We all like to grow something out of the ordinary in our gardens, it gives a good talking point when chatting to friends, or sometimes it is just a case of pure brinkmanship!
Many unusual plants are just that for a very good reason. Some may be difficult to grow or propagate, some will have more demanding cultural requirements like the very much sought after Embothrium lanceolatum…. the Chilean Fire Bush…. which is a very beautiful but sometimes challenging shrub. This plant has evolved in the southern hemisphere, from Tierra del Fuego to Southern Chile and is accustomed to growing in poor, acidic soils… It does not like chalky soils and it will not tolerate phosphate. A peaty or sandy soil with very low nutrients are ideal and when well placed can become a dazzling sight in July when covered with masses of vivid red flowers.
Not all unusual plants are difficult to grow though, and here are a few of my favourites that virtually anyone with even a minimum of gardening experience can grow without any trouble.
Danae Racemosa or Alexandrian Laurel is indeed a charming, small, slow growing, evergreen suitable for shady areas, even with dry soils, with its arching sprays of narrow, polished green leaves. The orange-red fruits are produced after hot summers. Height and spread is around 1.2 metres and has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.
Vitis Chasselas Ciotat, the Parsley Leaved Vine is good enough to rival any Japanese Maple for lacy foliage with the added benefit that you can harvest the juicy black grapes too. A vigorous climber, best grown on a sturdy pergola or into a tree, especially one with contrasting purple leaves.
Hemerocallis Golden Zebra. This variegated Daylily is definitely one of the best standout plants around with its funnel-shaped rich yellow flowers and yellow variegated leaves during the summer months. Grow in borders or containers in full sun.
Cladrastis Lutea, or Kentucky Yellow Wood is a very handsome medium sized tree that produces long, drooping, wisteria-like panicles of fragrant white flowers in June. As if that was not enough, the leaves turn the most beautiful shade of yellow before falling in the autumn.
Fatsia Spiders Web or Japanese Aralia is a fairly new variety which is primarily grown for its handsome foliage which gives it the appearance of having being frosted with icing sugar. Planted in a sheltered position, it would add light and colour to a shady area.
Chionanthus Retusus or Chinese Fringe Tree. This little beauty will grow either as a deciduous shrub or small to medium sized tree and its party piece arrives in June or July in the form of billowy clusters of fragrant snow white flowers followed by damson-like fruits. Native to eastern Asia, it also benefits from having an attractive thick fissured bark.
Phytolacca Americana, also going by the name of Red Ink Plant is a tall growing herbaceous plant with red arching stems topped with racemes of white or pale pink flowers followed soon after by deep purple/black fruit in the autumn. There is also another variety of this plant named `Silberstein` with pretty variegated leaves and smaller stature. The berries of this plant are used as a red food colouring and in manufacturing it is used to make ink and dye. Some parts are even used as medicine. My advice is: Do not ingest!!
Rubus Spectabilis Golden Leaf or Salmonberry This is a completely new form which was found on our own nursery just a few years ago and will be coming on to the commercial market soon. It has the double attributes of not only having spectacular fully double magenta-rose flowers but the leaf is an attractive golden yellow. This shrub will grow to about 1.4 metres tall and 1.2 meters spread, but in our view is probably best pruned back each year in springtime to encourage the fresh bright yellow foliage to emerge.
Lobelia Tupa sometimes known as Devils Tobacco! Whilst I certainly could not condone smoking the leaves from this plant (it apparently has hallucinogenic properties!) it does have a some redeeming features… native to central Chile, it is a semi-evergreen perennial growing to a height of up to 2 metres with reddish purple stems and racemes of tubular, bright red flowers in late summer and autumn. A truly magnificent feature plant for sheltered gardens in full sun and a deep moist soil.