I’m currently digging over much of the lawn in my new south-facing, raised front garden in South Devon, to make way for a tropical display. As always, I’m growing the bulk of my plants from seed this year; I can’t resist but be a part of the whole growing process from beginning, till fruition.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that South Devon’s winters are milder than much of the UK, but that didn’t stop me doing the same when I lived in North Warwickshire. The more tender varieties of plants enjoyed the protection of a conservatory, a blanket of garden fleece or a sheltered spot in the garden to see them through the coldest months. As plants tend to become dormant over winter, you can often get away with bringing them into the house and placing them on a bright windowsill or patio door.
I’ve always found it useful to grow exotic, frost-tender plants in my best pots so that when winter falls, they won’t look out of place in and around the home. Just make sure you check your pots for plugs and other critters before bringing them in.
Tropical plant varieties to grow from seed
Now I have to admit, I have seen a few of these around but never grown them up until now. These shrubs of Hawaii as best grown in greenhouses and conservatories, but will cope with being put out during the warmer months of summer. Frangipani bears lovely glossy laurel-like leaves and hosts fiery bracts of waxy flowers produced over a long period. Sow from late winter to mid-summer.
I am driving my wife mad with daily updates on how my Canna seedlings are getting on. These really are my favourite of the exotics and they are so easy to grow from seed. There is no reason why Cannas shouldn’t flower in the first year, and even if they don’t, I always think that the best thing about these tuberous plants are the amazing banana-palm-like leaves they produce in a wide range of shades and patterns. This is a definite must-have for any exotic border. Sow from late winter to mid-summer or late autumn.
Another exotic plant that I will be growing from seed this year. Abutilon carry large, papery pastel hibiscus-like flowers above leaves similar to those found on a maple tree. They look excellent as a container plant in a shadier part of the garden, or as a houseplant. Best sown from February – April.
Bird of Paradise
I have been the proud owner of a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia) for many years now. It spends every winter in indoors and summer in a sunny border in my garden. You will have to wait for up to 4 years for one to flower from seed, but well worth the wait. Each flower resembles a tropical birds head – orange, with dashes of blue and red. Although, they require warmth over winter, Bird of Paradise plants are fairly robust and will take many bashes and will forgive you if you forget to water them from time to time.
I feel embarrassed to admit that I haven’t heard of this one before this year. I like the fact that this is something new to me and I’m really looking forward to getting hold of the seeds of the Cardiocrinum. It can take over 3 years to flower from seed, but can produce masses of fragrant, white tropical trumpet-like flowers in a sunny or semi-shaded part of the garden. Sow February to July.
A very exotic and fiery climber. The flowers are very impressive with up to 12 per flower spike producing a spectacular combination as they age. They start off a most powerful and stunning bright red and as they mature they go from red to orange, orange to yellow and from yellow to white and all are out at the same time. A plant positively loaded with flowers is an impressive sight. Climbs to 120-180cm (4-6ft).
This one always reminds me of our honeymoon in Cornwall. They were absolutely everywhere and should survive a mild winter in most parts of southern England, but require some protection from severe frost. Echiums are biennial and which flower in the second year before dying. Short but sweet. No wonder this is also called Tower of Jewels, or ‘Pride of Tenerife’. Exceptionally tall flower spikes packed with either rose or purple-blue flowers, interspersed with silver-green lanceolate leaves.
Clitorea ternatea Butterfly Pea
A fast-growing tropical climber producing a wonderful display of 5cm (2in) blue flowers from mid to late summer. Ideal for covering a trellis in a sheltered part of the garden where it will attract bees and butterflies, or as a perennial grown in a conservatory. Climbs 1.8m-2.4m (6-8 feet).