Be inspired by the greenhouses at Kew Gardens

Published 8th August 2016 by Michelle

There’s been some glorious weather this summer, and a couple of weeks ago I made the most of it by taking a trip to Kew Gardens. It was a hot day and Kew’s greenhouses were sweltering – but it was well worth enduring the heat to see a stunning combination of exotic plants, as well as the beautiful outside gardens that look at their best in summer. This week I show you how to take inspiration from the greenhouses at Kew for your indoor and outdoor urban garden.

Palms

The palms in the Kew greenhouses make stunning silhouettes. Luscious bright greens in a variety of shapes and structures create an exotic, tropical atmosphere.

Palms for your urban garden: There are many palms which you can grow outdoors in your urban garden – you must look for ones that are hardy in the UK (can survive a British winter); such as the Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamereops Humilis) pictured below. I have one in my urban garden, planted in a pot, and it is one of the lowest maintenance plants I own.

Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamereops Humilis)

Ferns

Ferns, having been around for about 360 million years, can almost make you feel like you’re back in the land of the dinosaur. The Kew greenhouses have a huge collection of magnificent ferns. They are a great plant for shady areas, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Asplenium, pictured at Kew

Ferns for your urban garden: If you want a large fern to form the centrepiece of an exotic, Jurassic themed garden, then a tree fern is the plant for you. They are perfect in a sheltered, shady garden, and can be grown in a pot. You can buy a tree fern plant, or alternatively (and usually more affordably), a tree fern trunk, which will not yet have fern leaves (known as fronds). When you get a tree fern trunk, soak the base overnight in water, and then plant the trunk in compost just deep enough so that the trunk is stable. Water every day until the foliage starts to emerge. Tree ferns grow extremely slowly so pick a tree fern plant or trunk that is already the right size for your urban garden. Water regularly to make sure the tree fern trunk doesn’t dry out. From late October to early Spring, if you live in a cold area, you will need to bring your tree fern into your house, or in milder areas, you can wrap the container with bubble wrap to insulate it.

If you would like to stick with something smaller, the Dryopteris filix-mas fern is a tough plant that is happy in shady or semi-shady conditions and will tolerate drought.

Tree Fern, pictured at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, Bowdens Floral Garden

Tropical Plants as Houseplants

Many of the plants in the Kew greenhouses can’t be grown outdoors in the UK, but some of them make excellent houseplants.

Tropical houseplants for your urban garden: The ZZ plant and Peace Lily, both spotted in the Kew greenhouses, both make excellent houseplants. The ones at Kew were huge – having been given the space to grow as they would in the wild – but contained in a pot in your house they will stay a more appropriate size! In my experience the ZZ plant is pretty hard to kill, and is very forgiving of those who sometimes forget to water it (me!). The Peace Lily has been found by NASA to clean the air of toxins, and so is a great houseplant for a city home. 

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas Zamifolia), spotted in the Kew greenhouses

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), spotted in the Kew greenhouses

Tropical Flowers

I saw some beautiful brightly coloured tropical flowers at Kew, which were all the more striking against the luscious green background of the ferns, palms and other exotic plants.

Tropical Flowers for your urban garden: I saw a beautiful Passion Flower at Kew, Passion Flower ‘Lady Margaret’. This variety of passion flower is not fully hardy in the UK, so would need to be brought in overwinter if grown outside. Growing the Passion Flower incarnata (Passiflora incarnata) is a great way to get tropical flowers in UK temperatures, as this variety is hardy in the UK, growing best in full sun or partial shade. It is a climbing plant, and so can be grown in a pot beneath a trellis attached to a wall to make great use of vertical space. I have it in my urban garden and it is a brilliant, easy to look after plant which flowers year after year.

If you want a challenge, and have either a conservatory or greenhouse, or the space to attach trellis to an indoor wall with plenty of light, you can have a go at growing Gloriosa superba. I saw this plant for the first time at the Chelsea flower show in May earlier this year, and it is a stunning tropical flower, but I understand it’s hard to grow and high maintenance, and can’t be grown outdoors in the UK. If you manage it, send me pictures!

Michelle x

Columnea 'Midnight Lantern', pictured at Kew, cannot be grown outdoors in the UK

Thunbergia mysorensis, pictured at Kew, cannot be grown outdoors in the UK

Passiflora 'Lady Margaret', spotted at Kew

Passion Flower incarnata (Passiflora incarnata)

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana' (spotted in the Viking Cruises Mekong Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016