Exotic Planting sums up Lloyd’s famous conversion to the world of show-off plants, plants that scream “Be dazzled by my bright orange and purple flowers!” “Be amazed by my monstrous leaves!” “Marvel at this magical jungle and try to create something like it yourself—if you dare!” As Anna Pavord notes in her essay, “In horticultural societies throughout the land, members debated whether this was the end of the word as they knew it.” Well, the shock and awe has subsided considerably since then, but Lloyd’s bold combos continue to influence many gardeners, including me.
You have to be adventurous to take on many of the plants described in this book, especially if you live anywhere north of zone 8. But now that I think of it, quite a number of my fellow Western New York gardeners add oomph to their gardens every summer with the plants Lloyd loved. There is a separate chapter on cannas and dahlias; they are paired because Lloyd believed that the bold and often colorful canna foliage could make up for the less-than-attractive dahlia foliage (and stems, as far as I’m concerned). Calling them “perfect team players,” he talks about a wide range of attractive varieties easily available to anyone with access to the Internet or a good nursery and gives some not-too-terribly-onerous overwintering advice.
I was familiar with Lloyd’s canna/dahlia obsession, but he also writes about exotic edibles like bananas, Meyer lemons, olives, and figs, and recommends pumpkins and gourds for a jungle look. Other tender but ultra-showy foliage plants he surveys include papyrus, palms, and a tender eupatorium I had never heard of, capillifolium.
The point of the book is that exotic does not necessarily mean tropical, annual, perennial, flowers, or foliage. And as with all the other Lloyd books, you’ll find yourself feeling sympathetically exhausted for poor Fergus Garrett (head gardener and close friend) and his crew as they plant, lift, move, transplant, weed, and save bulbs and tubers. (Not that Lloyd doesn’t always give Fergus full credit for all of his efforts and innovations.)
Though many other gardening books afford me better practical advice or wiser tips on exactly which plants are best for my particular terroir, I doubt I’ll ever enjoy them as much as I enjoy the ambitious, insouciant, and gloriously extravagant directives of Christopher Lloyd. His last? Here’s hoping they find another manuscript tucked away.