Posted on | July 27, 2012 | 9 Comments
Did someone say the sun was shining? According to the Met Office, averaged across the UK, June 2012 was the wettest since records began in 1910, the coolest since 1991, and the second dullest since records began! Thankfully though, the sun did shine last Sunday for the Gardens NGS open day here at the Exotic Garden, and I think it was a bit of a shock to the system for everyone seeing a clear blue sky and – sun! Even some of the garden plants have been in a state of shock this week as several plants were slightly sagging as they are so unused to the suns full-on brightness.
I have been threatening to put up shad netting in the new Polly tunnel, a job that would normally be done by late April, but thanks to it being so dull this year, it only went up last week in preparation for the predicted warm if not scorching week ahead. I am really glad we did! Despite the shading and continually damping down by spraying the floor with water, plus having all four doors open, the temperature still went up to 35C by mid-day during the week.
The new 8×10m tunnel has been an absolute joy for me as I have spent many a pleasant day tending the plants and generally pottering around invariably with a posy of cats to keep me company and radio 4 on my headphones. Even on the days when the temps were down to 12-14C outside, with the doors shut it would still get up to around 20C by early afternoon, a very pleasant temperature to work in. Although primarily built to over winter tender plants, I decided to plant up a large central border about 2m across by 10m long with just enough space in the middle for a table and chairs. I was working on the principal that if the summer was going to be really awful all the way thorough to autumn, at least part of the garden would remain tropical!
My favourite family of plants for making the garden look ridiculously over-the-top during the summer months has to be the aroids, especially Colocasia esculenta ‘ Mammoth’ which (in a hot summer) can have leaves reaching up to 3 ft. x 2ft. The ones I planted in the garden this year are quite diminutive in comparison, with a maximum leaf size of about one foot – quite pathetic really, but up until this week the cool to cold nights have kept them very small indeed. This year though, instead of planting my two largest plants outside (Colocasia ‘Mammoth’ and Colocasia ‘Jacks Giant’) they have been planted in the new Poly tunnel border with lots of manure underneath to really get them going, and I think by the end of the summer they could be almost touching the roof! A large Xanthosoma sagittifolium is also powering up nicely and will hopefully be terribly huge by the end of the season – well that’s the hope anyway! The largest aroid in there is Alocasia ‘Calidora’, which is now so big it’s blocking one of the pathways!
For height, a 3m tall specimen Strelitzia nicolai, commonly known as the ‘Giant White Bird of Paradise’, has been planted along with several varying sized bananas to give height to the new border. Several gingers have also been planted including Hedychium ‘Elizabeth’, which should easily reach 6ft tall or higher with glorious pink blooms. I have also planted a small thicket of Alpinia zerumbet variegate, more commonly known as the ‘Variegated Shell Ginger’ which has alluring foliage streaked with green and yellow. I have tried this one outside in past years, but alas, they struggled to grow any new leaves as our summers are generally too cold for such a spectacular tropical plant. I have also planted Hedychium ‘Dr Moy’, an attractive ginger with pale orange flowers and green foliage variegated with white streaks and flecks.
My collection of Bromeliads has expanded dramatically this year, so a good number have been planted out into the new border. These are all surrounded with several different types of Tradescantia which are now forming swathes of different coloured foliage under the taller planting. A specimen ‘Screw Pine’ Pandanus is now growing well at around 4ft tall which is oddly juxtaposed next to it a Rosa ‘Columbian Climber’ with its rich pink deliciously scented flowers. This rose is considered a conservatory plant as it will not take freezing winter temperatures. Next to this is planted the very rampant perennial morning glory Ipomoea learii which is already 3m high and just coming into bloom with dramatic dark purple/blue flowers all summer long – an absolute smasher of a plant!
An Aroid I have tried to grow outside over the years, unfortunately with limited success as it craves heat and high humidity, are the ridiculously variegated Caladium’s, which can be found in a kaleidoscope of exotic colours that look decidedly unreal, in fact almost psychedelic!
Another rather odd looking plant that is new for me this year is Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’ more commonly known as ‘Variegated Tapioca’ or Cassava; it is a tropical shrub with deeply lobed leaves that are stunningly variegated yellow with a dark green border which really stands out against a carpet of large leaved Tradescantia fluminensis – ‘Wandering Jew’ or ‘Inch plant’.
There are of course lots of other plants in the border including five different types of Pasifora (Passion Flower). I have even managed to squeeze in a rather tall Caryota (Fish tail Palm) to give added height.
Down either side of the Poly tunnel are two benches made from pressure treated roofing slats which house all the potted plants and also those for sale to visitors.
When Jamie Spooner built this structure for me way back in March of this year, I never thought it would be as ridiculously full as it is now in high summer! The question is – how am I going to squeeze in all those tender perennials from the garden in there when the autumn comes? Oh well – I will worry about that when the time comes!
Have an excellent weekend in your garden, though if you have time on Sunday afternoon you could always visit the Exotic Garden and see the new tropical paradise…