Ginger in the garden

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Globba winitii

I find one of the most thrilling aspects of gardening is the discovery of a plant hitherto unknown by me. Just this week, I was introduced to such a specimen, which goes by the rather unflattering name of Globba winitii, when a friend, who is downsizing, passed on to me two cultivars of this fascinating member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), a family I am beginning to like more and more, as it contains some plants that are standing up to Sydney's ferocious summer weather this year.

Globba winitii is considered to be the hardiest of the so-called 'Thai gingers', and it does hail from Thailand, as well as from Vietnam. It grows 50-60 cm tall. The foliage is typical of the ginger family, with the leaves being tightly furled up the stem. The dainty inflorescences appear in late summer and autumn, and are comprised of colourful bracts holding tiny dangling yellow flowers on slim spikes, which sway in the slightest breeze, giving rise to the common name of 'dancing ladies'. The bracts stay showy for a long time and cut blooms are excellent material for vases. One of the cultivars I received has magenta bracts; the other has yellow ones. I gather other colours are available. Globba winitii thrives in full or part shade, and would consort happily with other semi-tropical shade-lovers, such as Begonia, Justicia and ferns. It dies down over winter to an underground rhizome, so make sure there is a label to identify its position - otherwise you will delightedly think you have a spot for another plant to be put in. It enjoys moisture during the growing season and prefers to be drier during its dormant period. It can grow very well in a pot, perhaps a good option if your soil is soggy in winter. It can be propagated from division of the rhizomes; it is not regarded as an invasive plant. All in all, a fabulous addition to my garden!

Alpinia nutans

I have been growing another ornamental ginger Alpinia nutans (sometimes known as 'false cardamom') seemingly forever, as it came with me from my parents' Blue Mountains garden. It forms an impressive, low-maintenance clump of attractive greenery (ht to 3 m) in a shady border, all year round, and it has a delicious spicy scent if its leaves are handled. My specimen has never bloomed, but I like it none the less for that. The only requirements are to remove old, tattered foliage every so often and to reduce its girth every few years, as it slowly expands via its rhizomes over time, but never in a bad way. True cardamom - the seeds of which are used as a spice in Indian, Scandinavian and Middle Eastern cuisines - is another member of the ginger family: Elettaria cardamomum, a tropical perennial plant forming a large clump over time, growing 3 m tall. I have never grown this one nor turmeric (Curcuma longa), another edible member of the ginger family.

Alpinia zerumbut Variegata

Another ornamental ginger that I have had for some time is Alpinia zerumbut 'Variegata', often called 'shell ginger', which has stunning yellow/green variegated foliage (ht 1.5 m). It is an excellent plant to bring light and colour into gloomy parts of the garden. This summer (around December), my plant flowered for the very first time, with trusses of creamy-coloured, waxy buds opening to revealed yellow and red shell-like blooms. Both forms of Alpinia are said to prefer rich soil, but mine grow in quite ordinary areas of the garden. Like my other Alpinia, this one makes a big clump over time, so I just remove some of the canes every so often. New plants can be propagated from these pieces. Every so often some of the older leaves become shabby, so I remove these. It is a fab plant to use for 'colour echoes' in the garden: such as being paired with lime-leaved Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' or with the yellow blooms of the golden shrimp plant, Pachystachys lutea, an Acanthaceae member that is seemingly never without a flower in a shaded section of my garden (pictured above).

True edible ginger (Zingiber officinale) can also be grown in Sydney - just pop a piece of ginger from the fruit shop into a large container filled with a rich, friable potting mix or into a garden bed with well-drained soil amended with organic matter, and wait for the leaves to appear. It needs lots of water and regular feeding to do well. When the leaves die down in late autumn, the ginger is ready to harvest, though best results are achieved by postponing this till the second year. Harvest the older roots to use in the kitchen, leaving the young roots to resprout. Probably the best time to plant is in early spring.

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora in the garden of Ian McMaugh in Sydney

Another plant known as 'blue ginger' is just starting to flower now in our Sydney gardens, but Dichorisandra thyrsiflora, as it is botanically known, is not a member of the ginger family at all, being more closely aligned to wandering jew plants: the Commelinaceae family! However, its leaves are arranged on its tall stems in rather a ginger-like fashion. Atop these stems appear spires of magnificent purple/blue, clustered blooms. Like my other ginger plants, it loves shade and is a most useful companion for other late summer-early autumn bloomers in low-light areas of the garden, such as Plectranthus, cane and shrub Begonia, and its cousins the various decorative-leaf forms of Tradescantia.

Poppy on the daybed

The final ginger feature of my garden at the moment is in the form of the neighbours' pretty marmalade cat, who has recently decided my day bed is the perfect spot for a nap! Like the other gingers mentioned, she likes shade and has an easy-going nature.

Reader Comments

  • By Lindy 2093 Monday, 20 February 2017

    Another interesting article - thank you! Where can I buy some of the Globba Winitii? Since moving to the Northern Beaches from the North Shore, I still find myself heading back that way to the Nurseries I"m familiar with! So few nurseries are left! if you have trouble finding it, maybe attend the Collectors Plant Fair on 8 & 9 April at Clarendon, near Richmond; I am sure there would be a seller there. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 20 February 2017

    Interested in the ginger article. I have some plants, names unknown, but they have not flowered for me. Perhaps I have them in the wrong position. They are an interesting plant, and I agree, many of them are most suitable for our Sydney gardens, and the flowers are most attractive. My Alpinias don"t seem to want to flower that much but I grow them as foliage plants mainly! Deirdre

  • By Kerrie 2104 Monday, 20 February 2017

    I adore gingers! One you didn"t mention that I"ve been able to grow in Sydney is Beehive Gingers. Beware of planting native ginger. When i moved in here the garden was over run with it & i had to get the lzbourer working on my renovation to dig it all out & it still kept popping up everywhere! Finally i had to resort to Roundup to get rid of it but even now 12 months on, the odd bit pops up.Lindy i got my Dancing Ladies ginger from www.rareplants.net.au a few years ago now.

  • By Kerrie 2104 Monday, 20 February 2017

    Lindy if they don"t have any in stock email Bob via the contact link & ask if he has any. I can recommend rareplants.net.au as a good source of unusual good quality plants if recommendations are allowed.

  • By Marilyn 2250 Monday, 20 February 2017

    We planted lots of gingers a few years ago and had to give most of them up because of yellow peach moth borer, Conogethes punctiferalis. The larvae bored into the stem and ate out the centre so we never had any flowers! The common ginger in the bush seems to get by, probably just contributes moths to reinfest the more precious ginger species every year. Very frustrating! I think I had that same pest when I tried to grow Hedychium gingers; very annoying. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Monday, 20 February 2017

    Yes I love gingers too. I have five identified species plus perhaps four more that I have aquired by seed or otherwise and have yet to identify. Hedychium greenii (Red ginger) is flowering now and forms plantlets on the end of the flowering stems; the flowers are a beautiful red. Also,I moved my turmeric plant into my "tropical" garden from the former veg garden because it is so attractive, and the flowers (flowering now) are so beautiful. How interesting about the turmeric; I never knew till now it was a good plant to grow in the garden for its blooms; might try to grow some! Lovely that your red ginger is flowering; I have never had much luck with it. Deirdre

  • By Lindy 2093 Monday, 20 February 2017

    Thanks, Kerrie. I"ll investigate rareplants.net.au and see what I can find.

  • By Iris 6053 Monday, 20 February 2017

    I was extremely interested that your plant Globba winitii,is surviving in Sydney"s hot weather this year. Being from WA I find it hard to keep many of my plants in the garden because of extreme heat and use a lot of pots. I would love to find one but our regulations about importing plants are so strict. What is surviving, and I had one once before, is the Butterfly Bush Clerodendrum Ugandense. It is not as good it was in another position but no burnt leaves and still flowering copping the sun. Yes there seem to be a lot of limits on getting plants in to WA. The Globba seems happy enough and we have had some appalling heat here since Christmas. I hop eyou can find a specimen to try. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Tuesday, 21 February 2017

    Deirdre, Regarding my comment about turmeric above, it is the Cream Turmeric (Curcuma longa syn. domestica),not the regular one, that has the beautiful flowers. Thanks, Bren. I have seen those ones but never grown them. Interesting they are related to the edible turmeric. Deirdre

  • By lillian 3951 Wednesday, 22 February 2017

    Hi Deirdre. Like you, I love plant families. In fact the reason I now enjoy your column every week is because of your booklet on the Acanthaceae by which you captured me. I"ve not looked at your Plant Reference before, so ... when I take a cuppa break... something extra to enjoy. Another fascinating column. Thank you. Thanks, Lillian. yes plant families are fascinating -- to see the connections between plants helps us understand them better, I think; also gives some clues as to what plants can grow well in our gardens if many in their family do OK. That is how I came to get onto the Acanthaceae family and realise how good they were for Sydney. Deirdre

  • By Angus 2750 Thursday, 23 February 2017

    Hi Deirdre, can you or any of my fellow igarden enthusiasts suggest any gingers that cope with full sun? A friend has given me some Hedychium Greenii offsets but so far they have not grown above 20cm - perhaps they take a while to settle in. Thanks, Angus HI Angus, I do not know myself whether there are gingers for sunny spots but hope someone might let us know! Deirdre

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