Falling in love with exotics

Fri, Apr 10, 2009


English gardeners have been fascinated with exotics since the Victorian times. These unusual plants from far away places seem to have hypnotic qualities which makes exotic gardening extremely rewarding.

What exactly is an exotic plant?

To find out, read these enthusiastic words from Will Giles, the guru of exotic gardening :


“In my view, for plants to be considered exotic, they have to dramatically improve or change their surroundings.They might have tropical-looking flowers, brightly coloured foliage, or huge leaves. They all give a very different feel from the more traditional english cottage-garden lupins,roses, and summer-bedding geraniums, and are far more exciting than a backyard of grass.

The scope for planting is huge, ranging from a palm grove, consisting of the many different hardy palms that are now available, to a Victorian-style fernery with a rich tapestry of moist, lush greens planted under a forest of giant tree ferns, creating an almost prehistoric atmosphere.Or how about your own plantation with a palm-frond thatached jungle hut or tree house, where you can overlook your own personal heaven with a gin and tonic in hand?

Exotics bring a welcome note of surprise to a huge range of environments. A few days ago I was driving down a leafy suburban road that I had never travelled before counting the plants that give an an exotic appearance.One front garden in particular stood out like a beacon, having a large range of exotics of all sizes and forms almost bursting at the seams.It was a gravel garden stuffed to the gunnels, defiantly standing out from the mundane neighbouring gardens. What a sight!

Pushing the Boundaries of Hardiness

Many of the exotic plants grown in temperate gardens today were until fairly recently considered viable only in the warmer southwestern parts of the British Isles and the more southerly parts of the United States. Climate Change has been a significant factor in changing the contents of our gardens, along with encouragement to experiment with plants traditionally thought of as warm -zones or hothouse plants.

My Philosophy

You can take many different paths with this style of gardening. Whatever anyone says to you, there are no rules, only those of common sense and an awareness of your plant’s provenance and requirements for healthy growth.The garden, after all, is a place of escape, and the exotic garden should be a place of fulfillment and fun, a personal oasis of pleasure and contemplation.”

If these words inspire you to consider planting exotics, watch the videos on this site where I chat to Will from his Norwich garden  or visit  http://www.exoticgarden.com.

This post was written by:

- who has written 872 posts on My Climate Change Garden.

I am not an experienced gardener - more of an enthusiastic amateur who learns by trial and error and who is keen to "manage" the effects of shifting weather patterns on my garden. Writing this blog is my passion and it has evolved over 12 years to inspire engagement with climate change outside our back doors, in our personal gardens and green spaces. My mission is to fertilise and expand this platform to grow a community of global gardeners communicating about the effects of climate change on our plants and exploring how each individual can make small changes in our lives to become more sustainable. The future of our gardens and #OurPlanet is in our hands - please plant your own seeds for our collective sustainable future.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Indra Sinha Says:

    Falling in love with an exotic is what my wife claims to have done, at least when we are getting on well together, and my childhood in the tropics certainly makes me susceptible to charms of huge-leaved plants like bananas, and gunnera maniculata, which we cultivated successfully when we lived in Sussex.

    Nowadays we live in the Lot valley of southern France, which has hot summers and cold winters. It is not far north of Toulouse but winter temperatures here can be -15C. However, microclimate plays a huge part in gardening and as we live in a water mill, we are surrounded by running river water, which somewhat ameliorates the cold. Olives aren’t naturally native to the Lot, but do well when established. Our olive, which was sickly in England, thrives here in our walled garden, which has the river on three sides.

    You can see pictures of our walled garden here:
    The olive mentioned in the comment is just visible in the left hand window of this garden,which looks onto the river.

    We are going to try gunnera, covering up the crowns in winter and burying the whole under mounds of straw (which would have to be secured against high water). We’ve also got hardy bananas which are common all around here – they die back in winter but come back with new growth in the spring and by summer are leafy and huge. Canna lilies look well here, and the orange flowered trumpet vines. We also plan to try bougainvillea. People here grow oranges and lemons in big containers, but tend to take them in the depths of winter.