There’s nothing like an afternoon of April sunshine to convince us Brits that summer has come early. It happens every year, we never learn from our mistakes, and we’re fine with that thank you very much. And with that summer mindset, comes the nagging urge to do something with our gardens. During one such tropical hour last week, we started discussing the best tropical plants that we’d love to have if the climate were no obstacle. Bromeliad, Coffee, Banana, Cacao…none of which are really tenable considering we’re probably going to get frost next week. But what tropical plants can survive the Russian Roulette of Great British Weather?
One of the earliest domesticated plant in the Americas, Cannas are one of the most stunning tropical plants hardy enough for Blighty. With leaves boasting purples, yellows, oranges and pinks; the Canna is so unbelievably bright as to appear man-made. These plants can grow up to 1.5m in height, and are sturdy enough to require no assistance from stalks. Expect flowering from June to September and try to plant them in partial shade to get the maximum brightness from their leaves.
You won’t have too much maintenance on your hands during spring and summer, but once the first frost hits then you’ll need to pot the plant into a shed or greenhouse.
At the other end of the spectrum is one of the most beautiful of the grasses available to us here in England; Strictus. It looks very similar to ‘Zebra Grass’ but stands taller, stronger and is less often seen. In late summer, the green reeds develop pastel yellow bands, hence the comparison to its zebra-like cousin. These can grow above 2m high and are fantastic border plants, particularly when in grown in groups. They have a real Sahari-effect but to achieve the striping, you’ll need to grow them in partial shade or the green can be scorched by direct sunlight.
Cut Strictus all the way down in winter, before new growth starts to appear.
A tropical flower, a tropical grass and now what looks like a tropical fern; melianthus major has a very Jurassic Park feel to it. With leaves that can grow up to 50cm long, this plant’s less striking appearance is the perfect complement to the feature styles of Canna and Strictus. Its serrated edges really stand out against rust-coloured tubulars that appear in early summer – with the whole plant reaching up to 2m in height. Don’t be disheartened if yours is some way off this mark, as the plant enjoys a late growth spurt toward the end of summer.
This one has no problem in direct sunlight, but make sure it sits in well-drained soil and has some organic mulch in spring. Cut the stems back in spring and give it some straw for frost-protection in the autumn.
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