Mid September already?
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.
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).
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 ‘Twyning’s Smartie’ 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.
‘Twyning’s Smartie’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.