Our Exotic & Tropical Gardening Blog

2 great plants to give you attractive flowers in late Autumn

If you are looking for something that will flower in late Autumn, perhaps think about planting the shrubby Viburnum tinus for height and the herbaceous Liriope muscari for the shady base.

Buy Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' online in the UKViburnum tinus – Hailing from the Mediterranean region, Viburnum tinus grows well in or temperate climate and is a very popular winter flowering shrub, particularly as it forms a dense evergreen screen. It is also widely cultivated for its winter flowering habit in regions with mild winters. Viburnum tinus grows to around 2-4m tall and wide with time, forming a thick dense canopy of foliage consisting of opposite pairs of 4-10cm long leathery, dark green leaves that ‘being evergreen’ and can last for 2-3 years. The main attraction of this shrub is its long flowering period from October through to late May; hence there are always some flowers to be seen throughout the winter months depending on the weather. (It can be bought from here)

Liriope muscari big blue lily-turf - Buy online in the UKLiriope muscari – On a more diminutive scale is Liriope muscari, the ‘blue lily-turf’ from eastern Asia, where it is an understory plant growing in shady forests at elevations of between 100-1400 metres in China, Korea and Japan. (It can be bought from here).

It is a tufted almost grass-like perennial growing from 30-45cm tall, forming tight clumps of evergreen, strap-like glossy, dark green leaves. From August to November, short flower spikes appear with tiered wholes of dense, violet-purple flowers, rising above the foliage. It is a very attractive plant that is almost maintenance-free, making this an excellent choice for the autumn garden. It is a tough plant without becoming thuggish as it spreads very slowly.

More information and where to buy.
We suggest to buy the Viburnum tinus from here, and the Liriope muscari from here.

Let us know how you get on!

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It’s time to grow the beautiful Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper bush)

The beautiful Edgeworthia chrysanthaI discovered this absolute gem of a late winter, early spring flowering shrub at a local garden centre this time last year and have absolutely fallen in love with it! Edgeworthia chrysantha, also known as the ‘paper bush’, is a stunning small shrub native to the Himalayas and China and is closely related to the well-known Daphne.

The buds form in autumn, slowly enlarging throughout the winter in tightly held nodding clusters at the end of twiggy bare branches. Each cluster is covered in silky white hairs which look very attractive in themselves almost looking like a light covering of frost. In late winter the small individual flowers open from the edge of each cluster like ballerina skirts until they are all fully open.

I have a large plant nearly 1m across next to my front door so I can enjoy it every time I pass and inhale its intense fragrance which is divine – in fact I make excuses to go out so I can enjoy its beauty!

In March this year I saw many large specimens growing in gardens on a visit to Philadelphia US with some up toIt’s time to grow the beautiful Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper bush) 2m tall by 3m wide. I have no idea why this late winter flowering shrub is not grown more often in our warmer gardens. It is hardy to around -5C so best planted against a sunny south facing wall with some protection at hand for cold snaps, or you can do what I do, leave it outside and bring it under cover just on those really cold nights.

I think it’s worth that extra bit of effort for a shrub that will reward you with a fantastic show in late winter for years to come.

Find out more:
Buy this beautiful plant from here

It’s time to grow the beautiful Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper bush)

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Overwintering borderline exotic tubers such as Cannas and Dahlias

Although it’s now late October many of the more tender plants are still looking excellent here at the Exotic Garden in Norwich, with two plants in particular growing really well, enjoying the cooler days and nights – the Dahlias and Cannas.

DahliaImage above: Dahlia ‘Pooh’

Many enthusiastic gardeners dig up them up for storage at the beginning of October which is far too soon as they are still in flower.

For those of you who haven’t grown Cannas before – they are ridiculously exotic over-the-top plants grown their fantastic foliage which range in colour from green to darkest purple, often with very large gladioli-like flower on top. In the cooler days of September through October, plants such as these put on masses of growth. As the days and nights cool down they build up large tubers to take them through the cold winter months. Cannas can be left in the ground until the first frosts blacken their leaves, which is often not until well into November here, though you can dig them up earlier if you wish.

Lobelia cardinalis & Canna Pretoria in the Exotic GardenImage above: Lobelia cardinalis & Canna ‘Pretoria’ in the Exotic Garden

They should be dug up and all the top growth removed down to about 4-6ins above ground level, then placed in a plastic pot (I use the black ones) that are only slightly bigger than the tubers, then filled with a mixture of general potting compost mixed with composted bark chippings. If, like me, you have a lot of cannas, they can be stored in a similar mix, but using large slated crates instead of pots, that will hold a dozen or more tubers depending on their size.

I store my tubers frost free under a greenhouse bench, but they would be equally happy in a garage with a blanket over them to keep out frost or any cool frost free place that isn’t to damp, as they need to be kept on the dry side to prevent mould (botrytis) forming.

Dahlias can be stored in the same way though personally I leave mine in the ground as most are pretty hardy here. If you live in a frost prone area a mulch of compost or something similar can be used to a depth of about 6ins deep which will keep out the severest frost.

Dahlias and cannas can be bought during the winter months and stored ready for planting in the spring.

Overwintering Canna plantsOn the right there is a short video we made a couple of years ago about overwintering Cannas you might be interested in.

We will be writing much more about the step by step process of digging up and storing tubers in the next few weeks when we actually get out and start digging.

Further information:
Video – Overwintering Cannas
Our selection of Cannas to buy
Top Tips for keeping the tropical feel to your garden this Autumn
Protecting our tender exotics for winter & 7 things to do right now!
How to brighten up your windowsill using bulbs this winter

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How to brighten up your windowsill using bulbs this winter

Nothing like a few bulbs to brighten up those dull winter days…!

Buy Narcissus Paper White (PaperWhite) Online in the UKAt this time of year I always like to plant some winter flowering bulbs in pots to brighten up the house on those fast approaching short days.

A single bowl-full of Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’, you can buy from here, with their intoxicating scent will fill the house with fragrance for weeks. They are very easy to grow, as unlike other Narcissus species, ‘Paperwhite’ do not require chilling to promote bloom. I plant them close together in bowls filled with bulb fibre making sure the growing tips are protruding just above the top of the compost and place them somewhere cool.

[Image Right: Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’]

The bulbs begin to grow as soon as they are planted, with flowers spectacularly appearing in 4-6 weeks after planting. For long lasting blooms, they are best kept cool at between 50-65°F (10-18°C) in indirect light such as an entrance hall.

The fabulous Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
You may have noticed crates of very large bulbs for sale at your local garden centre or DIY store or in individual boxes with a pot – these are Amaryllis (Hippeastrum). What fabulously over-the-top plants they are, coming in a vast array of colours from deepest redAmaryllis 'Black Pearl'  through pinks to white and many multi coloured forms. When I was little boy, I used to refer to them as loud speaker plants as one stem can hold four large 6ins wide blooms reminding me of loud speakers!

[Image Right: Hippeastrum ‘Black Pearl’]

Individual bulbs (which can be quite large) should be planted in bulb fibre in a container only about 1ins wider than the bulb, with ¾ of the bulb above the surface (do not bury the bulb). A flowering spike will soon appear; rapidly growing up to 18ins tall with tightly closed buds that soon explode into full floral radiance. Given a bright, airy, cool position, they will bloom for several weeks. The strap-like leaves appear soon after the flowers spike. If several bulbs are purchased, they should be planted in succession every two weeks or so, greatly extending the flowering season.
When they have finished flowering, they can then be fed with a proprietary house plant fertilizer. In the spring withhold water and they will then go dormant for the summer months ready to flower again the following spring autumn.

Places to buy these bulbs & more info:
Buy Narcissus Paperwhite from here
Buy Hippeastrum ‘Black Pearl’ here

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Protecting our tender exotics for winter & 7 things to do right now!

Jamie Overwintering the bananas in the Exotic GardenLike it or not, the winter is fast approaching, and though we exoticist’s don’t really like to think about it, never-the-less, we must, and now is the time to prepare for the cold days to come.

Image: Jamie Spooner wrapping a small banana plant Musa Basjoo with fleece and straw in a previous year at The Exotic Garden

This can be done in degrees, dealing with the tenderest planting first, especially when you consider that tender perennials hail from tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world or are hybrids of such plants. Here at the Exotic Garden in Norwich we never (well not over the last 30 years) get frost before the beginning of November, well certainly not killing frost! Obviously – in more northerly parts of the UK and gardens that are in a frost pocket or wide open space which get frosts far earlier than this.

For this reason, I think one of the most important items to have in your garden is a max/min thermometer, so you can not only see what the daytime temperature is, but more importantly how cold it is getting at night.

Cold air flows downhill so if you have a sloping garden I would suggest having at least two thermometers to find the warmest and coldest parts of your garden. Make sure that your thermometer never gets direct sunlight on it as you want to know the air temperature. Also, it should be around three and five feet of the ground. [ This one is good ]

Protecting Tropical Plants this winter with a thermometer

If you live in an open edged garden with fields on either side your garden will tend to get colder than a garden that is surrounded by tall shrubs and trees or if you live in a city – this is called a microclimate which I will talk about in future blogs.

Most people do not have a greenhouse so are reluctant to grow tender plants, though many gardeners I know put their prized plants in frost free garages, bedrooms, bathrooms, even living rooms, if you like living in a jungle during the winter months! In the US most houses have a basement which can be utilised for over wintering. I would always suggest that wherever you keep them it is cool and not warm as light levels are low indoors and you plants will get stretched (this is known as eteolation), hence the cooler your plants are kept, the better, as you want them to go dormant.

If you are protecting plants outside, large flowerpots or similar, can be stuffed with straw and placed over the top. Larger borderline plants can be wrapped with horticultural fleece or hessian (burlap) and for added protection straw can be used as well. [ Try here for fleece ] If you are overwintering in a greenhouse or Polly tunnel, you can either have them unheated or heated though this can be expensive, but worth it if you’re a plant nut like me! Although electricity is the most expensive form of heating it is the driest as paraffin or gas heaters create a lot of moisture which can cause botrytis (mould) to build up. I will talk about all these methods in weeks to come.

Meanwhile here are a few things to consider and do in October

1. Buy min/max thermometers if you haven’t already – [ Try Here ]
2. Think about where you will store your plants over winter
3. Buy heaters to protect from frost – [ Try Here ]
4. Buy in your gardening fleece or hessian protection – [ Try here ]
5. Get in your straw [Any straw is fine here – Pet shops are good for this & cheap]
6. Find your pots or large containers to put over your plants [You usual garden center]
7. Think about other forms of protection – is there anything else you could do?

More reading:
Will’s Top Tips for keeping that tropical feel to your garden this Autumn

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Top Tips for keeping the tropical feel to your garden this Autumn

This week, our in-house gardening expert Will Giles gives us some handy tips and ideas for keeping that tropical feeling in our gardens whilst heading into Autumn.

Coleus Hybrid against Colocasia esculenta
(Image: Coleus Hybrid against Colocasia esculenta)

What a glorious time of year this is with the golden hues that only this auspicious month can bring, bridging the gap between the halcyon days of summer and depths of a British winter. It is so easy to get torn between leaving tender exotics out and maybe losing them, or bringing them into frost free conditions, especially if you are new to this style of gardening – what to do?

Ricinus communis New Zealand Purple (castor oil Plant)Here at the Exotic Garden in Norwich on the east coast of England, we grow both hardy and tender plants – the hardy ones provide year around attraction such as the many different types of Palms and bamboo’s, while the tender summer planting gives colour and very fast growth, especially with such exotics as the tender Ricinus communis (castor oil Plant) (Right – Click to buy here) which can grow from 6-10ft tall in the summer season grown from seed planted in early April to full size by high summer. It is one of the many exotic plants that can be grown for almost instant exotic effect. Grown from seed every year, there is no need for storage. For intensely coloured foliage, nothing can beat the kaleidoscopic range of colours that can be found in the Coleus hybrids, which look fabulous until the first frosts blackens them haling the end of the season. Then there are those plants like the root hardy banana Musa basjoo, which, is as its name implies, is root hardy – we have been growing them for over a quarter of a century here at the Exotic Garden. If you want their grandeur but no winter protection, you can just leave them alone and they will re-grow the following season from the ground, though in a mild-winter they will keep their fleshy stems. Alternately, as we do here, you can protect the stems with straw filled fleece which will keep out the severest of winters letting them reach gargantuan proportions over the years.

Gingers are wonderful tropical plants that give a very exotic feel to the garden with their stems often rising up to seven feet or more in one season (depending on species) with spectacularly scented blooms in high summer though into late autumn, then dying down in November to re-emerge (without protection) the following spring.

I have been growing tender and hardy tropical’s at the Exotic Garden for thirty years now and would be happy to answer any questions you might have on this exiting style of gardening…

Read More:
Protecting our tender exotics for winter & 7 things to do right now!
Will’s Philosophy for Exotic Gardening
Why grow exotic plants?
Click here to buy Ricinus Seeds

Hedychium densiflorum 'Sorung'
(Image: Hedychium densiflorum ‘Sorung’)

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New plant delivery! Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy Plugs

New on the doorstep this morning from Thompson & Morgan, 36 tiny plugs of Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy. Will let you know how we get on with them… Have a look here for more information or if you want to give them a try yourself: View Details

Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy
rudbeckia cherry brandy

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New Video – Timelapse of us putting up a massive Poly Tunnel!

The new poly tunnelGreat fun filming Will, Jamie, Lucy and John putting up a massive new poly tunnel in the Exotic Garden, we’re looking forward to filling it with a whopping selection of awesome exotic plants. Enjoy.

Timelapse of building a Poly Tunnel at the Exotic Garden Norwich from Freelance Photographer Chris Ridley

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World beating price for a snowdrop!

SNOWDROPSOn Thursday 16 February at 14:40 after a bidding frenzy of over 30 bidders Thompson & Morgan, the Ipswich based mail order plant and seed company, acquired the world’s most expensive snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth
Harrison’ for £725. This is a unique striking variety with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. The price is almost double the previous world record price for a single rare bulb of Galanthus ‘Green Tear’ sold for £360 last year.

Over the last few years the amount paid for unique Galanthus bulbs has been steadily rising as they have created more interest and in 2008 a single rare bulb fetched £226. Thompson & Morgan hopes to be able to produce this variety and bring pleasure to as many gardeners as possible. These unique Galanthus are notorious for their slow rates of multiplication but we hope to be able to look into commercial production via tissue culture, which will be the most time consuming and expensive part of the venture – buying the bulb was the easy part!

When Thompson & Morgan purchased the world’s first Black Hyacinth ‘MidnightMystique’ in 1998 for £50,000 a bulb, it took 15 years before it was available to the general public and demand has always outstripped stock. We anticipate this beautiful snowdrop will create interest amongst enthusiasts and home gardeners alike, thanks to the ‘snowdrop mania’ that has descended on the UK in recent years. What a welcome sight snowdrops can be at the start of spring. Last year we sold over 1 million snowdrops and have tried for many years to source the right golden variety in order to bring a wider range of unique snowdrops to the home gardener. The stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in a Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.

To celebrate this ‘snowdrop mania’ Thompson & Morgan are offering customers the chance to buy 75 single snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) bulbs at less than half price for £7.99 Click here to take advantage of this offer!

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Potting up – A new Video in the Exotic Garden

Potting up tradescantiaA great new video made by Chris Ridley and Will Giles in the Exotic Garden, just a quick little video of potting up some Tradescantia in the poly tunnels. Enjoy.

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New video of The Exotic Garden in Norwich – Enjoy!

Freelance PhotographerGreat new video of WIll Giles’s exotic garden in Norwich, we love this place as I’m sure you know, and Chris Ridley has made a new personal video of a quick tour around the garden in late Autumn, when most gardens have already passed their peak!



Tech: Filmed on a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 16-35 2.8L, Manfrotto Tripods – edited in Final Cut Pro X, with slight colour grading and occasional optical flow on the slowed down bits… also used a Smoothshot Steadicam for some shots..

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New arrival at the door… what’s in the mystery live plant box?

Check Exotic Plants PricesJust received a box of live plants from Thompson and Morgan, called the ‘Passiflora Collection‘ containing  three  well rooted jumbo plugs of Passion flower cuttings including ‘Perfume Passion’, ‘Pink Passion’ and Caerulea, all perfectly rooted and ready for potting on…
Find these on T & M
I have been growing P. cserule a for many years now and has certainly proved a very garden worthy climber with its fabulous blue flowers which are followed later in the season by yellowy-orange fruits which are edible though rather seedy. The other two are new to me so I’m looking forward to trying them.

It would be good to know your experiences with growing Passion flowers whether indoors or out… If you are interested in seeing more about this collection then have a look here on Thompson & Morgan

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Learn about the Hosta – Grow them up big and strong!

View the full range of hosta plants onlineA little information about the humble Hosta

Named after Dr. Nicholaus Host, physician to the emperor of Austria (1761–1834). Countless hybrids have been raised, mainly in the United States in recent years.  They are all clump forming and can become quite large with time, hence need to be divided every 3-5 years once established. The leaves can be large or small  in different shades of green, yellow, greyish blue, or variegated.  In high summer they bear one-sided racemes of funnel-shaped flowers that can range in colour from lilac to white.
Learn about the Hosta

All are hardy and prefer fertile, moist, well-drained soil in full to partial shade, making a good ground cover under deep-rooted deciduous trees, although they will take full sun if watered regularly. They can be used as ground cover under deep-rooted deciduous trees.

Hosta’s evoke the lush look of many tropical plants, with their luxuriant foliage, the only draw back is that slugs and snails absolutely adore them! I grow mine in large containers with  about 2ins of Vaseline smeared around the base of the pot to stop slugs and snails slithering up!  There are far too many forms to mention here, so I will only cover only a few of the largest.

All Hosta like to be well fed and especially if you want the largest leaves! Use well rotted  garden compost, blood-fish and bone or pelleted chicken manure around the base of each clump as they start to emerge in the spring.  They also like regular moisture especial when grown in pots where they should be watered daily.

Read more:
If you would like to read more information on Hosta’s, have a look at some of the specific Hosta’s we review here. We also have a great video on How to protect Hosta’s from Slugs & Snails here….

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Overwintering Cannas in the UK – How to protect the canna rhizomes

Buy canna pretoria striata bengal tiger onlineToday’s video is of Will Giles explaining how to overwinter Cannas, helping you make sure you get your much loved rhizomes through the winter without them turning to brown mush (Will’s words!) . Cannas are a staple exotic plant in any exotic or tropical garden, easy to look after, cheap to buy and fast growing for maximum effect. A very rewarding exotic plant to grow, but care must be taken getting them through the UK’s cold winters. Will keeps almost all his Cannas tucked up nice and warm in his poly tunnel, which never drops below 5 degrees Celsius, even in mid winter. Will Giles explains all in this great video, in another behind the scenes look in the poly tunnels of his amazing Exotic Garden in Norwich. (Filmed April 2010)

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Video: Growing Bromeliads in the UK – The Exotic Garden Norwich

Buy Bromeliads online - Harveys Pride bromeliadGrowing colourful bromeliads in the UK with Will Giles. Will Giles shows us his growing Bromeliad collection, behind the scenes in the Exotic Garden, Norwich. A look at some of Will’s favourite Bromeliads and newest additions to his ever expanding collection of these amazing plants. A great new video from Will Giles.

Video: Growing Bromeliads in the UK – The Exotic Garden Norwich

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