These exotic looking flowers are actually easy to grow in your garden here in the UK as they are fully hardy and put on a fantastic display. This little known genus is a tuberous perennial known for its dramatic flowers and its tolerance of wet and shady conditions. It belongs in the Zingiberaceae family (Ginger family) and originates from high altitudes of China and the Himalayas. There are 22 recognised species, with eight of them endemic to China. The genus was named by James Edward Smith after William Roscoe, a botanist who helped establish Liverpool’s Botanic Garden. The striking flowers are similar to those of orchids and irises because of their unusual hooded upper petal and three lower petals. If you look closely there is lip like landing pad for pollinating insects. These plants do best in shade where the flowers will last longer for about 4-6 weeks. They can tolerate some sunlight but exposure to hot sun and dry conditions will cause them to shrivel. When planting make sure the tubers are planted deep beneath the soil. Cover with mulch to help feed the plant and ensure the soil is moist during the summer months, but they require good winter drainage. These flowers grow well in a rock garden, woodland or shaded border. Roscoea can be divided every 3 – 4 years in April before the tubers start to grow.
Echium candicans, also known as Pride of Madeira, is certainly a wow factor endemic plant from Madeira. It has tall iridescent flower spikes covered in clusters of blue flowers that typically emerge in late spring through green-grey whorled leaves. Described as a shrubby perennial it is found in the plant family Boraginaceae. There are 40 known species of Echium in the world, which come from parts of Asia and the Mediterranean regions in Europe. Within the genus the flowers come in shades of blue, pink, red and white with tubular flowers and beautiful protruding stamens. This stunning plant may reach up to 2m tall with a spread of 1.2m. Outside of the island of Madeira it can easily be mistaken as a native in some coastal areas of California. Today it is grown world wide as an ornamental garden plant. Wonderful for pollinators it grows well beside the coast in frost-free conditions, as it is not full hardy. The soil should be free draining and in full sun. Echium candicans dislikes hard pruning but when young can be lightly tip pruned. This will keep a rounded structure that if left alone would become woody and irregularly shaped. Due to its short-lived habit it sets seed easily, so collect the seed once it has dried on the plants. Cuttings can be taken in late May/June after flowering – make sure watering is carefully balanced to prevent the cuttings from rotting. All Echium species are known to be toxic if eaten. The leaves and stems may cause skin irritation so do wear protective clothing at all times.
Iris tuberosa is a striking, elegant, enchanting flower for your garden in late winter and early spring. It has had its name changed a few times but is now classified as Iris tuberosa and more commonly referred to as “widow iris” and “snake’s head iris”. It originates from Southern Europe, being found in Greece, Spain and Turkey. In some mild parts of the UK the first flower spikes appear with green and black markings which are very rarely seen in nature. It also has a slight fragrance that intensifies in the sun or a warm room, making it a great flower in a vase. Like many native Mediterranean plants, it puts up with pretty poor soil, which makes it ideal on chalk. All it really needs is late winter and spring rain, followed by a thoroughly good baking in summer, when the foliage will die down and disappear. Try growing it in a sheltered spot which isn’t too shady. Good companions are other early spring flowers such as snowdrops, crocuses and hellebores.
Purple Toothwort or Lathraea clandestina is a perennial root parasite that lacks chlorophyll like normal plants that photosynthesise. Lathraea clandestina is now becoming more common in cultivation as an attractive garden specimen for spring. This is due to its unusual flowers that are similar to purple crocuses. Native to Belgium, France, Spain and Italy it has been introduced in a number of countries, including Britain and New Zealand, where it has naturalised. The flowers are bisexual and produce large amounts of nectar which results in bumblebees pollinating the flowers. The purple-violet flowers contain four stamens and one style with two stigmas. This root parasite is typically found on Populus and Salix. However it has been found growing on a wide range of other plants in the wild and in cultivation, including Acer, Alnus, Buxus, Carpinus, Corylus, Juglans, Metasequoia, Rhododendron, Taxus, and even in some cases Gunnera. Lathraea clandestina grows best in a shaded woodland where the soil does not dry out and where roots of a likely host are found growing. It can be propagated from seeds scattered at the base of a suitable host tree, or mixed with the soil as soon as the seeds are ripe. Another form of propagation is by division. A small clump can be detached from the parent plant and placed near the roots of the chosen host. Be careful the roots can run deep and are extremely brittle. It likes to be mulched with leaf mould in autumn. It is not the plant of choice for instant effect in the garden as it is can sometimes take ten years before a flowering shoot emerges above the ground – but it is well worth the wait!
The Dawn Redwood is a beautiful deciduous, coniferous tree growing into a conical shape. The tree has lovely fern like foliage which is soft to touch and the leaves which are bright green in spring and deep green in summer eventually turn a copper bronze in Autumn. It makes a wonderful landscape specimen or it can be kept in a smaller container for a smaller garden. It has strong all year round interest and prefers a damp habitat. It is also one of the most exciting plant discoveries during the last century. The name meta means ‘meta’ and ‘sequoia’ means relating to the fossil specimens when it was first discovered. In the wild it is found in only a small area of China. This tree was found orginally by a local forester and this led Professor Cheng of the National Central University, China on an expedition to a remote village in the Szechuan province around 1941. At first it was thought to be extinct for 5 million years but research into the prehistoric fossil records indicates that this tree existed 50,000,000 years ago! Seeds of Metasequoia glyptostroboides were collected in 1947 by an expedition sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, USA and then distributed amongst botanic gardens around the world.. As a result the species is classified by the World Conservation Union as “critically endangered” because it is threatened from intensive rice cultivation and the poor prospect of regeneration in its wild habitat.
If you need a plant for Autumn colour in a very shady spot this is the best you can grow. It is also known as yellow wax bells and belongs in the plant family Hydrangeaceae. It has tall elongated stems that have yellow hanging trumpet flowers. Some people have described the flowers as being similar to those of a shuttlecock. These can reach up to 2ft when blooming – the rest of the year it is just a basal clump of leaves. The leaves are irregularly cut and similar to those of maple leaves. It also has attractive purple stems and prefers to grow in an acid soil and will thrive in cold, damp, humus rich conditions. It will need shelter from wind so grow in a protected area. Check for slug and snail damage on young growth. Kirengeshoma orginates from Japan and Korea where it is found growing in damp woodland. It will come up year after year and slowly increase in size and can be divided to create new plants, or can be grown from seed. Gather seed when ripe and put in pots, then place in the cold frame over winter – germination will occur in spring. This plant was given an RHS award of Garden Merit in 2012.
The white dramatic eye-catching flowers of Nicotiana sylvestris are an elegant addition to any garden flowering in late summer. It is also known as the tobacco plant. This plant can reach up to 6ft tall with large green leaves. Although many Nicotianas are perennial they are treated as half hardy annuals in the UK. Sow in mid Spring inside or in a greenhouse. Plant out after the frosts. If sowing directly into the soil do so in May once the soil has warmed. Grow in moist but well drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Cut the flowers regularly to encourage extended blooming. They make great cut flowers and work well in a container or as a statement plant at the back of a border. The genus Nicotiana (Tobacco flower) has evolved over time to suit specific pollinators. Many light coloured flowers of the genus are pollinated by hawkmoths. The flowers are long and tubular with a strong scent.