It’s now mid-October and even though the days are very noticeably drawing in, the weather is proving stubbornly mild. There is life left in Dahlias, Asters and Cannas and the Maples and Liquidambers are putting on a great show of fiery autumn colour. It seems a little ungrateful but I am almost looking forward to the first frost to cut down the foliage of Dahlias and Cannas that I have grown in large pots. I can then dig the tubers out and safely put them away in a frost-free corner for the winter. Alternatively, eat them.... They are both edible and the Dahlia was originally used as a food tuber like its fellow South American the potato. The word potato actually comes from the vernacular Carib name for sweet potato Ipomoea 'batatas', and if you recognise the genus Ipomoea that is because the sweet potato is a form of that beautiful, sky blue flowered climber, the Morning Glory.
The Canna comes from the West Indies (hence Canna 'Indica') and when grown as a food crop is normally called Queensland arrowroot. It’s meant to be a little like Jerusalem artichoke to eat, but I cannot bring myself to eat the tubers, it seems such a waste to cook what in a few months’ time will be such an exotic looking plant!
I think they look great grown with castor oil plants, bananas and other exotic looking foliage. One exotic that can be grown from seed from your lunch is the Papaya, these look really tropical, but can be treated like a tender annual. It’s worth starting a good dozen seeds off as they have a habit of not all making it past seedling stage. The standard form grows very tall in the tropics, but there are dwarf varieties that if you start them off in the autumn and keep them in a bright, not too dry conservatory or heated green house, above 14 degrees C or so, can produce fruit for you the following summer, and stay under head height!
I am busy clearing out greenhouses of fading tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, cleaning the glass and making space for the tender plants that spend the summer out on terraces and flanking porches. Citrus trees are some of my favourites; they produce beautifully scented flowers as well as great fruit. They also remind me of the lemon and orange orchards I have spent so much time in, around southern Italy.
The next job to look forward to is filling the pots back up for the winter and spring season, I really enjoy trying new colour combinations of Tulips with early Irises, opening the show and violas and forget-me-nots for the tulips to grow through. Structural plants really help to add some presence and height to larger pots during the bleaker months, a Cornus 'midwinter fire' or evergreen fern will both look dramatic.
Head Gardener and veggie lover