The Tropical Border Revisited

Back in April, I told you about the new tropical or hot border I was developing (see ‘Planning for the Tropical Border’).  And I promised to let you know how it turned out; unless, of course, it was a humiliating disaster in which case I most certainly would not.

Well, actually it hasn’t been too bad (despite the absence of a ‘topical’ summer) so here are a few shots taken over the last few weeks.

Various Cannas (including coccinea), Bishop of Llandaff dahlias, Fuchsia thalia and Lilium pardalinum have all flowered pretty well.  As did several self-sown, gaudy snapdragons that artfully filled gaps I’d purposefully left.  *Cough*

While foliage plants including Colocasia esculenta, Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’, Melianthus major and the bananas Musa basjoo and Ensete maurelii all put on good growth and should be more impressive still next year.

I’ve really enjoyed watching an entirely new bed fill out with unusual and exotic large plants, with the big leafy planting meshed together with Verbena bonariensis.

Not everything has been a resounding success.  The giant reed (Arundo donax – centre, rear) only threw up three or four canes and looks decidedly spindly; but it is a thug and I’m sure it will muscle itself to the fore next year (though I wish I’d followed Christopher Lloyd’s suggestion and bought the variegated form).  And also (sniffle) my Echium pininana didn’t flower (sob); I grew them from seed last year.

Here they are (right) just after they were planted out in May.  I  had banked on them carrying the whole border on their tall, stately, blue-flowered shoulders.  But no, they have let me down and must be transplanted back to the greenhouse to overwinter, in the hope that they will flower next year.

Easily said.  These are now hefty, prickly plants …

… and moving them is hard work.  And besides, I’m not convinced they will survive the process and another winter under glass.

Colocasia is easier to handle and barrow …

… to where I could pot it up in leaf mould.

I almost put my back out moving this fellow.  The red banana (Ensete maurelii) is instant impact when planted out in the spring.

Though I wonder how much longer I will be able to lift this particular specimen without help.

The hardy bananas (Musa basjoo) are not worth lifting.  They are young and didn’t grow much and so can stay put.  I don’t mind if they are killed back down to ground level – which is what will happen if I don’t protect their stems.  But over in what was an experimental ‘tropical border’ last year is a …

… larger specimen.  Last year I wrapped it in hessian to ward off frost.

But I obviously didn’t do it thick enough and the three-foot trunk turned to mush.   This year I intend to protect it properly.  I put a column of wire netting about the de-leafed banana …

… and then stuffed it with straw (knowing the local farmer is a real boon!).

Hmmm.  Not a thing of great beauty … but it should do the job and next year’s new growth will be given a three-foot head start.

I rather like this border.  It is a lot of work preparing it for winter but some of the plants like the dahlias and melianthus and tetrapanax can be mulched and left in situ.   Having seen how the various plants meld together, my spacing next year should be better and, if we actually get some decent sun, then this new bed should really get underway. And, who knows, my echiums might just flower!

29 thoughts on “The Tropical Border Revisited

  1. I’m playing a little catch up. I remember seeing this post on my mail but then I didn’t have the time to leave my comment. I knew this border would be great, you made a really good job. Shame you have to dismantle almost everything for winter.
    Ps don’t worry about the arundo, it will rip the brick wall off next year! 😉


  2. Dave, it’s looking absolutely splendid. I’ve become a big fan of canna and taro, liking them for their flamboyance, when there can sometimes be, here, a bit of spindliness!
    You know, English light is very kind to plants, making everything look goldy-rosy. Or maybe it’s just your professional horticultural skill. I know here that whatever I do is going to look end up looking just a little barbecued .


    • Barbecued, at the mo, sounds good Mr F. The weather here is wet and grey and drab. Did I mention grey? Lousy for photos and lousy for gardening. Might get a job in a nice warm shop. D


  3. Wow that’s great… (I’m jealous) I tend towards the ‘if it can’t cope out there I don’t want it’ philosophy and now I see what I’m missing…


  4. Well as you say you didn’t have a particularly tropical summer and the border looks pretty good to me. I love the large leaved bananas etc. but I don’t think it would grow here without a serious amount of work. I think I’ll just enjoy yours! Christina


    • You’d need a lot of water, Christina – which in your very hot summers might be a problem. ‘Sides your garden looks mighty fine enough without the addition of tropical stuff. D


  5. Don’t feel badly, Dave — not everyone’s Echium pininana can flower every year. Mine never have. (But then, I’ve never planted any, either.) I’m not generally a canna fan — here it’s often mass planted in median strips and looks unprovoked and out of place — but it looks wonderful with all those red dahlias. They must have been a cheery sight on gray days! If the tropical bed looks this gorgeous after a cold, damp summer, it ought to be a show-stopper after a warm one.


    • Show stopper was the idea, Stacy with the echiums towering twelve to sixteen feet into the air! Oh well, perhaps next year. And I do know what you mean about cannas – I’m not that bothered by the flowers; it is the leaves I really want. Dave


    • Hi Holley, the verbena is a little trick I nicked from the tropical gardens at Great Dixter. And yes a lot of work but most of the plants would be killed outright without winter protection. D


    • Hi, it is very satisfying isn’t it: putting tender stuff to bed? Glad you liked the border – I am very enthusiastic about next year. For a start many of the plants put on so much growth, I shall be able to split them and fill gaps. D


  6. I agree with Sara, a mighty fine border, shame about the echiums, but hey, there is always next year! Do you mulch straight over the stems of the dahlias? And what with? Now that I am blessed with free draining soil I am hoping to be able to leave dahlias in the ground – am not a fan of lifting plants, I usually find myself in the middle of a relapse just when they are crying out for attention, and it gets expensive!


    • Hi Janet, for the first year (at the Priory) I’m leaving dahlias in situ. Having been blackened by frost I cut off all bar a couple of inches of stem and then cover with 3-4 inches of leaf mould. I could use garden compost but the latter is very wet at the moment and the mould just looks and feels warmer and drier!! In my old garden (half a mile from the Priory) I’d often forget to mulch dahlias but they would still sail through cold winters. I think they are hardier than people think. Dave


  7. I think the tropical border looks lovely, especially considering the dreadful summer. Don’t be too hard on your Echiums, it can’t have been much fun for them with a lack of sun and wet feet for most of the summer. They’ve probably had the plant version of SAD. 😉 That red banana is a real stunner. Would love to grow them but even if I do get a greenhouse the space is already spoken for. Bad isn’t it? I haven’t even bought a greenhouse yet and the space is all already mentally filled.


    • Thing with the echiums is, WW, that they take up so much bleedin space. In fact I wasn’t able to move all of them – two have been left outside and will have to take their chances. I really, really sympathise with you not having a greenhouse. I was promised one (by the other half) in this new house of ours but the money got frittered away on other things, so I shall have to wait awhile. But we can dream, eh?


  8. Very professional job protecting those Musa basjoos 🙂 The tropical border looked great! And it has done so well despite the almost non existent summer we just had. The rain helped in making them look lush, the lack of heat could have been a problem but those plants didn’t seem to mind. Roll on spring!


    • Hi Boys, yeah it was a bit of a baptism of fire (if I may mix my metaphors) for this new bed. Certainly all that rain helped to get stuff established but lots more sun would’ve been greatly appreciated and, I think, allowed the echiums to flower. D


  9. A definite success I would think! Wouldn’t like all the lifting involved but can admire the effect when someone else has done all the work!!


  10. That’s looking pretty fine. ‘Topical’ summer notwithstanding 😉
    It filled out well, with all the fabulous large and exotic foliage, hot reds and drifts of verbena. I really like the red banana.
    Don’t envy you all the heavy lifting, but it’s only a couple of times a year, and worth it for the effect. Big strong chap like you, it should be a piece of cake. Mmm cake – you’ll earn yourself a slice or two of that in the process I should think.
    That’s a very cosy banana in its straw duvet, should be bright and chirpy in the spring indeed. S x


    • Hi Sara, there is something quite nurturing about lifting tender (if very large) plants and whisking them off to the greenhouse. And you also appreciate how much growth they have put on during the season as you lift them and realise just how heavy they have become and get to inspect the roots. I reckon that red banana tripled in size! Dave


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