Eden Project's top 10 plants of the year
From fiery Kniphofia to insect-munching pitchers, towering dahlias to the shy and retiring ‘sensitive plant’, Eden’s plant collection is extraordinarily diverse. We asked the Eden Team to name their favourites of 2017. Here are the top 10. You'll find plenty of ideas for your own garden...
1. Brazilian grapetree (Plinia cauliflora)
Where to find it: Rainforest Biome (Amazon exhibit)
Also known as Jabuticaba, this beautiful little tree is native to Brazil and grows grape-like fruits directly out of its stem. Cauliflora translates to ‘stem flower’: the tree produces strongly scented, delicate white flowers straight from its main trunk to allow for pollination by insects that can’t fly.
The dark purple fruits contain anthocyanins, also found in superfoods such as blueberries, which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists are investigating another of its compounds, jaboticabin, for its potential in treating cancer.
Jabuticaba ticks every box: it makes a beautiful tropical ornamental tree, is medicinally useful and also very tasty, with tropical-tasting gelatinous fruits. It flowers and fruits three to four times a year in our Rainforest Biome and the birds love it! – Lucie Oldale
2. Leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (near the Core building)
Often called the leopard lily, this elegant woodland plant has several colourful Turk’s cap-type flowers on each stem. Long, slim buds open as the petals curve back, leaving the stamens visible. Orange-yellow flowers, with darker spots at the centre, blend to orange-red at the tips of the petal. Whorls of fresh green leaves clothe the stems, which reach around 1.5m tall.
Leopard lily is native to the Pacific coast of the USA, where it often grows near streams. Ours flower happily in the beds beside the Core building, for several weeks in June and July. It’s well worth growing to bring summer colour to the garden. But watch out for lily beetle: this bright red insect is active from March to October and is particularly fond of lily leaves. – Helen Lannon
3. Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (near the Giant Bee sculpture)
Image: I, Beentree, CC BY-SA 3.0
After planting bee balm in the Pollination exhibit last year, near the Giant Bee sculpture, I have absolutely fallen in love with it. We ordered a seed mix which produced a fabulous range of pinks and purples, from dark magenta to pale lilac. To add to the amazing colours, the bees absolutely adored the abundant flowers. The plants were covered in them all summer.
Bee balm is also commonly known as bergamot, but should not to be confused with bergamot orange, used to flavour Earl Grey tea. With its highly scented leaves, bee balm makes a great addition to any herb garden, having been used as medicine for various ailments by Native Americans.
It’s fairly easy to look after, preferring full sun, but can tolerate partial shade. Plant bee balm in moist yet well-drained soil, protect from winter wet and do not it allow to dry out during the summer, as it can be susceptible to powdery mildews. – Katie McBride
4. Courgette ‘Tromboncino’ (Cucurbita moschata ‘Tromboncino’)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (Global Gardens); Mediterranean Biome
Image: Nadiatalent, CC BY-SA 3.0
This is one of the most exciting and most rewarding courgettes to grow. Technically a type of climbing squash, it’s very easy to cultivate and, left to its own devices, will happily take over a small garden shed! However, if you don’t have much space you can also grow it up a frame.
Tromboncino means ‘little trumpet’ in Italian and this plant lives up to its name: it has fantastically long fruits which, if trained, can grow to around 4-5 feet or more. The fruits’ size matches their amazing sweet taste – pick them when young and tender and use like you would courgettes. They also keep well and can be stored over winter or used to decorate the house. – Jake Hawke
5. Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus agg.)
Where to find it: Outer estate (Forest Garden)
My favourite plant of all time must be the humble yet pervasive blackberry
Children, friends and neighbours all love my homemade jam
With berries collected from hedgerows
On family walks whenever we can.
Before the berries comes a dense flock of flower
Covering the bramble, evoking a shower
Of butterflies, hoverflies and bees
Drink nectar, carry pollen, create berries
Which other animals love to eat too
Like fox, bird and mouse, naming a few.
It will take root in various situations
To many a gardener’s indignation
Thorny battles won and lost.
They are, however, worth the cost
The magic of these hardy plants
Is that they give others a chance
A safe place for saplings to grow.
For this I love it the most
As a tree nursery.
Bramble on, thorny pioneer
You deserve ‘plant of the year’.
– Tracy Chandler
6. Puya berteroniana
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (Plants for Dry Places)
This fantastic plant from the mountains in Chile has tolerated -10°C in our Outdoor Gardens! Related to pineapples, in early summer it sends up a massive flower spike that is over six feet tall, covered with the most amazing blooms: emerald-turquoise with contrasting orange anthers. They’re full of nectar, so are heaven for our robins. Puyas put their energy into producing just one flower spike before dying but, fortunately, they spread around over the years, developing new plants called ‘pups’.
Puya berteroniana forms a 3-4-feet-tall rosette of silvery-green leaves that are barbed. Small mammals have been known to get trapped inside this; the more they struggle to get out, the more they get tangled. The plant then feeds on the decomposed animal. – Flo Mansbridge
7. Wedding cake tree (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (The Garden exhibit)
Imagine a ballet dancer on tiptoes, arms stretched to the sides. Commonly known as the wedding cake tree, this prima donna has so many beautiful layers and a gracefulness that exudes. She is a distinguished Chinese aristocrat wearing a delicate coat of drooping creamy white variegation. Those limp and twisting, nonchalant leaves suggest she doesn’t even need to try to look so fine!
The perfect moment arrives when her multi-tiered branches become bedecked with a deep snow-like covering of insignificant yet glorious white panicles of flowerlets, just confetti in profusion.
As the season moves on she generously offers niblets of blue-black berries to the birds and then finally, as autumn arrives, she changes her clothing to a splendid array of glowing yellow. For a diminutive tree – just eight metres tall at maturity – she’s an expensive date, commanding high prices. It’s true that class doesn’t come cheap… – Paul Stone
8. Tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (The Garden exhibit)
King of all the dahlia species is Dahlia imperialis from Central America. Commonly known as the tree dahlia, this plan was grown by the Aztecs for its edible tubers and thick, hollow stems that were used as water pipes. The luxuriant texture of its foliage and towering stems give an exotic feel to any garden. Growing rapidly throughout the summer, by September it will have reached 8-10 feet high in good soil.
Here at Eden it grows at the back of our dahlia exhibit, and many visitors don’t realise that the monster plant towering at the back is actually a dahlia as well. This fascinating plant continues to grow in mild autumn weather, but is struck down by the first frosts, and the tall stems can snap in strong winds. However, if it survives through to November, you may well be rewarded with clusters of pale purple flowers. – Colin Skelly
9. Red-hot poker (Kniphofia ‘Safranvogel’)
Where to find it: Outdoor Gardens (Bright Sparks exhibit)
Image: Helen Cullens, Hardy Plant Society
This beautiful little poker has peachy pink flower buds which open to a paler pink. Its pretty flowers are held well above the surrounding grassy-leaved foliage, yet the overall height of the plant is only around 90cm at its maximum.
Kniphofia ‘Safranvogel’ is perfect for use in a warm toned border, but is not so brash as to steal the show. To top it off, this plant has been given an Award of Garden Merit, but despite this it is not widely sold, so if you find it, snap it up! – Fern Carroll-Smith
10. Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)
Where to find it: Rainforest Biome (Crops exhibit)
The ‘sensitive plant’ gets my vote. I recently took my Dad on a tour of the Rainforest Biome and we were both mesmerised by this plant, as we stroked the leaves and watched them fold inwards as if by magic.
They are easily missed, lying low amongst the towering palms and perpetual green of the Rainforest Biome, but as we stood there, a crowd started to form and I was able to show strangers this wonderfully weird plant. They too were amazed by it 'coming to life' and the cycle of people stopping, attracting others and interacting with strangers was lovely to watch and to leave behind as we ventured onwards.
I liked it so much I bought one in the shop. Now my housemates and guests can enjoy it too. – Sally Fish