Easy exotics from seed

Get a totally tropical look in your garden this summer - all for the price of a few packets of seed, says Graham Rice

Exotic flowers and foliage bring us some welcome tropical style and need not be confined to the Wisley glasshouse or to your heated conservatory. There are hardy annuals and tropical plants with a little extra toughness that really don’t need special conditions.

Amarathus 'Foxtail'Top of the list amongst hardy annuals with an exotic look must be amaranths. The familiar love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus, always makes an impact but varieties with rich red foliage and upright or twisted flower clusters (‘Opopeo’ and ‘Foxtail’) in similar deep crimson shades are nothing if not dramatic. You may get too many self sown seedlings but I find they’re easy to hoe off and soon shrivel in a dry wind.

Cleomes, such as ‘Colour Fountain’ mixture, with its large spidery heads of flowers in pinks, lilacs and white, needs starting off in heat between February and April; move the seedlings into individual pots to allow them the space to branch before planting out in late May.

Purple=leaved Ricinus communisCleome 'Colour Fountain'

The bold and dramatic castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, has large (very poisonous) seeds. I sow individual seeds in 7cm pots in April and, after planting out in late May, it grows quickly into an impressive plant. The bronze-leaved forms, including ‘Impala’, really command attention.

Like dainty, prettily patterned little orchids, the flowers of Schizanthus Angel Wings Group are delightful. I’ve sown it outside in May where it’s intended to flower but it struggled; it probably needed more shelter. Better to treat it as a half hardy annual, or even pot it on and keep it in the conservatory where you can appreciate the dappled flowers up close. It needs no extra heat.

Melianthus majorSchizanthus Angel Wings GroupCyperus papyrus

Papyrus, Cyperus papyrus, is a genuine exotic – and looks it. Easy from spring-sown seed, this tropical grass appreciates moisture and is not 100% hardy. So I’ve grown it in a blue-glazed pot, with the container stood in a saucer kept full of water and then protected it from the worst of the winter.

Two woodier plants are also well worth growing for their exotic look. The honeybush Melianthus major has foliage like huge blue rose leaves, nicely toothed, and in a sunny well-drained site you may even get its summer spikes of crimson flowers.

Finally I’d suggest an easy dwarf palm, Phoenix roebelenii. It’s like a manageable version of the date palm that can be grown on the patio in summer and moved indoors in winter. Perhaps the easiest palm to grow from seed, it pays to soak the seed for 24 hours before sowing.

Why not try at least one of these suggestions to add a little exotic flavour to your summer garden?

Seed suppliers

Chiltern Seeds

Plant World Seeds


Mr Fothergill's

...and many more

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