Looking back to this time last year I wrote about August being the coldest for 17 years and I see now that August this year was the coldest for 18 years, so the question is – are we now into a run of cold summers let alone cold winters? I also wrote about wind and rain leaving plenty of tidying up and raking to do with snapped stems and falling branches alongside very blustery weather conditions. As I write this, the wind is howling around the studio at the back of my house with the constant sound of conkers hitting the roof from an adjacent tree! The wind is certainly very strong today as most of my large containers are now on their sides, including two very heavy pots full of 6ft tall Colocasia esculenta.
Also this week last year I wrote about my ‘Virginia creeper’ Parthenocissus quinquefolia which was starting to show its glorious autumn colouration, when the leaves turn from dark green to fiery red, a firework display that can last for weeks provided we don’t get strong winds that can blow the leaves off early in the season. This year though it started to turn red in early August and this week’s strong winds have removed a large amount of its foliage right back to the bare bones of its stems. What difference a year makes! Oh the joy of living on an island!
Genghis my Devon Rex cat is sitting on top of my computer tower with his head darting back and forth as leaves fly sideways past the window – no sitting in the garden for him today! Dog and Tink have decided to ignore the wind completely and are stretched out on a seat beside me oblivious to the raging storm outside, just showing the odd twitch as they are in deep sleep. No worries for them about the wind trashing the garden!
When the weather is like this, many of my pots and containers blow over. I always leave them on their sides until the storm dies down as they are safer lying down than standing up.
A few days on and the garden is now back in order after its blustery shake up – what always amazes me is how resilient plants are. Luckily for the garden though, having very tall hedges around the perimeter really helped many of the large specimens from collapsing such as the tall bananas. The most noticeable damage was done to two standard Fuchsias that had at least 50% of their foliage ripped off them; hence they are looking rather naked although all the flowers are still attached which looks rather odd!
One plant that can take any amount of wind as it’s so low to the ground and fairly tough when it comes to raging elements is the hardy clump forming bromeliad Fasicularia bicolour. Despite the winter turning many of the leaf tips pale straw brown; all my twenty year old clumps are now blooming to perfection. For those of you who don’t know this garden gem, a little description is necessary.
It is one of the hardiest members of the Bromeliad family, taking a winter low here at the Exotic Garden of -11C. It has spiky edged, recurved, narrow leaved foliage that taper to a narrow point. In September the centre of each rosette at the base of the leaves turn the most intense fiery red. In the centre of the older rosettes there lurks a pinkish scaly flower bud that opens into dozens of powder-blue, short-lived flowers that are relished by slugs and snails. Luckily though, the rosettes come into flower over a one month period giving a very exotic look to the garden in their spikiness!
Up until last winter I did have a much wider dark green leaved species called Fasicularia pitcarnifolia which had been happily growing into very large 4ft wide clumps over the last fifteen years or so – unfortunately I had to say goodbye to these beauties as the sustained winter cold was too much for them, so they were all completely removed.
Fairly close to my Fasicularia are some of the oldest herbaceous plants in the garden, the autumn flowering Anemone japonica pink form, which I can safely say is the only plant left from the time I took over the garden some twenty nine years ago. Although considered as a cottage garden plant, they work really well as they have been slowly bulking up over time next to an old rust pergola originally built by Bolton and Paul here in Norwich. They boldly stand out with their gorgeous pale pink flowers against the dark leathery foliage of Clerodendrum bungei which also has pink flowers that are a much darker pink in tight heads of small star shaped flowers with a beautiful scent that also last for many weeks. Next to both of these I have planted an unnamed tall purple Lobelia which looks stunning against the other two shades of pink.
There was an old tree that had died several years ago pushing up through the Clerodendrum, which I cut down to about 4ft above the ground in the spring, where I screwed a wide wooden plinth on the top of the trunk, so that I could place a large pot on it. I planted several cannas which are surrounded at the front with, a spreading, prostrate, deciduous hybrid with yellow and green variegated foliage which turns a gorgeous coppery red in autumn. It bears deep rose-red flowers with purple petals in summer and autumn.
Autumn is a glorious time of year (that’s when there isn’t a gale blowing) as the Exotic Garden reaches its peak with many plants in bloom with overflowing and exuberant foliage. One thing I especially like in mid September is the softness of the suns light as the harshness of high summer has long past and the light is now mellow, especially at the end of the afternoon when the sun shines through all the foliage in such warm tones, slowly moving through the borders with its golden light.