Exotic garden plants used to be the preserve of stately gardens such as Kew, with huge glass houses and an army of staff to pamper these tender plants. Well, times have changed and there are a wealth of plant suppliers that specialise in exotic plants now. There are more and more varieties being discovered and bred that are quite hardy and can tolerate the UK climate very well. Growing them at your own house would be almost as impressive and innovative as when this dude grew a flower in space. Here are some choices that would transform your outdoor space.
Starting with some lilies a particularly nice one is Crinium x powellii ‘Album’ commonly known as Cape or Swamp lily. Why it is known as swamp lily is a mystery as it requires good drainage. Planted in a sunny spot, in fertile soil, it will provide you with sweet smelling, large, trumpet-shaped white flowers.
With long, lush strappy leaves it provides interest long before flowering as well.
Another great lily is Lilium leichtlinii var. leichtlinii. Growing to a height of 1.5 metres with drooping yellow flowers spotted with purple. This Mexican flower prefers partial shade but can take full sun. With shelter from the wind and a mulch in winter, this stunning example can handle the British climate with ease.
My favourite although not strictly a lily is Dracunculas vulgaris with many common names such as Dragon Lily or Dragon Arum although this purple number is native to Europe it looks like it should come from the tropics. At 1 metre tall it gives a big impact and when established the clumps with their strange inflorescence are almost otherworldly. Moist soil and good light with a little grit around the roots to prevent rot are all that is required.
Acanthus spinosus, Spiny Bear’s Breeches is another plant that looks like it is from another continent, almost another planet. Bold tall clumps of arching shiny leaves with columns of white flowers with purple hoods surrounded by spikes are truly spectacular. Full sun with a deep rich soil is needed and a permanent spacious home is what this vigorous beast has to have. This herbaceous plant is fully hardy and can take whatever weather is thrown at it.
The Star of Persia, an allium with delicate purple flowers growing to a height of 60 cm, is another mountain beauty. Fully hardy put this one in full sun with well-drained alkaline soil with plenty of gravel and sand, at the foot of a Yucca would be perfect.
For adding some structure and year-round interest Yuccas are ideal and can survive very well. Commonly known as the Thompson’s Yucca or Beaked Yucca, Yucca thompsonia grows to an impressive 2 metres when mature, making it a perfect architectural centrepiece. Requiring a little thought when planting as this specimen must be perfectly free draining for the winter. A good idea is to plant on a slope or a raised bed consisting of crushed rock, gravel, sand and some suitable plants for rockeries with little or no organic material. A Mexican native it may be, but it can go as low as -15 degrees Celsius. Having said that it is advised to wrap in a fleece if below -10. When buying a Thomson’s Yucca please do not be tempted to buy a full-grown plant as it’s a very good chance that it has been dug up from the wild. Find a reputable supplier that grows their own the plant will be healthy and not be shocked and you will not be party to habitat destruction. Mind that you’d wouldn’t have to repot this fellow as often for they perform well even when the roots are crowded. You can do your own test by observing the water flow after watering it – if it runs down the pot without damping the soil – then its the time for repotting!
Yucca rigida or the blue Yucca is another mighty choice to add height and structure. A little taller at 2.5 metres when mature, this hombre not only gives height but has, as the name suggests a blueish tint to the foliage. As with all yuccas, free draining soil and dry overwintering is essential.
Staying with canopy planting if you have space why not go for a palm. The Windermere Palm or Trachycarpus latisectus is a little fussier and tender only tolerating –5 to –7 degrees Celsius. Needing a south facing sheltered position and partial shading when young this Himalayan beauty will hit 12 metres so may not be a viable option for most.
For that truly exotic feel to a garden bromeliads are the way to go, Queen’s Tears is so tough it can be grown as an epiphyte. Billbergia nutans is so easy to grow and is the hardiest of the bunch. Partial shade, shelter, acidic soil and you are good to go. The clusters of small flowers held on bracts of soft pink have green petals with an amazing metallic blue edging. If grown as an epiphyte in a crook of a tree the strap like foliage tumbles down the branches in true jungle style.
Keeping with the jungle theme bamboos adds a sense of eastern mystery to your garden. Bringing height, contrasting foliage and movement they are very easy to cultivate, often needing to be restricted as they grow so well. Borinda fungosa or the chocolate bamboo is a rare but beautiful, highly ornamental bamboo. A very graceful plant with a weeping habit the leaves forming fragile looking fans with a very pleasant lime green colour. When grown in full sun and with age, the culms turn a darker, reddish almost chocolate brown colour, which contrasts wonderfully with the lighter leaves. The cooler, moist UK climate suits this Asian mountain dweller very well. Plenty of water during the summer and if a particularly harsh winter is on the cards mulch and fleece may be required.