Exotic ginger lilies are well worth the challenge
True ginger is a tall, tropical plant and even with the heat of a greenhouse, is likely to fail to produce fresh ginger roots.
But some relatives of ginger are successful in Irish gardens. These are hedychium, roscoea and cautleya. There are several species of hedychium, the ginger lily, or garland lily, that can be grown outdoors, all from the warmer parts of the Himalayan region.
However, none is hardy and they are best tried in a mild garden. They succeed quite well when given the right conditions. They can be grown very well in a greenhouse or conservatory in areas that are too cold to try them outdoors.
The orange ginger lily can grow to four metres tall though much less here, less than two metres. It carries tall orange-yellow fragrant flowers like elongated pine cones, with spidery flower parts in red in late summer.
There is a dark-orange kind called Assam Orange. Hedychium gardnerianum has fragrant yellow or pale-orange flowers and is quite easily grown. The white ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium, has white flowers with touches of lemon.
These plants all like rich, leafy soil, well supplied with moisture but well drained.
These all have the same structure as the true ginger - tall canes with broad leaves, growing from thick rhizomes.
They need a warm, sheltered spot and plenty of sunshine. The foliage is quite exotic and the flowers are very showy. In winter, the tops are cut away and a mulch of rotted leaves can be laid over the clump.
Known as the hardy ginger, roscoea is native to cooler parts of northern China and copes quite well in Irish gardens. This is a much smaller plant, less than knee high, a perennial with tuberous roots.
The foliage looks remarkably like that of the tulip and the flowers appear from mid- to late summer. Roscoea cautleoides carries a short spike of relatively large pale yellow flowers, almost orchid-like in appearance. Roscoea humeana produces large purple flowers, also orchid-like. These plants like a rich, humusy soil, moist but well drained, in a sheltered spot with part shade. Cover the plants with leaf mould in winter in colder districts.
Cautleya spicata is a very curious-looking plant with brown flower spikes with two-lipped yellow flowers in late summer. It has rhizomes and broad leaves on cane-like stems like the hedychium but much smaller in size, reaching about 60 to 90cm.
It is a handsome plant, happy in moist, humusy soil and good light, part shade or full sunshine.
While all the ginger family are tricky to succeed with, some are easier than others. They offer a challenge, being specific in their needs for soil, moisture and situation.
Though variable in terms of hardiness, none is truly completely hardy and need either a mild garden or covering in winter to survive.
Despite this, they are special plants, really exotic, either large or small, and you might consider them worth a try.
If you succeed there will be great satisfaction, not least in being able to admire these very beautiful flowers.