I said I might tell you something about the trio of exotics that did much better once moved to larger pots, Salvia confertiflora, Begonia luxurians and Impatiens auricoma x bicaudata. I don't think any of them have common names in English, so we will just have to bear with the botanical ones.
The Impatiens came to me courtesy of Dibleys. I love the Dibleys catalogue, and their stand every year at Chelsea. Choosing from the Dibleys list produces the sort of thrill that takes me back to the age of deciding how to spend my sixpence at the pick and mix counter in the sweetie shop. Some of the plants I've tried from them have not survived the winter in my frost free conservatory, some have struggled along, and some have been happy as larry once I worked out how to care for them. The Impatiens falls into the last category.
Dibleys send their plants out as plugs, little things that are vulnerable to over-potting, over-watering, and drying out in summer heatwaves. The order arrives with care instructions, and Dibleys always say to start the plants off in small pots, no more than nine centimetres. The Impatiens duly went into a small pot, and once it filled that into a bigger pot, maybe fifteen centimetres. It sent up a single juicy, tapering green shoot, produced a few side shoots, and flowered moderately. It did not look ebullient, and come the winter it dropped its leaves. The stems didn't die back, so it was not dead, but neither was it happy. Come the spring I moved it into a twenty-one centimetre pot, and the change was dramatic. The central juicy stem grew, side stems shot out, the leaves became twice the size, and it began to flower with abandon.
It is now eighty-five centimetres high and wide (I measured it in the interests of accurate reportage because I knew I wanted to blog about it). Every stem ends in a cluster of flowers, each flower consisting of a pointed hood in soft orange atop a soft yellow pouch. It is enormously cheerful, and quite exotic, and co-ordinates very well with the orange flowers of Begonia sutherlandii, which began life in its own pot and is gradually colonising as many other pots as I will let it. The Impatiens lives at the back of the conservatory so is in nothing like full sun, and seems very happy with its lot. I have not yet tried propagating it, since I don't really need any more frost tender exotics nearly a yard across, and suspect that none of my friends want one. Sometime in a spirit of enquiry I should sacrifice a cluster of flowers and stick the end of a shoot in a glass of water, just to see if it roots as easily as bizzie lizzies did when I was a child first getting hooked on gardening.
Begonia luxurians is also available from Dibleys, although I can't remember if I got mine from there or if it was cheaper somewhere else. This is another frost tender species happy in semi shade, and is grown mainly for its leaves. They are gloriously exotic, fans of many pointed leaflets radiating from a single point rather like cannabis, though glossier and more classy. The point where the leaflets meet the leaf stem is decorated with a second whorl of much smaller leaves, like a little ruff. The flowers are quite nice, open sprays of tiny white flowers with visible yellow stamens, but it is really for the leaves that you grow Begonia luxurians.
Mine was not initially so luxuriant as I'd hoped it would be, sending up one spindly stem whose lower leaves went brown and shrivelled as it grew. It made it through the winter, though reduced to about one functioning leaf at the top of the lanky stalk, but it did not create anything like the desired ambience of tropical abundance. Really it was rather an embarrassment. In my round of spring repotting I moved it up to a twenty-nine centimetre pot, and it responded in the same way as the Impatiens. It is now taller than I am, even deducting the height of the pot, and the leaflets on the biggest leaf are fully thirty centimetres long (again, I measured them). Best of all it is sending up a second stem from ground level, so in due course should start to look bushier and less spindly. It lives at the back of the conservatory, and rather than tie it to a cane I let it sprawl across its neighbours for support. Its upper parts are entwined with a jasmine and a tree aloe, and all seem happy with the arrangement.
I first saw Salvia confertiflora going around the garden at Kiftsgate, or at least that is where I first consciously registered it. I did not know what it was, other than that it was a salvia and presumably tender since all their specimens were growing in big pots, but I loved it. The flowers are individually tiny, carried in vertical spikes, and each small reddish orange flower sits in a hairy red calyx as large as the flower. The leaves are big and grey and slightly furry, and the whole effect is warm and exotic. To my delight they had plants for sale at the plant stall by the gate, so I found out the name of the object of my desire and was able to buy one. It spent the rest of our holiday standing by the window of our gardenless city centre flat, and I panicked each time we got back from touristing and it had wilted. It is a thirsty thing, despite the grey leaves giving a deceptive impression that it might be drought tolerant.
It grew, I potted it up, but it still had a skinny and unconvinced air about life. It made it through the winter in the conservatory, with some die back and botrytis in the ends of the stems, a common problem with tender salvia under glass. I cut it back as much as I dared in the spring, hoping that it would bush out, but it was still not nearly as good as the plants I saw at Kiftsgate. This spring I moved it up again into a thirty-five centimetre pot and it is getting bushier. Like the Begonia it is finally throwing up a second stem from ground level. I have seen it used at (I think) East Ruston Old Vicarage in an absolutely enormous pot, and next year I might move it up once more. It stands outside for the summer, rubbing along with the dahlias outside the conservatory, and goes back under glass for the winter, squeezed in as near to the front as I can manage so that it will get what light's going. You do not have to go all the way to Kiftsgate Court to buy it, although you are unlikely to run across one in your local garden centre. Ashwood Nursery lists it as part of their long list of salvia, and so do Burncoose and Great Dixter, and some others. I see in the photograph on Great Dixter's website that they have it bedded out for the summer, and give its height as two metres, which increases my suspicion that my plant would like a still bigger pot.