Lots of plants are eager to grow in spring, some wisely, and others foolishly, popping up before the weather really has warmed up, and they get taught a lesson when a late frost chops off their heads. Other plants are far less eager to wake up in spring, making a teenager on a Sunday morning look positively enthusiastic.
Last autumn I had a small spending spree, supporting a few interesting nurseries that could send plants from the UK before the idiocy of Brexit bit. Some plants were those I really wanted while others were gambles, including things I had not heard of, let alone grown. I like this kind of gamble; it is a great way to learn. But some pots have remained resolutely bare. Not a sign of growth apart from the odd sprigs of bittercress and liverwort. The pots have sat in the ‘holding area’ beside the greenhouse, slightly ignored so they did not cause me too much heartache when I passed by.
So it was a lovely surprise when I discovered signs of life in some of the pots at the weekend. One pot is full of shoots of Cautleya gracilis ‘Purple Emperor’. Cautleyas are, along with Roscoea (confusingly there is Roscoea cautleyoides), the hardiest of the ‘hardy’ gingers. I have had Cautleya robusta in the garden for two years now and, although I need to find a more sheltered spot so the foliage is not battered by the wind quite so much, it has increased in size and manages to bloom. The flower scapes have reddish bracts with yellow, ‘ginger’ flowers in August. Even the foliage is lovely. Cautleya gracilis has narrower leaves and similar flowers and ‘Purple Emperor’ has purple undersides to the leaves – just to confuse us all there is also Roscoea purpurea ‘Purple Emperor’. I have the spot ready for my new cautleya so I hope it does well. In the same bed I have also planted my one roscoea (below) so I trust they will be happy together.
Next to the cautleya (top) is another newcomer that has only just deigned to appear. This is a complete newbie to me and, to add to the mystery, I can find out very little about it. I confess that a love of aroids and being seduced by the name led to me obtaining Gorgonidium intermedium. All I know is that it is found in a small area around Cusco in Peru and that it probably won’t be hardy. It will have to be a greenhouse plant for the near future at least.
Another late-waker that I thought was a no-show is Apios americana. A weed in the USA, this is little grown in Europe. It is a legume and a twiner with typical pinnate leaves and small, brownish purple, curled pea flowers that have a pleasant scent, often described as like cinnamon. I have grown it before, when it proved to be hardy and pretty, so I am glad to have it again. It was introduced to Europe in 1597 and after 1845 was considered as a crop in Ireland after the ‘potato famine’. In North America, the tuberous roots had long been used as a food by the Native people but the roots do not produce a usable crop until two years after planting so it is not comparable to most food crops even though the roots are nutritious and, apparently, tasty. I will give my potful all the love I can and see how it does. I will be happy to have some fragrant flowers this year and worry about a crop next year.
And, returning to gingers, I need to mention Zingiber mioga, a Japanese, hardy ginger, that popped up its head earlier than the others and has been planted out already. This is grown in Japan and Korea for the flower buds, that appear near ground level and are eaten. There are several variegated forms and I have ‘White Feather’ which has leaves edged with white. Whether I leave this out over winter or dig it up and protect it will depend on how well it establishes and how forgetful I am in autumn. So far it has one main stem and several new ones from below the soil so I am moderately confident it is happy.