During our hottest month, plants that originate in more exotic places take centre stage
After the exuberance of spring and explosions of summer, August can be a tricky month in the garden as everything can start to fall apart. And yet it is also the time when some exotic magic begins to unfurl, as this is the month the big-leaved tropical plants such as bananas, cannas and gingers really start to get going. The hottest time of the year feels more like home for them as they all have their origins far from here in places as far-flung as Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Banana plants have luscious leaves and can inject some jungle fever into your patio or courtyard garden. They are best planted in a sunny, sheltered spot as strong winds can rip the leaves. Unfortunately, snails and slugs can also do some damage with their teeth, so vigilance is required.
Musa basjoo is the hardiest of the bananas but is best treated as a tender perennial — either keep it in a pot which can be moved to a frost-free environment over winter or lift it for winter. Milder coastal areas will be more gentle, but invest in a roll of horticultural fleece to wrap up during the depths of winter. Musa sikkimensis has wonderful burgundy stripes and mottling and the Abyssinian banana Ensete ‘Maurelii’ has striking purple-tinged paddle-shaped leaves.
Hedychiums or ginger lilies are also very tropical in appearance, with leaves similar to the banana plant. The flowers are very striking in tall, colourful spikes. They are tender, so treat them as you would dahlias, lifting for winter in colder spots or chancing it in milder areas with a thick mulch. They like plenty of moisture as well as sunshine in summer.
Look out for Hedychium gardnerianum, the Kahili ginger lily, which has beautiful yellow scented flowers with dramatic red stamens protruding from each blossom. ‘Assam Orange’ has bold spikes of fragrant flowers and Hedychium flavescens has creamy-yellow flowers with a spicy fragrance.
Cannas are a great way of introducing bold and different textures to the garden, either among the herbaceous border or in pots. Good varieties include ‘Wyoming’, a tall variety with tangerine orange flowers and gorgeous dark leaves; ‘Durban’, which has rich burgundy foliage with pink and orange variegation; and ‘Ehemanii’ for its beautiful nodding trusses of pink flowers. Most striking of all is ‘Musifolia Grande’, which is a whopper at over two metres and mainly grown for its foliage as it doesn’t usually achieve its full height and flowering in our climate.
The August garden can be kept bright and beautiful with other hot-coloured plants such as orange tiger lilies, salvias, bright pink and red pelargoniums, fiery crocosmia and neon osteospermums. Dahlias are brilliant at this time of year and will keep producing cheerful flowers through to autumn.
So, if your garden is lacking a little lustre, revitalise it this weekend and have some fun brightening up your pots and borders.
Sidalcea ‘Elsie Heugh’
This is a delightful cottage-garden plant that will thrive in sunshine but will tolerate some dappled shade. The edges of the delicate pink petals are frilled and held aloft on very upright stems. No need for staking here! Belonging to the mallow family, its common name is Prairie mallow, and it does look like a miniature hollyhock — similar arrangement of flowers up its stalk but it’s only a foot or so high and less troublesome as it doesn’t suffer rust like hollyhocks can. Cut down after flowering and you might get a second smaller flush later in the summer.
The leaves on my Japanese maple are curling up at the edges. I have it in a pot in a sunny position and water it regularly. Any suggestions?
The problem with your maple or acer is common enough and is the result of the leaves losing moisture due to environmental stress. This can happen in periods of drought, but it sounds like you keep it well irrigated. Too much sunshine can cause leaf scorching — acers prefer partial shade, so try moving it to a shadier spot. Winds can also cause this problem, so a sheltered spot is best.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden