Posted on | February 10, 2013 | 1 Comment
On our resent cruse we spent one day on La Gomera, another quiet and tranquil Island in the Canary’s. Like many of the islands it is arid on the southern side and more temperate in the north, though the big attraction for us on this a particular day was visiting a unique eco-system – the Laurisilva forest in the protected centre of the island which is thought to be the remnant of subtropical woods which covered the Mediterranean area during the Tertiary period.
This evergreen misty forest, with its unique atmosphere is in the heart of La Gomera, around the highest mountain, Garajonay (1487m) and has more than half of the entire Laurisilva population of all Canary Islands.
Posted on | February 9, 2013 | 6 Comments
On my resent Cruse around the Canary Islands we visited El Hierro the smallest of the Canary Islands (c. 270 km²) which is located at the south-western edge of the Canary archipelago. It only has 11,000 residents with ‘thankfully’ very few tourists! It is sharply mountainous and volcanic in nature, with the highest point situated in the middle of the island, in Malpaso, at 1501 meters high.
Our ship – the Fred. Olsen’s cruise ship Braemar was docked at Putreo de la Estace. Unfortunately only having a day to visit the island, Matt Biggs and I decided to go on a shuttle bus to the small sleepy capital Valverde about half an hour’s drive from the port. We quickly left the town and walked up very steep meandering streets and up into the mountain’s. At lower levels the countryside is pretty barren though covered in low scrub that sees little rain, though when you climb up into the mountain’s the flora slowly changes to lusher growth as you get into the misty clouds.
Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 3 Comments
My good friend Chris Ridley has slapped my wrists for not blogging recently. The thing is, I love taking photographs rather than writing (less thinking involved) so will start a new series that are more photographically lead.
I have just come back from hosting a garden themed cruse around the Canary Islands and Madeira with Matt Biggs from Gardeners Question Time. He says he is only a gardener, but his knowledge of plants is astounding, hence he is always good to travel with and an excellent friend to boot. This is my twelfth year hosting tours for Victoria Travel, many being with Matt B.
To get things rolling, here are a few photographs of plants in the botanical gardens of Puerto de la Cruz or Jardín de Aclimatación de La Orotava Tenerife. The temp that day was 22C (72F) we had 41 avid gardeners in tow on this visit.
And finally here is our illustrious group of keen gardeners…
Posted on | October 20, 2012 | 1 Comment
It’s the end of the season here at the Exotic Garden, with just one more open day left this coming Sunday Oct 21st. and whatever the weather brings I will be there with my trusty band of garden helpers to send the last day off with a bang come rain or shine!
It’s almost been the summer that never was! Hot weather never arrived and the rains came in buckets full, though this never seems to daunt garden visitors, in fact one of the most fun days in the gardens calendar was when a group of stalwart gardeners visited in August. I had the pleasure of guiding them around through a torrential downpour, with soggy squeaking shoes all round. Never-the-less, there were smiles and not a single complaint as they thought it was like being in a monsoon in the tropics! After consuming tea and biscuits, all were very happy as they went dripping back to their coach, ducking as they went under the rain soaked bamboos.
Many gardeners who specialize in growing tender exotics have long since brought their treasured tender gems under cover for those long dark winter months – here at the Exotic Garden though, not a single plant is moved from its summer position until after this coming weekend as the show must go on to the last day! In the twenty five years or so that I have been opening the garden to the public, I haven’t lost anything yet to an early frost, though a few rolls of horticultural fleece are always at hand just in case! Luckily, the garden is on South facing slope that drops some seventy feet from back to front and surrounded by tall trees on all bar the south side, creating a protected microclimate that gives the garden several weeks’ advantage over gardens that are flat or exposed.
Some plants like the Brugmansia (Angels Trumpets) are only now reaching their crescendo of bloom and are absolutely packed with hundreds of buds ready to burst. Growing at high altitude in their native Andean habitats, they thrive on cool weather with almost freezing nights. These now gargantuan plants some ten feet tall with a similar width will be dug up at the end of the month and into the first week of November. They will be potted into large 18-24ins containers with their branches pushed together with gaffer tape so they take up less room when stored.
I do not cut off any growth as I like to take as much as possible through the winter so they are already large when they go out the following season. Of course in doing this, they all (and I have quit e a few) come into full flower under cover, giving the Poly tunnel the most ridiculously overwhelming scent possible! Once they have finished their final floral explosion (which can last until the end of November), they gradually defoliate as the night temps drop to a rather cool 5C (41F). This rather chilly temperature is just enough to keep them ticking over, though the odd flower will appear throughout the winter.
All the really tender plants such as the many bromeliads lining the steps up to the house will have their central vases of water emptied and generally tidied up before going onto the staging for the winter, a period when quite a few will come into flower such as the Tillandsias, and anything that flowers through the winter is a bonus!
To make sure there is always something in flower we will also be planting lots of winter flowering bulbs to brighten up the darkest days – which reminds me – I must pot up those Amaryllis bulbs I purchased last week ready for a Christmas show!
Some of the biggest plants that have to be over-wintered frost free are the purple Abyssinian bananas, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, at least a dozen at last count! The Poly tunnel where they will be living is only 3.5m tall at its highest point so the taller bananas will have their foliage cut down which won’t harm them at all as they will be going dormant.
They will all be re-planted into large plastic pots for storing, and then tucked close together like sardines for the winter. To stop such large plants going mouldy during the short winter days and long nights, a large 24ins fan near the ceiling will blow over them to keep them dry and the air moving. This helps prevent botrytis caused by stagnant air, the bane of winter stored plants in an enclosed space!
The more borderline plants such as the cannas do not need to be dug up until the first killing frosts have blackened their foliage, which have been as late as December here. They will be cut down to around 4-6ins from the ground, then their tuberous roots will be stored in large crates of compost mixed with bark chippings and kept almost dry under the Poly tunnel staging, checking every week or so for any mould (Botrytis) that might appear.
On sunny days in mid-winter conservatory’s, greenhouses and Poly tunnels can get quite warm which is not good for the plants as they need to be kept as near to dormant as possible. If it’s not freezing outside and the sun is out, at least one door will be open to let in some fresh air and keep the temperature from soaring too high.
We grow many different types of soft tender perennials here, such as Tradescantia which by this time of the year have become absolutely enormous and certainly not worth storing at large sizes, hence cuttings of these are now being taken and will live on a heated propagation bench for the winter, where they will soon grow back again to make new healthy plants for next season.
Alas – this is my last column of the summer season for the EDP, though fear not, I will be back for the new season next year with more adventures and planty exploits here at the Exotic Garden. Meanwhile – if you are ‘au fait’ with the internet, you can follow the Exotic Garden and my adventures to exotic destinations, through the winter months by reading my weekly blog which can be found on the gardens website www.exoticgarden.com There is also a new website for your edification http://www.exoticplantsonline.co.uk where I will be giving twice weekly tips on things to do in the garden inside and out, whatever the weather throws at us this winter!
Seasonal felicitations to you all…
Posted on | October 12, 2012 | 2 Comments
The new Veggie garden and tropical Poly tunnel here at the Exotic Garden, both created by the inimitable Jamie Spooner and resident tree house hermit, have been a resounding success this summer. As for the vegetables, well, I don’t think I have ever eaten so many; especially the tomatoes which have been consumed every day for months and they are still hanging on – there is so much more flavour to be had from home grown tomatoes than the tough watery things you tend get from your supermarket. I used to dislike Tomatoes, but these are so mouth-wateringly sweet, that they have to be eaten every time I go into the tomato house –and that is several times a day!
The Tropical tunnel has been my absolute pride and joy this year and in many ways has made up for the rather cool and indifferent summer outside. The central borders in the tunnel were planted up as I normally do outside, though that sheet of polythene between them and the outside world has made a considerable difference to their growth, with everything growing to gargantuan proportions, even a couple of Ricinus seeds that were thrown in as an afterthought have now hit the roof! The Colocasia ‘Mammoth’ planted in the garden this year have been very disappointing, growing to a measly 3ft tall, whereas those planted inside are well above head height at around 7-8ft tall with huge 3ft plus leaves. Many other exotics were planted directly into the ground, which were surrounded with about ten different types of Tradescantia that have now completely covered the ground, looking like a true jungle setting.
I also planted a few Cannas inside to see how the extra heat would affect their growth. It has been a particularly poor year for Cannas outside, with the low temperatures and distinct lack of sustained light. Despite this though, Canna musifolia has reached good proportions, at 9ft tall, with thick, heavily veined, dark green, paddle-shaped leaves on very thick stems – alas this giant rarely flowers in the UK. Canna ‘Taney’ has also done comparatively well, also growing to 9ft tall in the garden, with huge, mid green, upright leaves, though alas no pale tangerine flowers this year, it’s been too darn cold for them!
I did plant one Canna in the tunnel that has been spectacular this year, given to me by Wayne Williams of Birmingham Botanical gardens. He sent me a large root which arrived on my Birthday last year which grew to around 4ft tall outside. This year though, I decided to really pamper it, so it was planted directly into the ground inside our new Poly tunnel. Canna tuerckheimii grows at elevations of 1,600 – 6,500ft in its native habitats in south and Central America. Reportedly growing from 13-16ft tall, mine has reached the Poly tunnel roof at 12ft tall with 3 x 1ft leaves on very thick stout stems and looks absolutely amazing! Unfortunately it hasn’t flowered yet, but if and when it does, they will be typical smallish specie flowers in a shade of orangey-red – so here’s hoping flowers will be produced in the next few weeks!
Some of my favourite exotics are now coming into bloom – the Nerines. They are absolutely breath taking bulbous plants when in full flower, brightening up the dullest of autumnal days and look absolutely radiant on the sunny ones. They flower outside from September right through to November depending on the season and temperature. The blooms last for weeks especially if it’s cool. Each bulb generally produces a single flowering stem that carries from 2-12 individual funnel-shaped flowers with recurved petals. After flowering, strap-like leaves are produced that last through the winter months then die down in the spring before withering away and going dormant for the summer months.
Nerines are indigenous to South Africa, especially the Drakensberg Mountains, where about 30 species can be found, though only two are reliably hardy plants outside here in Norfolk, N. bowdenii and N. undulata. There are now many smashing and exceedingly handsome hybrids that can be grown in containers then brought into frost free conditions for the colder months.
Some good performers I obtained a few years ago from Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers are now coming into bloom. Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’ is a whopper as its name implies, with large clusters of up to twelve deep pink trumpet-shaped flowers each one 9cm across with swept back petals, all on long stems totalling 80cm in height – absolutely stunning! This form will survive outside if given adequate protection in extremely cold winters hence I prefer to grow mine in containers as I have lost so many valuable plants in recent winters to freezing conditions.
Another more diminutive but equally beautiful hybrid purchased at the same time, was Nerine bowdenii ‘Stefanie’, a much shorter Nerine reaching up to about 60cm tall with tight bunches of 5-6cm spidery pale pink flowers with a slightly darker line down the centre of each recurved petal. This fine hybrid will flower to perfection from October to November.
I am rather partial to red flowers and a few years ago I bought several Nerine sarniensis bulbs which are flowering this year, with rich vermilion-red flower clusters with long stamens on the top of 30cm stems. Being such a gloriously rich red, they really do stand out like sentinels in dull weather and when the sun is out they shine like beacons demanding attention, saying come over here and look at me!
Last autumn on a trip to the flower market in Funchal Madeira, for only a few Euros a bag I purchased some gorgeous purplish-magenta Nerines which are now coming into bloom. I can’t stop looking at them, as they are absolutely divine, growing alongside my other Nerines, in terracotta pots on the staging were they can be enjoyed time and again at eye level – oh the joys of autumn!
This Sunday sees the penultimate garden opening before the end of the season, so if you haven’t been this year, why not pop along and enjoy a delightful autumnal afternoon surrounded by exotica – you never know the cats might even come out to play!keep looking »