[Infographic] How to create your urban garden?
Exotic plants remind us of tropical paradises, giving us the fascinating and intriguing experience of being in touch with the wilderness. Jungles, savannahs and rainforests are the habitats that represent the climatic area in-between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn at its best. Their common denominator, the scorching heat: temperatures never goes under 15° C / 59° F. with the only exception of monsoons and rains, periodically occurring even in the most dry areas.
European colonialism, other than geographic expansion, led to the discovery of a whole new world of plants, The equatorial area including Africa, Indian peninsula, Australia, Oceania, Southern and Central America has proven to be particularly rich in plants of the most diverse shapes, colours and properties.
Due to the rich availability of plants with medicinal properties, equatorial forests have been described as “the world’s biggest open-air pharmacy”. The discovery of the therapeutic properties of some of these plants has been, from the second half of XVI century, the biggest incentive leading to the foundation of a big number of botanical gardens, still a symbol of the environmental heritage of our planet.
Berlin hosts one of the most ancient and important gardens in the world. It is possible to visit 16 different greenhouses, where a wide selection of exotic species of plants is grown at the conditions of temperature and humidity that are necessary to conservation, and research labs to study and document biodiversity. Important botanical gardens can be found all over Europe, from North to South: Generalife in Granada, Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens in England, Meise’s Jardin Botanique in Belgium, Keukenhof in Holland, the botanical gardens of Palermo in Italy and many others.
As time went by, exotic plants moved from botanic gardens to private houses. Plants belonging to exotic areas adapted all over Europe in different ways, according with latitude and the resistance of each species.
From Scandinavian Peninsula to the Alps, cold climate and frigid winters don’t allow for the growth of these plants outdoors. However, most of the people don’t know some of them can resist up to – 5° C / 23° F, sometimes even -10° C / 14° F. This is the case of Feijoa sellowiana, a bushy plant hailing from Latin America and employed for ornamental use in Southern Spain and in Italy.
In the extreme South of Europe we can also find some tropical plants that have fully adapted to climate conditions to the extent they grow spontaneously there. This is the case of the Mediterranean dwarf palm, while the “oasis palm” and the coconut palm are grown for ornamental purposes on coastal areas, on more sandy soils.
Some examples of resistant tropical plants hailing from Australia and Africa are silver wattle and Robinia pseudoacacia, both of them naturalised in Southern Europe too. They supply their pollen to bees, ensuring their pollination and the production of nectar which will later become honey, a proper natural antibiotic. Exotic ornamental plants are spread to such an extent most of the people are unaware geranium is to be included in this group. In fact, it comes from Southern Africa and its flower are well-appreciated and bought all over Europe.
Even if northern climate is not the most suitable for exotic plants, people from Germany, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are turning more and more to potted plants as the perfect way to decorate interiors with natural elements. But other than just embellishing a room, they also improve air quality.
A recent study conducted by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has found out that several varieties of these tropical plants, such as Sterlitzia, Dracaena, the Snake plant, the Parlour Palm and many others helps in purifying home air to the point they can contrast hazes and volatile chemicals that are present in some detergents.
Starting from the South, where the climate is the ideal on for their growth, and then getting up North, Europe has succumbed to the succulents trend. In fact, they are more resistant to cold and ice than expected, as in the case of giant agave. Of course we can’t forget to mention another extremely popular exotic plant with valued healing properties: we’re talking about aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis Miller in particular.
Not only it is used in alternative medicine as a natural remedy, but also in cosmetology and in beauty treatments. It’s really easy to take care of it properly. It only takes to periodically prick out the numerous little plants that continuously grow from the main one: they really are prolific, which is a godsend! Once the leaves have been picked up and the skin has been removed, we’ll have a transparent pulp resembling to a sticky jelly that can be used as a face and hair beauty mask.
When mixed with some fruit juice it turns into a refreshing tonic that contrast free radicals and detoxifies the body.
Along the same line, we have another powerful, “exotic friend” from subtropical areas of China and Korea: ginseng. The roots of this plant have stimulant and antistress properties.
Tropical fruits are really loved in Europe. As already said, colonisation allowed for a prosperous trade that brought bananas, kiwis, avocados, papayas, coconuts and mangoes in European households. However, even if these plants can be successfully grown in the most warm and scorchingly hot areas of Southern Europe, climate doesn’t always allow for the production of fruits and to recreate the necessary conditions can prove to be really hard, even in greenhouses.
For example avocados, hailing from central and southern America, require a warm climate and they need to be watered periodically while they grow. Actually, it may seem no big deal. However, these kind of plants have both males and females fruits and it’s really uncommon for females – the ones actually able to bear edible fruits – to grow from Europe-traded fruits.
In addition to that, avocado is a plant that dreads… loneliness! It might seem odd, but avocados grow significantly faster and luxuriantly when plants are in a group. Fruits are extremely popular all over Europe, especially in the North, and they are used in fresh salads, condiments and as a substitute for butter and margarine in baking.
Most of the times, exotic fruits have an exceptional nutritive and vitaminic value. Their anti-aging properties are proven by the fact they truly are an elixir of youth, as they contrast cellular ageing.
By Eleonora De Paolis Foglietta
Eleonora De Paolis Foglietta is a contributor from international network Gushmag. Passionate about nature, gardening and art, she is founder of the Blueeco project. Her favourite quote is “the beauty will save the world”.
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