It may seem that growing exotic, tropical-looking plants is nothing but a pipe-dream in our cool, damp climate, but you’re sure to be happily surprised at the long list of lush, exotic flowers, trees, shrubs, decorative grasses and palms that grow in nearly every corner of the UK.
A few of the following exotic evergreens require winter protection in northern climates, while some may need to spend the winter months indoors where it’s warm. However, most are hardy enough to withstand relatively damp, chilly winters.
Flowering perennials are plants that enter dormancy in autumn or early winter, returning to life when temperatures begin to rise in spring. Because they beautify the landscape for many years, flowering perennials are often considered the backbone of the garden.
- Also known as African lily, Agapanthus displays wide, strappy leaves and gorgeous flowers that show up about midsummer. Look for evergreen varieties, which originate in areas with cool, moist climates such as Agapanthus Albus White and Agapanthus Africanus Blue. A layer of mulch in winter is a good idea but if you’re really concerned about the cold, plant Agapanthus in pots and bring them into a cool, frost-free place until spring.
Palms in the UK? Absolutely! While it’s true that many palms are suitable for warm tropical climes, there is no shortage of exotic evergreen palms that withstand chilly winters.
- An attractive palm with a slim trunk and fan-shaped leaves, Chusan Palm, (Trachycarpus Fortunei) grows in nearly every corner of the UK, with the exception of far northern climates. This palm works well as a focal point on its own, but makes a dramatic statement when planted in groups. Renowned for its hardiness the Chusan Palm will withstand temperatures of up to -15 degrees.
- Pindo Palm (Butia capitata), is a graceful, thick-trunked tree that produces creamy flowers in late spring and early summer. This South American native tolerates temps to -11 C. and thrives in full sun or partial shade and nearly any well-drained soil. Beware: Plant the Pindo Palm tree away from walkways or patios; the fruit is delicious but very messy.
- Fan Palm, (Chamaerops humilis cerifera) is a striking palm with beautiful, silvery-blue leaves. Native to Morocco, fan palm tolerates a wide range of conditions, including heavy frost. If you’re looking for a slow-growing palm suitable for a large container, this is an excellent choice.
- Familiar to most gardeners as New Zealand Cabbage Palm, Cordyline australis boasts reddish-bronze leaves and fragrant blooms that make an appearance in spring and summer. This is a tree for milder regions, as it may not survive chilly northern climates. With just a little care in preparation for winter Cordylines will thrive, especially in coastal areas
Exotic Ornamental Grasses
Decorative grasses are graceful plants that add year round colour and texture to the landscape. Many are extremely hardy, tolerating cold weather in grand style.
- Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’ is a woodland plant distinguished by rosettes of bold, swordlike leaves, pale green on top and silvery on the undersides. This hardy plant tolerates snow, frost, and winter temps to -5 C., but may not survive long periods of extreme cold.
- Native to Argentina, Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’) is a popular exotic evergreen appreciated for the tall, feathery plumes that catch the winter light as they sway gracefully in the breeze. This particular variety, Pumila, is known as the dwarf Pampas Grass and is more suitable for small urban and medium size gardens.
- Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’ creates a dramatic show of colour with pink-striped leaves marked with pink margins. Reddish-purple plumes rise above the foliage in summer, eventually aging to a shade of buff that lasts throughout the winter. ‘Fireworks’ withstands temperatures down to -4 C., but can easily be grown as an annual in cooler climates.
- New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax variegata) displays strappy, lime and dark green leaves edged with creamy yellow. Spikes of reddish orange flowers add even more colour in late spring. Although this plant withstands temperatures to -15 C, a layer of mulch will offer the roots protection during cold snaps.
Trees and Shrubs
A landscape isn’t complete without trees and shrubs, and gardeners have a large number from which to choose. Many exotic evergreens create a lush, tropical atmosphere – often complete with blooms.
- Wollemi Pine – an exotic evergreen pine tree, native to the rainforest and thought to be extinct in the wild until it was rediscovered in Australia, now a protected tree, planting a Wollemi Pine helps to guarantee its survival. One of the most beautiful of the exotic pines, more closely related to the Aucuraria species (Chilean Pines) than Pinus. We have specimen trees that are up to fifteen years old. They will withstand temperatures up to -12 read more about these fascinating trees on our dedicated Wollemi Pine blog post.
- Bull Bay Tree (Magnolia grandiflora) are handsome exotic evergreens with big, glossy leaves and showy, fragrant, cup-shaped flowers. Songbirds are highly attracted to the reddish-orange seedpods that make an appearance in autumn. Bull Bay is a large tree, so give this splendid specimen plenty of growing space. A sheltered location is beneficial in cooler climates.
- European Olive (Olea europaea) is a surprisingly tough tree that requires at least two months of cool weather in order to flower. However, while mature olive trees are hardy to about -15 C., young plants should be wintered in a covered porch or other cool, protected location for the first few years.
- Fatsia Japonica are shade-loving exotic evergreens with tropical-looking leaves and showy white blooms in autumn. Fatsia is slightly fussy when it comes to temperature, tolerating chilly temps of -10, and possibly even colder in a sheltered location. However, it doesn’t perform well in intense heat and sunlight.
Paramount Plants and Gardens specialises in Hardy Palms, Exotic Evergreens, Ornamental Grasses and many other speciality plants for creating an exotic, jungle style garden. Please contact our expert team to discuss your requirements, we’re always pleased to help!
Paramount Plants & Gardens Ltd
131 Theobalds Park Road
London EN2 9BH
Tel: +44 (0)20 8367 8809