I love using Solanum laciniatum in our big pots and displays around the Walled Garden. It really has a lot going for it; large architectural, pinnate leaves, and dark black stems holding aloft delicate nodding-purple, bell-shaped flowers, followed by brilliant orange fruits.
Commonly called the kangaroo apple, it is in fact a large Australian shrub in the potato family, otherwise known as the Solanaceae.
Many years ago, when the garden here was run by the University’s Department of Botany, several of the department’s professors were world leading authorities on the potato family, so it’s great to still be growing them here today!
Like many Australian plants, Solanum laciniatum are considered tender in our climate. Don’t let that put you off, they are very easy to grow and overwinter. You can either collect ripe fruits and pick out the seeds like you would with a tomato and grow your own form scratch each spring, or cut them back by about two thirds and bring them indoors for the winter as you would a tender salvia or fuchsia.
Once the danger of frost has passed, you can plant them immediately outdoors. Sheltered, very lightly shaded spots are best, as the large leaves can droop and flop a bit in very hot sun or drying winds.
We mostly grow ours in pots, in nutrient rich compost, where we can give them lots of water each day. Growing them ‘soft’ like this means they grow at an incredible rate. In the wild they can exceed 3 metres in height but even here in the UK in just one summer they can reach 2 metres tall with a bit of TLC.
Be mindful of common glasshouse pests like red-spider mite and aphids whilst you are keeping them frost-free indoors in the winter, and take care that they never dry out completely, even if there’s not much foliar growth to support.
This year, we’ve paired ours with pink and white cosmos, dark-purple Salvia ‘Amistad’, and green flowered tobacco plants in the giant, oversized planters by the entrance to the Printing Press.
They’re so versatile though. They’d look equally good with other tender foliage plants like the silvery, South African, Melianthus major, or even common garden staples like giant blue-leaved Hosta sieboldiana.
So, I really do recommend you try growing one yourself. Just make sure you have got a very big pot and plenty of room!