The Tropical Border – 2nd Year

With the first hint of autumn, the garden is looking decidedly tired in places


but the tropical border at least is putting on a show.  It doesn’t come into its own until quite late in the season and during this hot, dry Sussex summer it has needed almost daily watering.


I added plenty of well-rotted manure and garden compost before I began planting in early May

DSM_2769and a month later there still isn’t much to see.

DSM_3560By the end of June self-sown antirrhinums are in flower and some cannas and hardy bananas, (Musa bajoo), are finally emerging.

DSM_4606By mid July the pace has picked up.  Many of these plants need support and in the foreground is one of six metal display stands which I fished out of a skip at a garden centre.  They are perfect for growing dahlias through and in time will be completely hidden.

DSM_4680The big red banana (Ensete maurelii) has thrown out new leaves and, in front of it, Spanish reed (Arundo donax) is already five foot tall – it’ll get much bigger.


At the end of July, Lilium pardalinum is in flower


as are spider daylilies.  I’ve introduced three varieties into the front of the border but ‘Stoplight’ is the only one to flower this year.


I thought these exotic-looking enough to work here.  (I met Pollie of Pollie’s Daylilies via twitter and her website is well worth a visit.  She holds the national collection of Spiders and has an amazing array of all Hemerocallis – and she did me a good deal!  Thanks Pollie).


By August one of the red bananas is taller than me (I worry how on Earth I shall move it to the greenhouse)


and the two dahlias in the bed are flowering furiously.


Last year, I only grew ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ but this year


I’ve added ‘Twyning’s Smartie’ too.


There are three cannas in the bed: C. coccinea (which has grown much taller than last year but doesn’t need staking).


Here it is with its knees hidden by Gaura lindheimeri.


I’ve foolishly put C. indica ‘Tropicanna Gold’ too far back and its handsome striped foliage is mostly hidden.


C. ‘Red King Humbert’ is repeated throughout the bed with lovely bronze foliage and orange flowers.

Next year, I shall rejig the planting – some of the foliage plants aren’t as obvious as I would have liked.


The two Melianthus major at the back of the border are barely visible but as they are still growing strongly that may change.


Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ is producing large palmate leaves and sending out lots of suckers but its impact is possibly lost against a mound of honeysuckle.  I did consider removing the latter but the scent is so strong it embraces most of the bed.


And the two Colocasia esculenta are a little cramped.  I thought I’d provided them with enough  room but obviously not. 


Last autumn, I either left Musa basjoo to be killed back to ground level by cold or carted them off to the greenhouse.  This year I shall leave them be but protect the stems against frost and have much taller plants next year.

At the front of the bed are various smaller plants; including three very kindly given to me by the boys at ‘Alternative Eden

DSM_6317Persicaria filiformis has pretty marked leaves and narrow red flower spikes (only not yet);

DSM_6038Fallopia japonica ‘Milkboy’ likes a shady spot as its leaves get scorched by strong sunlight.  However, here it is in full sun and it seems happy


and the leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculata”) which I do grow in shade.  I know the blotched leaves aren’t to everyone’s taste … but I love it.

DSM_6336Also at the front is the perfect blue of Salvia patens.  This isn’t fully hardy at the Priory and I dig it up and store over-winter in the cold frame.

DSM_6761And at the rear is my favourite salvia, the unfortunately named bog sage, S. uliginosa.  A tall, graceful beauty with pale blue flowers which last right through to the first frost.  (It also isn’t reliably hardy at the Priory and again, I pop it under glass).  I shall bring it to the front of the border next year.


Last year, in September, the border looked like this.


This year it has filled out considerably and as we waltz into September it is rewarding to have a part of the garden that really zings and grabs the attention of visitors.  Subtle and restrained it is not.  The border is still very much a work in progress with plenty of editing and re-shuffling needed next year.  But in the meantime, its exuberance and colour will hopefully last for at least another month and quite possibly well into October.

(With many thanks for the inspiration of Christopher Lloyd and Great Dixter).


28 thoughts on “The Tropical Border – 2nd Year

  1. I love it! Fantastic job. The banana will be quite the project to move this year and a two man job the year after! What a great plant.
    The bishop will have to go on the list for next year, I can only hope it will do half as well as yours.


    • Hi, thanks. So long as you give the dahlias’ planting hole plenty of organic matter and keep watering furiously I’m sure yours will do well. I managed to lift the ensete by myself last year but this year it’s already a two-man job – it’s still growing at quite a rate. Dave


  2. It’s taken me a while to catch up but I’m so pleased to see your photos of the tropical border. It looks stunning. I so love the strong colours against the brick. I love bananas. I acquired one a few years ago but had no greenhouse at the time to overwinter it in and I lost it.


    • Hi WW, sorry to hear about the banana. Was it a M. basjoo? If so you were unlucky to lose it; so long as you mulch the roots it should be hardy enough to grow back even if all the top growth is lost. If it was the ensete then well yes, you do need a heated greenhouse or conservatory. D


    • I’ve overdone the verbena rather – I shall be more miserly with it next year when hopefully the big guns will take up more space. It is such a great plant but I do tend to overuse. Hard to rein it in though when it attracts so very many butterflies and bees. D


    • Hi Boys, the P. filiformis is self seeding so I shall be spreading it along the front of the border next year. And the farfugium is somewhat lost in its present location – hoping for it to make more of an impact next year. D


  3. It’s a dreary morning here and these photos just carried me away. So different from my garden, but such a pleasure to see. Yes, Christopher Lloyd was in my mind as I read your post. I wonder how tall that Tetrapanax gets.


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