The Tropical Border – 3rd Year

Mid September already?


It seems just a few short weeks since I lugged a large Musa basjoo out of a greenhouse;DSM_3231

since I stripped the straw protection off those I’d left outside.


Only a little while since I wheeled out Colocasia esculenta


and hefty red bananas (Ensete maurelii).


Hardly any time at all since I manhandled this particular fellow into position.  Well, two of us manhandled.


April 2014

But all that was months ago – way, way back in April.  Spring was very mild this year and I gambled on getting the tropical border under way earlier than usual.  (Frosts are common at the Priory during April and even into early May).


May 2014

The gamble paid off – we had no late, hard frosts and by the end of May, daylilies, cannas and dahlias were pushing through a thick, compost mulch.  A mulch which I had generously scattered with pelleted chicken manure.


By early June, spider daylilies were blooming, including ‘Stoplight’.


But overall the bed was still fairly sparse.  Tropical borders are late starters.


A month later and it had plumped up a bit.



Lilium pardalinum looked splendid.


They flower for several weeks, look rather exotic and so sit well in this border.  I like them a lot … but not enough.  I shall remove them in the autumn.  As pretty as they are, they’re a martyr to lily beetle.  However many red beetles and ghastly grubs I picked off, later on they became infested; tatty, yellowed and horrid.  Some plants simply don’t make the grade.   But then this a learning curve for me; I find out what works by experimentation.  Sometimes disappointing experimentation.


Unlike the lilies, Dahlia ‘Smarty’ most certainly does work and has earned itself a regular centre-stage spot. The biggest, this one, was left in the ground over-winter, heavily mulched.  All the dahlias left in the ground performed better than those I lifted, stored and replanted.


‘Smarty’ produces a staggering amount of flower – each one different.  It is a reliable, non-stop stalwart, thuggishly shouldering to the fore.


Mid July and another star performer has entered the fray – Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.


Regular dead-heading should ensure flowering through to the first frost.


With two dahlias performing so very well, I’m hoping for a third.  I’ve added another to the mix – D. ‘Twyning’s After Eight’.  Though still small they’ll make a bigger impact in 2015.  Incidentally, I only grow single dahlia varieties.  I do like some of the ball and cactus forms but bees and butterflies don’t.


Also by July, and at long last, my bête noire – those satellite dishes – were obscured, if only partially.  Thank you tropical border.  Thank you so very much indeed.


Arundo donax centre, rear

Early August and Canna ‘Red King Humbert’ and red bananas add height and dark foliage.  Arundo donax – the Spanish reed – adds yet more height, but produced fewer canes than I wished for.  I have two of the variegated form (Arundo donax ‘Variegata’) – though you can’t see them.  They are at the back and only a couple of feet tall.   I can dream that they’ll tower next year.


Canna coccinea is a brilliant plant.  Hardy, handsome and stout enough to stand without support (which is all any one of us can hope for).  I have one big clump and it really should be spilt.  But I’ll struggle to find space for the new plants.  I only have so much room. 


I will however always find space for Salvia uliginosa.  If you don’t grow it, please explain why.  You really should.  I adore it.  Though hardly exotic, it flowers for months, doesn’t need dead-heading and grows to six or seven feet.  Did I mention that I adore it?  Even if it does need staking.DSM_8425

Bees love it too.  But it isn’t necessarily hardy, at least at the Priory.  I lift and store mine in the cold frame.  I feed and water prodigiously but I’ve read online that it is happy in a dry garden.  Which considering its common name, bog sage, I find surprising.  Most sources suggest propagation by cuttings but I find the easiest way is simply to divide the root ball.


Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ foreground

There are some big foliage plants in the border:  Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ is putting out bigger leaves each year.  I like ‘Rex’ but it does sucker like crazy.  In a confined space this can be annoying although you’ll have plenty of presents for friends.  It does fine in pots and is hardy enough to leave out over winter.


There are also two Melianthus major plants here – though you can’t see them.  They are toward the back and completely swamped.   I’ll pull them forward next year.  And the colocasias haven’t made much of a statement either – they too are towards the rear.  I’ll need to re-tinker the planting – as I do every year.


There is no denying that a tropical/exotic border is a lot of work.  Large, non-hardy plants must be planted out in spring and dug up again at the end of the season.  Dahlias will flower dementedly – if you deadhead.  Enormous Amazonian leaves will unfurl – if you feed.  The border will look lush – if you water.  But I’ve had it with hour upon hour of watering.  Next year, I shall criss-cross soaker-hose throughout the bed.  Such an obvious solution – and a little worrying that it hadn’t occurred to me before.


Colocasia esculenta peeping out, right

Hurricane Bertha proved that some of my staking was inadequate.  My friend Jill (who tended the gardens whilst I was away in Germany) had to single-handedly hoist huge, flattened plants back upright and lash them to posts.  She did a marvellous, heroic job.  Thanks Jill.


The border last week. Battered and banana leaves ripped by the storm, it’s just about hanging on

If you want to grab a visitor’s attention; if you wish to be enthralled by enormous jungle plants; if you long for lush green and outrageous colour for several months, then do try a tropical/exotic border.  I can’t think of any other part of the gardens that gives me quite so much pleasure.

Roll on Year 4.

Win A Copy Of ‘The English Country House Garden’

It’s been several months since I’ve held a book competition on The Anxious Gardener.  How remiss of me.  How selfish.  And so to remedy that I’ll be giving away two shiny, non-thumbed books in the next couple of weeks.  Here’s the first.

The English Country House Garden

The English Country House Garden’ retails at twenty-five of your Earthling pounds and here’s what publisher, Frances Lincoln, has to say about it:

In ‘The English Country House Garden’ George Plumptre takes 25 country house gardens of England and binds them together to tell a compelling narrative, whilst giving each its own particular emphasis. He sets the scene with the ‘essentials’ of Hidcote, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, examining why they have achieved their pre-eminent reputations.  Next he takes five gardens to illustrate the sweep of history from Elizabethan Montacute to the 18th-century landscape at Rousham, High Victorian principles at Tyntesfield, the Arts & Crafts at Rodmarton, and Folly Farm where an Edwardian masterpiece has been revived for the 21st century. Then he illustrates the ‘country house garden ideal’ and how a select group of gardens evoke this. Each has an atmosphere, a sense of romance or long history, that is as significant and memorable as their planting and design. These lead on to ‘personal creations’ where the garden is an expression of a personality or family. These include Lullingstone Castle where Tom Hart Dyke has made his World Garden; Exbury where Lionel de Rothschild created an unrivalled rhododendron garden; and the contrast of Charleston where the Bells and the others from the Bloomsbury group gardened in bohemian tranquillity. Finally the author turns his attention to contemporary masterpieces:  the work of Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, and the partnerships of Alan Gray and Graham Robeson showing how they have rejuvenated historic landscape settings.

Interesting, huh?  Would you like to own a copy?  Well, here’s all you need to do:

leave a comment below saying that you wish to enter


(if you don’t already) follow ‘The Anxious Gardener’ blog, follow me on Twitter or like The Anxious Gardener Facebook page.  Hell, do all three – I shan’t mind.  (The appropriate follow buttons are top right of this page).

The closing date is midnight on Thursday 11th September 2014.

I shall draw the winner out of my


and notify the winner by email and add the result to the bottom of this post.  I’m afraid you must have a UK postal address to enter or the use of one.  (The book can only be posted within the UK).

Good luck!

There will be another book draw in a couple of weeks.


The competition is now closed.  And the winner is Dan, The Singing Gardener.  Congratulations.