5 plants to get that urban jungle look

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You want something unique, somewhere exciting and inspirational, tranquil and inviting. A tropical hideaway, that takes your breath away, in your very own outdoor space. Urban Jungle’s Liz Browne takes us through the ultimate, easy exotics to create your Jungle…

Musa basjoo (Japanese hardy banana)

A tried and tested root hardy banana with huge, arching, bright green leaf blades. Most people refer to it as a tree, but correctly speaking it’s an enormous herbaceous perennial. And yes, it will produce bananas! The flowering structure is a thing of monstrous curiosity, rather than beauty, and is followed by numerous bunches of small brown bananas. They won’t kill you but you probably won’t eat more than a mouthful – they’re rather dry and bitter. Once the stem has produced flowers and fruit it will unfortunately die, but it takes several years to reach this maturity, and will by then have produced numerous offsets or ‘pups’.

It requires a very fertile, moisture retentive, well-drained soil in full sun or dappled shade.

Without winter protection the frosts may cut the stem down to ground level but the plant usually re-grows the following spring. Ours re-grew after the devastating winter of 2009/10 when we regularly dipped down to a bone-chilling -14 degrees.

However, insulate the trunk and you will achieve a banana tree of majestic proportions in just a few seasons.

Dicksonia antarctica  (Man fern/Woolly fern)

Nothing adds a more primordial feel to a shady spot than a tree fern. Dicksonia antarctica grows in temperate woodlands in Tasmania which often experience cold conditions. This is the most famous tree fern and reliably hardy in the British Isles. It’s extremely slow growing (slower than most tree ferns) and in a good year will grow about an inch in height and considerably less in girth. However, even small specimens put out magnificent 2m fronds each year. So give them plenty of space!

As a minimum, stuff a generous layer of straw in the crown in early winter. In very severe winters the top 30cm of the trunk will need extra insulation, such as extra straw and fleece.

They love moist conditions, so in dry summers spray the trunk and crown with water daily.

Canna Tropicana Black (Indian Shot)

Although jungle gardens are predominantly green, we like to inject some colour into ours, and few plants give as much flower power as Cannas. They come in many different sizes, leaf, and flower colour, but Tropicanna Black is one of our favourites. One small specimen planted in the ground in early summer will create a huge clump of dark plum, almost black leaves by autumn. The leaves alone make this Canna worth including in our top 5 jungle plants, but add in the large showy scarlet flowers that keep on producing for over 3 months, and this one’s a winner.

Cannas love a rich, fertile, moist soil and lots of sunshine.

In the winter we lift ours, unceremoniously stuff them in compost bags with drainage holes cut in the bottom,  and leave virtually untouched until early spring. Then we divide, or re-pot, ready to be planted out again at the end of May.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. ‘Aureocaulis’ (Golden bamboo)

A tall bamboo growing to 6 or 7m high, forming a clump of densely packed culms (or ‘canes’ as they are commonly known) that have a bright golden yellow colour when young, ageing to a dull amber. Although they rarely exceed 25mm in thickness it’s worth making the most of the culms by removing the lower side branches to expose them. You can prune the clump to make a pompom shape by removing all of the lower foliage leaving just 1 or 2m of crown, though this gives a less Jungly and more oriental character. If you have space you could let this species form a moderately spreading clump that can be easily controlled by knocking the young shoots off before they mature, or it can be contained in a rhizome barrier if you wish to confine the plant to a limited space. The special characteristics of this species are its hardiness and density of growth – producing abundant bright green leaves on the closely spaced culms, making it a great screening and hedging plant, being resistant to both cold and burning from dry winds.

Rich, moisture retentive soil, and full sun/part shade are required for a really healthy, fast-growing specimen.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ (Rice paper plant)

A giant form of the Chinese rice paper plant, it is affectionately known as ‘T Rex’, and it certainly has a prehistoric feel about it. Its massive leaves which are deeply lobed and can reach up to 1.4 metres across are held on long stems up to 80cm long. This spectacular plant is moderately hardy with its top growth surviving temperatures of -8 or 10 degrees, however it is root hardy to lower temperatures, so if you lose a plant it is likely to throw up root suckers even if the parent plant does not survive. Over time ‘T.Rex’ will form a thicket if you let it, making a Jurassic- looking jungle all of its own. The whole plant except its woody – older trunk and the tops of the leaves is covered in a powdery beige powder, known as indumentum. As a member of the ivy family, it flowers in a similar form, with ball-shaped clusters of flowers in autumn.

To support these massive leaves, T Rex requires plenty of water, so a rich, moisture-retentive soil is essential. They also grow best in some shade, dappled-shade under trees is ideal.

If you’re looking to find out more about these, or any other interesting exotics for creating or adding to your Urban Jungle, why not contact Liz and the team at the Nursery for helpful advice and guidance. Many of these are also available to buy on the website. Find out more and contact Urban Jungle at www.urbanjungle.uk.com.

Visit Urban Jungle’s website here. and visit them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

‘How the urban jungle trend can change our gardens’ reaches the library on 10th February 2019

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