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Exotics/tropicals - do you have questions?

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Messages: 1 - 15 of 15
  • Message 1. 

    Posted by Jen (U14605575) on Wednesday, 26th January 2011

    If you've got a larger-than-life garden packed with exotics such as cannas, palms and tree ferns, or you're a big fan of growing tropical plants indoors, don't miss our Q&A session with the man who looks after the tropical plants at Kew Gardens.

    He'll be answering questions on all kinds of exotic plants, from alocasias to zingibers and everything in between.

    Whatever the tender plants you grow (or are thinking of growing in the future), whether it's carnivorous plants, house plants, orchids, palms, bananas or tender bulbs like eucomis and canna, POST YOUR QUESTIONS HERE!

    Answers will be posted on the gardening blog next week.


  • Message 2

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by Trillium (U2170869) on Thursday, 27th January 2011

    Jennifer - I must admit that I read this opening entry with firmly raised eyebrows after the December we've just had and the intense cold of the previous winters!

    I live in Cheshire, effectively in the middle of the country, more or less at sea-level and within 20 miles of the Irish Sea. So not by any means a challenging or extreme environment in UK gardening terms.

    Outside, my 'hardy' bananas, Musa basjoo have been cut down to ground level each winter by the cold despite thick straw and fleece wrapping, sprouting from below ground in late spring, so they don't get beyond 4 feet high in summer. The same goes for Tetrapanax papyrifer. My well wrapped tree ferns all died last winter. I use them as training poles for morning glory now.

    I left out Canna indica, well mulched, but lost the lot. I don't have any Trachycarpus fortunei, but the ones planted outside the motorway services in Oxford look very dead indeed

    I do keep Colocasia fontanesii (wonderful plant and so far the hardiest one I've tried) and Cyperus papyrus in a bubblewrap tent in the greenhouse kept just above zero by an electric heater on a thermostat. It costs me about £75 in electricity to do this (I have a commercial reason for doing so, but otherwise couldn't justify it)

    My honest view is that the climate is warming, but that doesn't mean that here in the UK we will get milder winters. Perhaps the reverse. I'm not sure we should be encouraging the growing of exotics here, except in Cornwall and along the south coast (Cycads and Agaves are thriving on the promenade at Eastbourne) and perhaps in inner city gardens which benefit from the city heat effect. And with energy costs rising, promoting the use of heated glass buildings to grow them in isn't a great idea either, really. So not so much a question, but a request that we really ensure people understand the hardiness or otherwise of these wonderful plants.

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  • Message 3

    , in reply to message 2.

    Posted by Calendula (U2331338) on Friday, 28th January 2011

    I am pleased Trillium responded first because he (she?) does so from a position of much more authority than me, but I agree entirely. I truly can't see the point of encouraging people to grow exotics unless they have some specialist reason for doing so (e.g. national collection holder). It's bad for the planet, it's bad for local fauna, and it must be very dispiriting when all that time, effort and money goes down the pan in inclement weather conditions.

    If I want to see exotics I will save up enough money to go and do so in their natural habitat.

    Report message3

  • Message 4

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by Bubble Works (U14532674) on Friday, 28th January 2011

    there are plenty of "exotics" that can be grown in the UK. Not all are from the tropics, but may be from the Himalayas and similar areas? Like the hardy Banana for example. I know you say that it gets cut back by the frost, but it does survive?

    My parents have been growing Canna for years, and that is in a Garden in Bavaria, where winters are lots harsher than here. Of course they cannot stay outside, my parents remove them and put them in a dark cellar (German house have the advantage of having basements), where they are cool and dark all winter, no watering. They go back in the ground after the "Holy Ice Spirits" - those 3 cold days in May, and they are thriving. I like growing Papyrus as well, but I only put it out in the summer, where it is one of the only plants that doesn't complain about getting waterlogged in the typical british summer. In the winter I move it indoors, into the bathroom, where it thrives and looks nice. It is a dwarf variety though, couldn't imagine growing the big one.

    I think many exotics can be grown here, but you may have to live in a bit of a jungle in the winter, when you have to bring them all in, or you will have to look out for the exotics from the colder climates. It would be nice to have some information about those, there must be some exciting plants in Mongolia or Tibet? Or even dersert plants from the Gobi, they should be able to cope with draught, wind and freezing temperatures?

    I have a question about growing a Loofah - would it be feasible in this country? Do we get a long enough growing season to harvest them? Would I have to start the grow indoors and move out later in spring?

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  • Message 5

    , in reply to message 4.

    Posted by Jen (U14605575) on Friday, 28th January 2011

    Bubble Works, thanks for your question.

    I'd imagined hardiness would be one of the main topics we might talk about: how to get your exotics through winter, whether it's worth trying, and what can and can't survive a British winter....

    People in Cornwall, Devon, the Isle of Wight, the Scillies, London and other microclimate areas make up a sizeable chunk of the population of the British Isles....and in any case many exotics are surprisingly hardy, down to minus 10 and minus 15, which means you can also grow them quite far north of the Watford Gap smiley - winkeye

    So Calendula....flying to the Caribbean is better for the environment than growing an exotic?! smiley - winkeye


  • Message 6

    , in reply to message 5.

    Posted by Trillium (U2170869) on Friday, 28th January 2011

    Hello Jen,

    Could we have some examples of exotics hardy to -10C/ -15C? What do we actually mean by exotics?

    I could offer one suggestion - Pawlownia tomentosa, but really all the other plants that survive in my exotic area only do so from a crown well below ground level.

    There are of course several hardy plants which look good in exotic plantings, such as bamboo and Rheum palmatum but I don't think I would have classed these as exotics.

    Report message6

  • Message 7

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by koala_girl (U12702629) on Saturday, 29th January 2011

    I have often fancied growing a lemon tree but am worried about having to bring it inside each winter. What happens when they get too big to move? Are there any varieties which stay small enough to move in and out of the conservatory?

    Report message7

  • Message 8

    , in reply to message 5.

    Posted by happytobyfan (U13663471) on Sunday, 30th January 2011

    and in any case many exotics are surprisingly hardy, down to minus 10 and minus 15, which means you can also grow them quite far north of the Watford Gap 

    I also live in Cheshire, just a couple of miles away from Trillium. I'm not sure which 'exotics' are hardy down to -15, as last year I lost a large ceanothus that I'd had for a few years, and now I can see I've lost the other one,which I've had for many years. In addition to these, I've had 2 large pittesporums for years - which are now doing a very good job of looking completely dead. I've also got many penstemons which don't have a tiny bit of green on them anywhere. I know these are all plants which, strictly speaking, are not classed as 'completely hardy' but they have come through many previous winters.

    I lifted some oesteospermums, and put them in the greenhouse - with a lot of other things - but that is now full of very 'dead looking' plants.

    Report message8

  • Message 9

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by tazman (U11274615) on Sunday, 30th January 2011

    Hi Jen I have been Growing what i call Exotics/Tropicals. for about four years.
    I have a tree-fern, which was it really hard last winter but yet it still served, it did not have the usual amount of fronds. I lost four of my banana plants Abyssinian red,they had been wrap in fleece and stuffed with now i put them in my greenhouse,which is keep at a temperature of 60 Fahrenheit at all times.I also grow Datura which are overwintering in the greenhouse,plus Cannas and two palms. The winters we are getting now, if you do not have a heated greenhouse to over winter them, then i can be a very hard task to keep on top of them during a hard winter .
    Good Luck And Happy Gardening.


    Report message9

  • Message 10

    , in reply to message 6.

    Posted by crouchee (U13371975) on Sunday, 30th January 2011

    I have a lomartia ferruginea in my Somerset frost pocket surviving two winters down to -12. My paulownia is also fine although it tends to die back at the tips.

    I rely on exotic looking hardy jobs like fatsia, phormiums and bamboos and below-ground shooters like melianthus major for jungly borders, enlivened with dahlias, cannas and hedychiums, which come indoors for the winter.

    Everyone here has very sad looking cordylines which are hanging badly and will probably shoot again from lower down. I am sorely tempted to buy some wholesale ceanothus, cistus, rosemary, cordyline and penstemon liners, I fancy they will sell well this spring.

    Check out who list their plants for hardiness with a traffic light icon BUT they are based in the sunny sarf-east, so proceed with caution. I'll ask Rob at Desert to Jungle what is looking good still in the open and post again

    Maybe hardy and exotic is an oxymoron!

    Report message10

  • Message 11

    , in reply to message 10.

    Posted by Trillium (U2170869) on Monday, 31st January 2011

    The Lomartia is a new one on me Crouchee - will have to check it out! I agree re using hardy, large foliage plants for drama, though round here Phormiums are looking pretty sick too. My uber-huge bronze thing is all but dead after two winter deep freezes. Astonishinglya big variegated Yucca is doing best of all of the spiky architecturals!

    Exploring the meaning of exotic in relation to hardiness is interesting. If a plant is totally hardy throughout the UK, does this make it not exotic, by definition?

    Report message11

  • Message 12

    , in reply to message 11.

    Posted by Jen (U14605575) on Tuesday, 1st February 2011

    Interesting observation Trillium - let's put that to our man from Kew!

    There are several plants known as 'hardy exotics' which go down to -10 and -15: Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chusan palm, springs to mind.

    But in fact hardiness arguably relates as much to temperature as to dryness at the roots: many plants such as lavender or rosemary are commonly defined as hardy but in fact will quickly succumb in frost if they are also damp at the roots.

    This also applies to many plants from dry regions: olive trees, for example, are hardy down to -17 and possibly below as long as they're well-drained enough at the roots. They drop all their leaves and don't leaf up till late in spring - but they do bounce back. The olive in my garden has survived the last 6 years in N. Manchester temperatures (and rainfall). Every spring it bounces back (I have to admit every year I think it may be its last!)

    Also older, more mature trees are much hardier than young ones: a mature banana (Musa basjoo) will be root hardy right down to -10 whereas a juvenile will succumb at -5 (so is better kept in a pot and brought indoors for winter)

    But all this is a bit off the subject - though I'm sure he can and will talk about hardy exotics, our Kew man is mainly concerned with properly tropical exotics - i.e. plants which do grow in tropical climates and aren't very happy below about +5 degrees.

    All over the country people grow a lot of houseplants: and that's exactly the sort of thing which he can take questions on!!

    So post your questions!!

    Jen smiley - biggrin

  • Message 13

    , in reply to message 11.

    Posted by crouchee (U13371975) on Tuesday, 1st February 2011

    Lomartia ferruginea is something I have only ever seen offered twice, it is dark evergreen with dissected leaves with a rusty reverse. It is hard up against my southfacing wall in a pot, I wonder if it would have survived an open position?

    I reckon totally hardy plants are not really exotic, but I would always add them as background for an exotic border, especially in shade and heavy soil. In such a spot, I'd struggle without bamboos, fatsia and fatshedera, and aucuba 'Crotonifolia'.

    Report message13

  • Message 14

    , in reply to message 10.

    Posted by happytobyfan (U13663471) on Tuesday, 1st February 2011


    Everyone here has very sad looking cordylines which are hanging badly and will probably shoot again from lower down. 

    Along with all my other dead/dead-looking plants, I also have 2 cordylines which appear to have died, one in the ground and one in a large pot. I've had them both for app 5 years but intended taking them to the tip now. Are you saying that they may not be dead ??

    Also, penstemon liners  - what are they??


    Report message14

  • Message 15

    , in reply to message 11.

    Posted by abbotsmillmo (U13936954) on Wednesday, 2nd February 2011

    I dug up a large Phormium yesterday as I thought it was dead. But inside parts of it were green and strong looking, so Ive taken it apart, and replanted small pieces in different parts of the garden. I think some of it may stand a chance of growing again... Fingers crossed.

    Report message15

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