Visitors to the Exotic Garden here in Norwich are already asking me when am I going to start bringing in all those wonderful tender exotics – I have to admit, I really don’t want to think about it yet as winter will come soon enough without wishing it on! Summer 2013 may be considered as virtually over (by some) though I would rather think of it as one of the most ‘summery’ summers for many a year, with hopefully an Indian summer to come – well I can wish!
We have been blessed with warm September weather this week really pushing the growth of all the plants in the garden, with some such as the Brugmansia’s (Angels Trumpets) actually preferring the cooler nights as it simulates the cooler conditions they prefer in the Andes of South America. I remember last year many of the Cannas struggled to get to 3-4ft whereas this year they have gone absolutely ballistic, many towering well above head height and only now reaching maximum bloom and if the weather stays kind, they will just keep on going until the first frosts of autumn finally cut them down.
The new 8 x 10m Poly tunnel erected here at the Exotic garden in the Spring of 2012 was emptied of all its overwintering plants in late May this year though when you go in to it now, it still looks absolutely full, thanks to such a warm and glorious summer. Many of the plants in there were purchased from one of my favourite nurseries in North Norfolk – Creek Plant Centre owned by the inimitable Trevor Harris in South Creek near Fakenham. It may be small in comparison to some of the larger nurseries, but when visiting, I never fail to find interesting and often rare gems lurking in many of its corners.
Last June I purchased two 3ft tall Pasiflora’s from Trevor, including Pasiflora ‘Amethyst’ which grew rampantly last year, almost swamping the tunnel with growth this year, where it now hangs in massive curtains across the Polly tunnels struts. It is never out of bloom producing myriads of typical Pasiflora flowers in in a delightful shade of lilac-purple – superb indeed.
I must add the central part of the tunnel has all its planting in the ground in a long bed about 2.5m X 10m long. This has produced the effect I always desired when I was a little boy, of having a covered area that looked like a section of the Palm house at Kew!
Obviously some plants have hit the roof at 3.5m and have unfortunately bent over such as large specimen Strelitzia nicoli which really wants to be 5-10m tall! Planted next to it, again, as small plant last year, is Ipomoea indica syn. learii, a very dark and handsome purplish-blue Morning glory that has also reached gigantic proportions spreading down the centre of the tunnel to the top then trailing down to the ground amongst all the other planting where its long tendrils trail snake-like across the ground. It is never out of bloom, as it produces dozens of new flowers everyday with their splashes of intense colour.
Near the entrance is the Buttercup Bush – Senna corymbosa, with bright green pinnate leaves and racemes of brightest yellow flowers, set off by a large ‘Persian Shield’, Strobilanthes dyerianus, with its almost metallic-purple leaves. In the main border are also planted several different types of Colocasia and Alocasia with their massive architectural leaves giving a really jungle-like effect. There are several tall gingers including a handsome variegated form named ‘Dr Moy’, from the late plant breeder Dr. Moy of the San Antonio Botanical Garden in the US. It is a probably a Hedychium flavum x coccineum, with white paint-like speckles covering the otherwise green foliage. It hasn’t flowered yet though looks promising and when it does should produce fragrant, peachy-orange flowers with a darker orange throat!
The whole area is under-planted with a wide range of Tradescantia’s forming large carpets of differently coloured foliage, intersperses with ferns, Plectranthus and many Bromeliads lurking in the undergrowth. My cats can often be seen darting in and out amongst the dense planting!
Either side of the tunnel are raised benches absolutely stuffed to the gunnels with a large collection of oddity’s I have collected over the years including many different types of Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorne’s) One that really stands out for me is Euphorbia milii variegata which has thin green leaves prominently splashed with yellow and topped topped with red flowers – quite divine!
Another beauty in full flower at the moment is Duranta erecta, formally known as D. repens. This fine shrub is native to the New World from Florida, the Caribbean and south to Brazil. It has 1cm blooms that are edged in white lace, born in grape-like drooping clusters from summer right through into the autumn. I have seen this fine shrub on visits to the Caribbean over the years and have discovered that it makes an excellent conservatory plant as long as it’s kept at a minimum of 7C during those long cold days of winter.
I must admit when I see how full the Polly tunnel is at the moment, I struggle to think how we are going to get all the tender exotics in from the garden later in the year especially as they have put on so much growth! Never-the-less, with lots of judicious pruning and stacking, it will be stuffed like a large Sardine can by early November ready to go through the winter!
Enough of being inside – the garden is beckoning me as it is such a glorious day outside and many plants need deadheading to keep them in peak flowering condition right through into October.
For those of you who braved the Norwich City football match cars which unfortunately coincided with some of the Saturday openings here at the Exotic Garden in August, we have decided to extend the Saturday open days to the 7th and 11th of September as the Canary’s will be playing away on those dates – let’s hope the sun still smiles on us all for at least few more weeks yet – enjoy.