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The Tropics in the Sub-Arctic.....

18 years ago

Hi all from sunny Australia.

I am just wondering if people would mind posting their experiences or possibly photographs of trying to grow a bit of the tropics in the UK, things such as palms, bananas, tree ferns etc. I have always lived in the Australian tropics (Darwin and Townsville) and took these things for granted, but last year I spent 6 cold months in Hobart in Tasmania, and was amazed to see certain palms and tropicals growing down there. I have looked on the net and seen a few sites dedicated to this, but for curiousities sake I would like to hear gardeners personal experiences. Has anyone ever been able to grow hibiscus or frangipani in the UK? What palm trees will grow there? Any types of gingers can survive in the chill? I read one site where a fellow grew a pineapple from a top and after 3 years it fruited!

Please indulge with your experiences my friends!

Happy gardening...

Comments (16)

  • 18 years ago

    Large-flowered hibiscus (rosa-sinensis?) of the type used for hedging in the Canaries and the Caribbean are sometimes sold as house-plants here, I don't think I've succeeded in overwintering one. But they should grow OK in the summer. I don't know why they are not seen more often as summer bedding plants because they are lovely things.
    Hibiscus syriacus can be grown outside here but the flowers are not as showy and exotic.

    I think Frangipani is a lot more tender and would need a lot of protection, I don't remember ever seeing one in the UK. They could not be planted outside and would not probably not flower until they were fairly big, therefore not practicable for the average gardener.

  • 18 years ago

    I'm sorry you found Tasmania cold - I think even Hobart is warm and dry by UK standards. We're further from the equator (Hobart is 42 deg South, and we're 53 deg North), and our minimum temperature is much lower than Hobart (I don't think they have frost, whereas most parts of the UK have at least a bit), and we have more rain, or at least days with rain.

    The problem with us growing tropical plants is that, although they might survive our winter, they don't do well in this climate, so only people prepared to go to a lot of trouble wrapping up the crowns of bananas and tree ferns bother with them. Added to which, most tropical plants are very expensive to buy, because the nurserymen who produce them have to go to a lot of trouble to get them to a saleable size, and don't have much market for what they produce anyway.

    So, although you might see a few palms in the extreme south west, and a few very adventurous gardeners might be successful with a few species, they're not really garden plants over here. Generally, tropical plants are regarded as house plants, and one large palm would be regarded as an extravagance.

    Theoretically, we can grow Trachycarpus fortunei outside, and I have a small one waiting for me to pluck up the courage to leave it out all winter.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Climate in Hobart

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  • 18 years ago

    Does this count?

  • 18 years ago

    Garden Nerd - My mother lives in Canberra which can get frosts down to -10c and she has been able to grow a few hibiscus with success. Of course in Canberra they have hot summers which makes all of the difference. I saw a frangipani growing in a glass house in Hobart, and because it was constantly pruned to contain its size it actually had more flower heads on it than any I had seen growing outdoors in the tropics.
    Crazy Lady - my word they have frost in Hobart!!! I was living right on the beach and we had frosts down to -6c.... One morning I even woke up to snow... I know the climate is a lot milder than in the UK, but I have seen pictures of very impressive tropical gardens in the UK.
    I went straight from Darwin (hot day 38c - hot night 30c, cold day 26c - cold night 14c) to Hobart in the middle of winter and believe me I found it cold. I worked with a woman from Lancashire who would complain about the heat when the temperature reached 20c..... I did of course laugh at her.... in a kind way.....
    SnB I guess you could call your cactus tropical - its not exactly a palm tree but I wouldnt have expected it to grow that well there. Do you over winter it indoors?

  • 18 years ago

    This particular cactus comes from near Tarija in southern Bolivia, just inside the tropics. It is from high in the mountains and does just fine outdoors during the summer. I am told that they will overwinter outside if sufficiently protected from rain and I'm putting together a trough garden which will sit under the eaves on the south side of my house, to include this cactus and some other succulents.

  • 18 years ago

    Trachycarpus does well outdoors in Britain, and it is even being tried, successfully so far, in Thorshavn (Faroe Islands, 62°N) and Reykjavik (Iceland, 64°N).

    For many species from continental climates like Hibiscus, the problem in Britain is not winter cold, but lack of summer heat. It can survive winters much colder than anything in Britain PROVIDED the shoots are fully ripened by 4 months of hot summer above 30°C.

    Agree with the person from Lancs - anything above 20°C is hot, and anything above 23° is too hot! :-)


  • 18 years ago

    Pineresin is spot-on. Trachycarpus fortunei is exceptionally reliable and hardy in the UK and given light shade in rich, moist soil it is a fast growing palm easily making 30 - 45cms. of trunk every year. There ar very fine specimens in many parts of the country that are 10m. and more high. CrazyLady, you are far, far too cautious, your plant will do much better released from its pot and permanently out of doors. Allow for the fact that the leaf fans grow to over 1m. across and give it a wind sheltered spot since most Trachy species are prone to wind burn. This does not affect their ability to grow, it just makes the leaves look tatty. I recommend that you plant yours in a lightly shaded spot in well-prepared soil during next spring. It will probably sit doing little for a year or so, but once it starts to make decent sized fans, growth will accelerate exponentially.

  • 18 years ago

    Here you go Footfull, a few pics of subtropicals being grown outside permanently in England - and without any protection at all.

    An avenue of young Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) on Torquay seafront

    European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) - 30 years old, 15 feet high and 20 feet across again on Torquay sea front


    Bower Vine - (Pandorea jasminoides) outside my back door at home


    Hooker's Banana (Musa sikkimensis) 20 feet high in one corner of my garden


    An epiphytic bromeliad (Tillandsia bergeri) growing on a Yucca trunk and just coming into flower


    A corner of the border with Musella lasiocarpa, Chamaedorea radicalis & Cordyline manners-suttonae plus a 'peep' of Strelitzia reginae on the far right


    Hippeastrum a nice hybrid given to me as a seedling in 1999


    Bougainvillea 'Scarlet O'Hara clambering through a Canary Island Date Palm


    'Ginger Lilies' (Hedychium gardnerianum & 'Tara) in late August


    None of these get protection in winter and even the bananas usually remain evergreen although the leaves do get bashed and shredded by winter storms.

  • 18 years ago

    Great photos. I particularly like the ginger lilies. I didn't realise that bougainvillea could stay outside all year, even in the balmy south-west.

  • 18 years ago

    Dave, Sadly I couldnt view the photographs except for the tips of some palm fronds on the first pic... :( ...... Do you have these pics posted on a website because I would really love to see them!!!
    I am amazed that Trachycarpus will grow in Iceland - astonishing!!!
    Hedychiums seem to be very cold tolerant which must be due to their native habitat on the slopes of the Himalayas. Are you able to grow H. coronarium (white butterfly ginger)? It has the most exotic perfume I have ever smelt. It also grows in Hobart and Canberra and seems to be more tolerant of frosts and cold than H. gardenerianum. I wonder if it could be worth trying a kentia palm in a frost free protected spot - it does OK in Hobart but is quite slow. I have also seen a pic of the banglow palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamii) growing in the UK and I know that it does alright in sheltered spots in Hobart.

  • 18 years ago

    Well strangely enough just after I posted the above message about not being able to view pics I went back to the thread and they opened up for me straight away. I am very impressed with your efforts Dave!
    With a bit of global warming you will all have gardens like this....
    Please keep the pictures and experiences coming!

  • 18 years ago

    Must have been a slow server somewhere! Re: Hedychiums, those from the Himalayan states are very easily grown due to their inherent cold tolerance. However, many have longer growing seasons and our cool, slow build up to summers (typical of an oceanic climate) means that some resume growth late and do not have enough time to flower away from the south.

    Coronarium is possibly the worst in this respect and rarely flowers reliably when planted permanently out of doors. It grows well here and is usually evergreen, but never flowers before late October. Not a problem for me since our winters are very late and short lived, but elsewhere its usually a non-performer. BTW. I reckon gardnerianum has the best fragrance of all, but as you infer, it is less hardy. Another brilliant performer usually in September through to November is H. flavescens and its fragrance is very powerful.

    It would seem that there are upwards of 30 different species of palms that may be possible in the southern part of the UK. Your 'Bangalow Palm' - Archontophoenix cunninghamiana looks promising although it does need careful siting. Less problematic are 2 other 'Oz' palms - Livistona australis and Livistona decipiens. Both seem pretty happy. The Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is also coming under scrutiny for sheltered southern gardens and the only reason for it to be a rare contender is that its slow growth means it is a rather expensive subject for experimentation. I've got a couple of small seedlings (2ft. tall) that have wintered out of doors in deep shade.

    I've also found the 'Nikau palm' - (Rhopalostylis sapida) to be very tough and enduring here. So much so that even 1 year old seedlings in pots were able to cope with winters out of doors. They are slow, but gradually making headway and I've now got 12 that are becoming rather fine plants. Another that is being tried is the 'big mountain palm' (Hedyscepe canterburyana) from Lord Howe Island. It is half way between Rhopalostylis and Howea in terms of hardiness, but seems happy out of doors here. There's even talk of trying the 'Red leaf' or 'Blushing' palm - Chambeyronia macrocarpa in warm shade with overhead evergreen cover. How it will cope with comparatively long periods of cool weather remains to be seen, but it does appear to be 'pushing the envelope' at colder temperatures in the US.

  • 18 years ago

    Great pics. and info. Dave, I am a big time palm and exotic plant nut here on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. I've always known that many species of palms could be grown on the southern U.K. coast. I have many U.K. garden mags that feature exotic gardens that have been flourishing unprotected for many decades. The gardens at Heligan are a good example. The Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Scilley sles. are most impressive. I had a good friend visit those gardens a few years ago and the pics. he took were amazing. The 100 year old towering Phoenix c. are mind boggling, among all the other tender subtropicals all flourishing. He also took some great pics. in Torquay. Those two massive Jubaeas are out of this world. Also on the south coast of Ireland there are many palms and exotics. Scotland at Logan Botanic gardens have lots of very old established exotic species. In Devon there are also hoards of palms in private gardens. We also grow many species of palms and mature Cordylines on our island. Cheers, Banana Joe

  • 18 years ago

    hi there
    in east anglia, the climate is classed as semi-arid so i have grown a number of supposedly non hardy plants such as daturas, solanums, phoenix palms etc. - it seems that winter wet is a bigger killer than winter cold so with good drainage and little waterlogging, a number of things do well here. Also, I have found that planting the biggest - although sometimes difficult to establish - helps with hardiness and cold tolerance. For example, i planted the biggest phoenix canariensis i could find for a customer - around 4m high and just starting to get a decent trunk. first winter it was mollycoddled like mad, second winter it had a bit of fleece tusked in around the crown and this winter, it's on its own.

  • 18 years ago

    I am originally from Hobart and Mount Wellington's foothills were always covered in Tree ferns and grass trees in the snow so there must be varieties that will do well in the UK

  • 16 years ago

    DavePoole- You are amazing! You are growing plants that I am too worried to plant (despite being 9b/10a)! Temperatures this winter got down to -0.8 C, what is your minimum temperature? I am growing Aechmea fasciata outside, but its being eaten by snails...
    I will try bougainvillea and Schefflera! Someone near me is growing SCHEFFLERA ARBORICOLA(!) outside in a shady garden and it has gone through three winters without any damage! In fact it looks healthier than ones i've seen in Orlando! I also hope to try Syagrus!
    Good luck!