ACHIEVING the exotic garden in Cumbria can at times be a challenge, writes TOM ATTWOOD. But fortunately for us gardeners there are several plants that despite appearances are in fact remarkably tough. Foliage in its many forms has always appealed to me and the first time I saw the leaves (let alone the flowers) of hardy gingers I was sold straight away. Hedychium (to use their botanical name) are a different plant group to the culinary ginger, zingiber officinale that many of you reading this will have in a slightly mummified form in your fridge door (or is that just us?). But the growth habit and root structure is very similar. The ginger we use in our food is in fact the rhizome of the plant and is a cleverly adapted root structure. This rhizome is found in the ornamental gingers as well. When you cut through the rhizome of any of the hedychium there is a delicate sweet ginger smell (just don’t eat them).

Hardy ornamental gingers produce long leaf stalks from which broad shiny leaves are thrown out. When the shoots emerge in early May they look much like those of a canna albeit much later. They take a while to get going but once in full swing grow fast. Even with our typical periods of wet during the winter hedychium can be left in the ground provided they are adequately drained and don’t spend long periods of time in wet conditions. I love to plant hardy gingers in pots and other suitable containers.

Once established they are very easy to propagate by dividing with a sharp spade. The time to do that is now when they are just beginning to shoot rather than later when the growth is much taller. The flowers produced in late summer are extraordinary, completely exotic and wonderful to look at; for the uninitiated the exclamation of "what is that?" is the typical response.

Well worth considering if you hanker after the exotic look and the best climate you can offer is a Cumbrian one.

Next week: taking soft wood cuttings of your favourite garden plants