New exotics make Beach gardens sizzle

Spring has been playing peek-a-boo with us this year. One week at the end of March was no-coat weather, the next was put-those-blankets-back-on-the-bed.

Upper Beach folks are bragging about their spring flowers. In my garden, two blocks from the lake, tulips and daffs are still tightly wrapped, and the forsythia is only thinking of blooming.

Meanwhile, let yourself dream big about this year’s garden with some of these weird and wonderful introductions.

The latest sensation, just beginning to take off here, is hefty tropical plants in containers. You can find banana plants without too much trouble now. (They’re a bit fiddly to care for, my trendy gardener friends say.)

And magnificent cannas, with their jungle foliage and exotic blooms, are almost common in commercial plantings. These monsters can grow 150 cm tall, so if your space is limited, look for dwarf cannas that stay a manageable 60 to 70 cm.

If you went to the recent Canada Blooms show, you must have seen the dramatic Medinilla Magnifica plants with their giant pink flowers. (They were all over the Taiwan feature garden.)

They’re grown locally by Northend Gardens in Jordan Station, Ontario, but they’re native to the Philippine mountains, so they like balmy to warmish temperatures – 17˚ to 25˚C. They’re not waterhogs, as so many tropicals are. Water them thoroughly, but let the soil dry out between waterings.

The Medinilla should be at home in Beach gardens: It likes bright light, but not direct sunlight, from spring through fall. Think shaded porch or bright patio. Winter over indoors in direct sunlight or under grow lights. If you didn’t splurge at Canada Blooms, check with Sheridan Nurseries to find them.

Another brand-new exotic that debuted at Canada Blooms is the Magic Bell kalanchoe. You probably know kalanchoes as those tiny plants topped with a tight bunch of small, brightly coloured flowers. They’re cute, long-lasting and easy-care. Magic Bell, however, is a whole different animal… er, plant. The thing is huge, about 80cm tall. And its flowers aren’t cute, they’re amazing. The fairly ordinary green, fleshy-leaved plant is topped with something that looks like a green chandelier, with dozens of 4cm bells strung along its arms.

Grower Balfour Greenhouses in Fenwick, Ontario, says Magic Bell will bloom for eight to 10 weeks, in three phases. The bells appear first, then orange cascading flowers should peek out from them. After the flowers fall, the remaining bells hang on and turn purple.    Like its smaller cousins, Magic Bell doesn’t mind a dry spell now and then, and prefers full sun. Find it at Home Depot stores, or ask your local garden centre if they’ll be carrying it.

Also exotic, though not tropical, is a new mini-grape vine, Pixie Grape, that lives happily in a small container. Its grower, Sunrise Greenhouses in Vineland Station, Ontario, claims you can even grow it in a coffee cup!

The little critter is a naturally occurring mutant of Vitus Vinifera ‘Pinot Meunier.’ That’s not your common wild grape; it’s one of the varieties used to make real wine and even Champagne.

Expect to see mini clusters of grapes the first year you grow Pixie Grape (if you can keep the assorted wildlife around here away from them). Like the big-boy grapes, Pixie likes direct sun and moderately moist soil.

You can plant Pixie Grape in the garden, too, of course, and leave it to overwinter there. If it’s in a pot, though, store it in a cool protected place like a barely heated garage or shed. Limited numbers of Pixie Grape are available this year at Loblaws and some independent garden centres.

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