In this series of monthly articles Bob explores the incredible range of plants you can grow in a greenhouse, conservatory or plastic tunnel. Not just the purely decorative but the scented and edible also, and maybe those plants that are just downright interesting. This month Bob nominates More–than-Ornamental grasses.
Ornamental grasses have been quite the rage recently- though admittedly mostly in the open garden. I’m suggesting a couple of tender perennial grasses you should consider, which, as with citrus, can go outside during summer in containers or even planted out. The first is Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus; the swollen stem is essential for many curries and other eastern recipes and the dried leaves make an excellent tea. Plump stems are sold in supermarkets (choose not those cut off neatly just under the leaf bases but those with a bit of older knobbly stem protruding) which root easily in moist compost and warmth.
A weed in it’s homeland Lemon Grass thrives in wet and dry places, enduring either extreme tolerably well, and multiplying rapidly. Once your stem is established and starts becoming a clump you can cut off fresh stems for use; cut each just below it’s leaf bases- the stumps you leave will then re-sprout more stems. With lemon scented leaves in clumps not quite a metre tall this makes an excellent filler for awkward conservatory corners as other then being tender this will endure most situations. The leaves are slightly saw edged, not as bad as Pampas grass, but still be careful.
Likewise the leaves of my second choice, Sugar Cane, Saccharum cultivars, are fairly sharp edged and need care. Sugar Cane comes in an amazing range with red, green, striped, thick and thin canes, all reaching up to three metres, but floppy so they simply bend when under confinement.
Highly decorative this will really impress the neighbours as a spot plant in your summer bedding. And easy to grow, indeed difficult to restrain, especially if you ladle on the water and nitrogen which this plant loves. Lengths of fresh stem can be found in ethnic shops and if laid in trays of moist warm compost will spring from buds at almost every joint. Once the roots and shoot are a few cm long you can cut the stem into individual plantlets to pot on.
Their speed of growth is phenomenal. And surprisingly, after peeling, the stems are sweet enough to eat; well chew, you don’t swallow the pith. Or you can squeeze out the juice, boil it down and make your own sugar. So your own lemon grass tea with your own sugar; take it black -vegetable milk comes from a tropical tree, Brosimum galactodendron, a bit big for under cover.