BPCG’s summer exhibition this year in the Lower Greenhouse is The Ginger House – a collection of 25 of the world’s most important members of the ginger family of plants or Zingiberaceae.
Almost all of the communities that border the park in Lambeth and Southwark make use of several different species of ginger but rarely are the plants themselves available to see, smell and touch. Now you can get up close and personal with these species in a shady grove we’ve created in the greenhouse.
That’s because gingers are mainly plants of the forest floor. They don’t want strong sunlight but they do want heat and humidity. We’ve turned round the display space this year so that the exhibition is shaded from the south and there is external shading over the ginger bed. We provided heat early in the season by building a hotbed in March. The plants are drenched early in the morning and the mister operates regularly throughout the day. We recreating a tropical monsoon climate so that the plants will thrive.
Zingiberaceae is divided into around 50 genera with over 1200 species. All of them are in some way aromatic producing volatile oils that are distinctively fragranced or flavoured. It is this property that has made the family so important for flavouring and perfuming.
Root ginger (Zingiber officianale) and Turmeric (Curcuma longa) are humankind’s oldest spices with evidence for their cultivation and use for flavouring, colouring and medicine going back 7000 years. Both species are no longer known in the wild state.
We are also growing the other main culinary gingers; Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) are widely used throughout Asia, Arabia and Europe but other culinary gingers are less widely used.
In all there are 4 species that produce a spice called Galangal. We are growing two of them – Fingerroot or chinese keys (Boesenbergia rotunda) is important in the cuisines of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and in China as a medicine whereas greater galangal (Alpinia galanga) is more usual in Indonesian and Malay cuisine and in Thailand as ‘Blue Ginger’.
We are also growing Myoga (Zingiber mioga) which is enjoyed in both Japanese and Korean cuisines and Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) which is used widely in China for wrapping zongzi sticky rice cakes. Mango ginger (Curcuma amada) is used in the south Indian states as both a flavour and a vegetable so naturally, you can buy it on Tooting High Street. Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) is nowadays rarely used as a spice but was important before ginger was widely traded. It remains an important ingredient of various bitters.
All of these culinary gingers are also prized for their medicinal properties which include aids to digestion and anti-inflammatories and are used in both Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese herbal medicine as well as other ethnomedicinal practice. They are also used more informally to make tea-like decoctions which are used both as refreshment and for their more generic health properties. The ginger teas of Kashmir are famous and now exported worldwide.
Ginger is also a popular fragrance in many countries but the Hedychium genus provides several important perfume oils. H. coronarium, H. flavescens and H. spicatum oils are in perfumes from both Dior and Jo Malone. Interestingly, the flowers of all those species are also enjoyed as food in places where they grow abundantly. The Ginger House has some generous clumps of Hedychium.
The full listing of species in the exhibition is below. The table notes all the categories that that particular ginger is used for. Every plant has a label with more information. To see all the labels click this link.
Also in the Lower Greenhouse is a floral wall of exotic climbers and cropping of charentais melons, cucamelons, nectarines and passion fruit so there is plenty to see all summer. The greenhouse is working hard this year.
|Species in the Ginger House display|