Taking up the seed growing challenge, from left to right are: Carl Beckett, Alan Fowler and Noel Sinker in the glasshouse at Connaught Gardens in Sidmouth

East Devon’s Parks and Gardens team are keen to demonstrate their green fingered prowess with a friendly competition to grow unusual plants from seed

Members of East Devon’s Parks and Gardens team will be battling it out (in the nicest possible way of course) to see which of them will be the first to succeed in growing two unusual plants from seed to maturity, with the ultimate aim of using them in the council’s gardens throughout the district.

Parks Improvement Officer, Sharon Scott, who set the challenge, has selected what she terms “horticultural show stoppers” - Gomphocarpus physocarpus, commonly known as balloon or hairy ball plant and Musa lasiocarpa, also known as the Chinese banana plant.

Seeds from these plants have been given over to the care of Carl Beckett, Alan Fowler and Noel Sinker, who between them have over 90 combined years of horticultural experience – mostly gained while working for East Devon District Council.

Sharon is keen to develop the variety of plants grown in the council’s popular and award winning gardens and is confident that the lads have the necessary skills to succeed in their challenge, which will ultimately benefit visitors to East Devon:

“If they manage to get all the seeds to germinate and grow, then you will see these plants in some of our most prestigious locations throughout the district, including Connaught Gardens, Seafield Gardens and Manor Gardens.

“My particular favourite is the balloon plant, which I was first introduced to at Worcester College, Oxford by the head gardener Simon Bagnall, who was renowned for growing out of the ordinary plants. This plant adds real fun to any border and can be used in cut flower arrangements. The challenge is to see if we can get the banana plants to germinate as they can be tricky to propagate. The seeds have to be soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours prior to being sown and can take up to six months to germinate.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus is a slender, deciduous species that is native to southeast Africa where it has been widely naturalised and is often used as an ornamental plant. The name physocarpa comes from the Greek physa meaning bladder and karpos, fruit, referring to the inflated, bladder-like fruits. Its common name, balloon plant, refers to the swollen, bladder-like follicles, which are full of seeds. It is often treated as an annual and has stems that can reach as high as 6 feet. From late summer it features tiny white flowers, which smell faintly of vanilla and attract butterflies. The small flowers then transform into striking yellow spiny balloons.

Musa lasiocarpa is an unusual dwarf banana plant growing up to 1.8m high with exotic leaves and is ideal if you want to try adding something different to a tropical bedding scheme. It is not a true banana, but is a closely related species from China. Its bright yellow, long lasting lotus-like flowers make it stand out from the crowd. Like most Musa related species, once the growth spike has flowered it will die off, however new suckers quickly grow from the root stock. You may have to wait a while for it to flower but it will be well worth the wait. Musa does need protection during the winter and must be kept fairly dry during. It produces a limited number of seeds, which can be erratic in germination. Plant in the sun or partial shade outdoors or indoors in containers.