August is turning out to be something of a damp squib. As soon as the kids broke up for the summer holidays the rain moved in and the weather turned decidedly cool. Flowering plants such as dahlias and marguerites responded quickly by producing fewer flowers, hanging back for the next blast of heat and sunshine, but one group of plants at The Watch House remained unphased – the gingers. These hardy relatives of culinary ginger hail from the foothills of the Himalaya and are accustomed to wet conditions: their stems are strong and their flowers impervious to water.
A couple of years ago I purchased 3 sections of root belonging to Hedychium gardnerianum, the Kahili ginger, which I had first admired at Trengwainton in Cornwall growing on the banks of a stream. Having nurtured the plants initially I found myself short of space to grow them on properly. The resulting specimens ended up being moved from pillar to post, eventually taking up residence in an overgrown corner of the greenhouse. Here they overwintered without dying back, which may be why they have flowered relatively early this year.
Unlike Hedychium ‘Sorung’ and H. ‘Stephen’, which are hybrids of H. densiflorum, H. gardnerianum has fat, exaggerated flower spikes that take the shape of a giant pineapple. Yellow petals contrast splendidly with elongated red stigmas and styles, creating such an exotic effect that it does not take too many sherries to start imagining you’ve spotted a hummingbird giving it the eye. I have positioned my plants next to Dahlia ‘Weston Pirate’ AGM, a cactus type with blood-red flowers. I can see both from the library and together they make an arresting sight. What’s more, the scent wafting through an open sash could transport you anywhere in the tropical world in a single inhalation.
You can probably tell I am a fan, but few other plants create so much impact in summer (if you can call it summer), shrugging off less-than-perfect sunbathing weather and performing long into the autumn. H. gardnerianum is showier than most hardy gingers and guaranteed to draw gasps from friends and family when they come to visit. If you’re not convinced, I urge you to give hedychiums a try in a warm spot near the house, or where you can enjoy the incomparable scent.