Having experimented with many different plants in my glasshouse over the years I’d like to share with you the 10 that have given the most pleasure for the least fuss. Here goes..
1. Jasminium polyanthum. Yes that’s the very common one you can buy almost anywhere but especially as a gift at Christmas. Move it into a big pot or better still into a planting hole in a green house border and it will reward you with three months of heavenly scent starting in late winter when you need it most (the Christmas gifts will have been forced on a bit). It just needs shearing back after flowering and that’s it.
2. Plumbago auriculata. Another lax climber that just gets on with things, plumbago flowers from midsummer right through to late autumn so is a great partner to grow alongside jasmine as it gets going just after you’ve cut the jasmine back. It doesn’t have the quality of scent but the slate blue flowers are deeply arresting. .
3. Passiflora ‘Amethyst’. I’ve tried several different passion flowers over the years: the common one P. caerulea sulked in the heat, others became too rampant. The excellent Tynings Climbers recommended ‘Amethyst’ as one of the best hybrids to grow under glass and they weren’t wrong!
4. Lemon trees. There is nothing nicer than picking a fresh lemon off your own tree: period. Add to this the delicious scent from their waxy flowers and the sharp aromatic smell from a crushed leaf and this is a shrub that satisfies so many senses. They should be kept just frost free under glass in winter and watered sparingly, but can stand outside from Easter to Halloween. I don’t feed mine very much, so they look a bit scruffy, but boy, do they produce the goods.
5. Brugmansia. I don’t know the full botanical name of my specimen as I bought it in the reject bin of my local supermarket about 20 years ago simply labelled ‘Angels Trumpet – pink’. This shrub needs richer living than the lemon trees and the more you feed and water it, the better it performs. I stand it outside in high summer as it is prone to red spider but come early autumn I bring it in so we can experience the wonderfully exotic aniseed perfume that suffuses the glasshouse as the trumpets flare open after dark.
6. Tibouchina. Again, I don’t know which species mine is (it was a cutting off a friend) but after years of faithful service it definitely doesn’t owe me anything, budding up in late autumn and opening it’s rich purple flowers all winter long.
7. Geranium maderense. Okay, so this enormous geranium is a bit of a project and can take up more space than you have on offer but it adds a fantastic tropical feel with its muscular stems and architectural leaves. It can take up to three years to produce its one and only inflorescence, but it’s worth waiting for and will drop viable seeds afterwards so you can start the cycle of growth and anticipation all over again.
8. Banksia. Elaine always gives a little shudder whenever I recommend any plant from the Proteaceae family. Coming mainly from hot, dry areas of Australia and South Africa the banksias, proteas and grevillias all have a leathery, spiky toughness that is at odds with Elaine’s vision of soft cottage garden loveliness. But if you had a conservatory that was hot and dry then these plants might give you an alternative to cacti or succulents, and personally I admire their gritty beauty.
9 Acidanthera muriele. Anyone who has grown this bulb outside knows that it needs a long hot summer to coax it into anything but a few grudging flowers, but grow it under glass and it is transformed. The flower spikes can be three foot tall and the classy white and maroon blooms pump out a delicious scent for several weeks in September and October.
10. Hyacinths. I had pretty much given up on hyacinths. Ungainly in an outdoor spring border, hopelessly floppy in a warm kitchen. Now I grow plant them in pots and leave them outside until some colour starts to show in late winter, when I bring the pots in under glass to enjoy that unique, evocative scent as the flower stalks grow slowly and sturdily in the cool bright light. My favourite is the purple ‘Woodstock’.
Elaine & Caroline are dismissive, but you don’t see them turning down a cup of tea among any of these beauties whenever they visit.
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