Posted on | August 2, 2008 | No Comments
There is a plethora of paths that you can take with any kind of gardening, let alone in the exotic style, and especially with the vagaries of our delightful, though rather erratic, British weather. Whatever anyone says to you, there simply are no rules, only those of commonsense and an awareness of your plants’ provenance and requirements for healthy growth.
I have found over the years visiting many gardens that their creators certainly have their own style and plant preference and their very own way of arranging them. In fact, there is no set style, only personal choice and enthusiasm. The garden, after all is a place of escape, and the exotic garden should be a place of fulfilment and fun, a personal oasis of pleasure and contemplation.
I learnt my gardening skills through experience and experimentation over several decades, discovering which plants were hardy and those that needed protection or have to be brought under cover for the winter. And then, of course, there are the annuals that produce a wonderful effect in just a single season.
In my case, many plants were discovered to be hardy by simply forgetting to take them in during the autumn, only to discover them happily returning the following spring!
I am lucky enough to have a good microclimate due to my garden of roughly an acre being on a south-facing slope, surrounded by shrubs and trees that slow down the prevailing chilly winds of winter and trap the heat of the sun in summer (when we get one). This creates a veritable paradise… well, I think so anyway!
I also have plenty of space to over-winter some of the more tender plants, but most gardeners do not have these facilities, and have to go down the hardy route with those plants that look exotic but don’t necessarily come from the tropics.
Many cacti and some succulents take considerable amounts of frost in their native habitats and work well in the gardens provided you are aware of their needs, such as being planted in exceedingly well-drained soil and in a full sun position.
For instance, a lot of cacti will take lows of -10C (14F) and below for weeks or months in the wild where it is very dry, or if they have a blanket of snow over them, but never the damp cold or slushy rain that we enjoy so much in our maritime climate.
Having said that, though, the really cold weather conditions seem to be getting rarer as the decades pass. If these frost-tolerant plants are grown on really well-drained soils or have a canopy put over them to keep out winter rain or, alternatively, are planted in the lee of a south-facing building they will not only survive, but thrive, with a modicum of care and attention.
An exotic effect can be created comparatively cheaply with annuals, like the Castor bean, Ricnus communis, with its huge often dark purple leaves on large, tall strong plants. The cup and saucer vine, Cobaea scandens, a fastgrowing climber with delicious purple or white flowers, which will easily cover a fence or shed in one season.
Indeed, this popular annual is actually a perennial that often survives through several winters before being cut down by that inevitable hard frost. Another old Victorian favourite, ‘Love-Lies-bleeding’, Amaranthus caudatus, is marvellous. With its soft green leaves and myriads of long purplish-red tassles in abundance in high summer, it creates an extremely dramatic effect.
What you have in your own garden, let alone an exotic one, is, of course, a personal choice. My approach to gardening is high maintenance. Much has to be protected during the winter or dug up and stored in several polytunnels. All this effort is aimed at getting a fabulous show from July through to October and, I accept, this might seem to some to be ludicrously daunting, with many tender plants bedded out, including some that are commonly known as house plants!
Some visitors to my garden look at these and say “you can’t grow those outside, especially on the supposedly chilly east coast of England”. Luckily though, it seems that the so-called house plants don’t know this, because they happily take root and grow vigorously through our warmer months, blissfully unaware of the fact that they should really be sitting on a window ledge in my house!
The other day I visited a well-known Norwich garden centre and was amazed that virtually all their tender bedding reflected the style of planting I use in my garden in Thorpe. You might be forgiven for thinking that it is too late in the season to start planting many of these gems, but this is not the case. It is certainly not too late to create that container you have always wanted or add some new exotics to your border or a secret corner that is just crying out for something rather over-thetop to be planted there.
Many of the more traditional garden plants, especially in the herbaceous border are now going over and start to look rather tatty, but the more tropical style borders are really starting to put on growth now that we are having a decent warm spell. Besides, many of these plants simply keep on getting better and better as the season goes on, reaching a crescendo over the months to come.
So, be brash and add some new plants to your garden to take you through high summer into autumn and, above all, have fun in the weeks to come and make the most of your garden.