This Month in The Garden (June 2021) with Derek Cox

It must be over 40 years since I was asked, as a landscape designer, to create a tropical garden. Here I must say you cannot create a truly tropical garden in the UK, as tropical plants are native to hot rainforests, or from dessert regions around the equator and these wouldn’t thrive in our cold, wet, frosty winters.
However, there are a number a number of trees, shrub and perennials which, if planted in a well drained soil in sun, are hardy enough to create a pseudo tropical affect in a part of your garden.
Trachycarpus fortunei is a marvellous Chinese palm, which is now planted in most temperate parts of the world. I grow this palm in a 25 litre container at the rear of my Japanese garden, where it now forms a three feet (90cm) tall column. This has dark green, palm-like leaves and it looks fabulous. There is a 12 feet (3.6m) tall tree of this in Goscote Nurseries showground and the trunk is covered a dense mat of coir fibres. This mature tree produces large drooping panicles of creamy yellow flowers during early summer.
Chaerops humilis is a much smaller palm rarely exceeding five feet (1.5m) when mature. This is native to a number of countries on the Southern Mediterranean coast, often forming thickets on the side of low mountains. Here I must say that when my daughter took us to a garden centre I spotted a group of this palm and as one in the centre looked a better colour my daughter picked it out and put it with the rest of the plants that I could not resist.
When I got home and started to take the pants out of the cardboard box I realised the plant I had was not Chaerops, but The Japanese sago palm Cycas revoluta. This is not a palm, but a cycad and is not hardy enough to withstand the cold, wet and frosty winters of most of the UK.
As a consequence this is often sold as a house plant. I immediately potted this into an ornament container, see picture left, and although it will stand in the garden until September, it will then go into my greenhouse until June of the following year.
Cordyline australis is the New Zealand cabbage palm, which although called a palm, is not even related to palms. Mature trees 20 feet (6.3m) tall of this can be seen along the South coast of the UK where it forms a bare trunk with a dense mass of leaves on the top. I grew a superb form of this named ‘Torbay Dazzler’ whose sword shaped leaves have a broad yellow margin.
You will note I said grew, for the winter of 2012 killed this and this was due to the fact that it was container grown and there were no feet beneath the container so the roots became waterlogged.
Before I go across to the other side of the world I had better mention the herbaceous Phormiums whose evergreen sword shaped leaves, especially in the variegated forms, can add so much attraction. ‘Yellow Wave’ is probably one of the largest, I have seen this over four feet (1.2m) tall whose large gold variegated leaves, due to their weight droop creating a wave-like affect. I grow ‘Jester’ in a 25 litre container where it forms a dense mass of upright, narrow sword shaped leaves that are variegated with pink and bronze. I divide and re-pot this every 3 years.
Now we go across the world to the Southern USA and Mexico where numerous Yucca species are to be found. These are mainly tough evergreen sub shrubs with sword shaped fibrous leaves. For over 50 years Yucca flaccid ‘Golden Sword’, see our picture left, has been growing in my garden, its sword shaped leaves have a broad gold stripe down their centre. Spires of white bell shaped flowers appear on a three feet panicle during midsummer.
For a time I grew Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’, which I must admit is glorious. It forms a short trunk topped by a rosette of strong fibrous gold variegated tipped leaves. I got rid of this as the spines, commonly named Adams Needle, looked lethal to have with children about.