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…