpus fortuneii and Chamaerops humilis. They are both widely available although large specimens can be quite expensive. Smaller ones will take many years before you can have a holiday under them! Also very importantly the little ones can succumb to a cold winter. They like full sun and a well drained soil but do need watering when first planted as do all plants.
This is a beautiful architectural evergreen plant with large green leaves that can create quite a statement in a tropical border. It grows well in full sun and partial shade and although the green ones are the most reliably hardy there are others like ‘Spider’s Web’ which are flecked with white.
This is a difficult one because we never know when the beast from the East is going to strike! Musa basjoo or Japanese Hardy banana can be grown in this country with or without winter protection. Wisley pack theirs with straw every year to preserve the stems. If you don’t do this they die back to the ground because they are herbaceous perennials. If you are lucky enough to have a walled garden and protect the plant in the winter you may even get bananas! Other types like Ensete which have beautiful red leaves can only go outside in the Summer months and need overwintering in a frost free greenhouse.
This is another plant I am often asked about for shady areas and stumperies. They have a wonderful tropical feel in the Summer but can look unsightly in the winter and need fleece in the crown. They can die in very cold winters if not looked after.
I like to sprinkle hardy annuals all over the garden for colour and wildlife too. Try Nigella, Cornflower, English marigolds and Californian poppies amongst your tropical plants. Tender perennial bedding plants and annuals can be added for a riot of colour. Cannas and Dahlias are also great but need a thick mulch or a greenhouse to get them though the coldest months.
Ground cover planting
There are many low growing plants too to cover the soil between your chosen tropical plants. Hardy Geraniums like ‘Rozanne’ flower all Summer long. Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’(commonly known incorrectly as black grass) can form clumps which suppress weeds. Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears) can look wonderful when planted as a ground cover but prefer partial shade.
Cathie’s Gardening School Services
Consultancies and mentoring sessions are in full swing so if you would like some help and advice in your own garden let me know. CGS is opening again at the end of April and the next course is Soils, plant nutrition and of course composting! This is the backbone of horticulture and with this knowledge you’ll learn what you can grow where in your garden.