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.