Will Giles Exotic garden in Norwich is renowned for growing plants that supposedly shouldn’t survive on the East coast of England, but in fact they do! The garden is open in high summer when you can visit the garden in all its glory.
Be transported to the tropics and see houseplants in the garden and bromeliads in the branches of trees surrounded by lush tree ferns. The garden of about 1 acre in size is an immense mix of planting from the ludicrously tender to the dead hardy, all having an exotic appearance in nature.
In high summer, the garden becomes quite magical, full of hidden corners and riotous colour. The air is filled with the intoxicating scent of Jasmine, Brugmansia (Angels trumpets) and different varieties of Hedychiums and Alpinias. (Gingers). The ridiculously large leaved Elephants Ear, Colocasia esculenta, ‘Mammoth’ with luscious green leaves 2x3 feet in size on long stems. Towering bananas such as the purple Abyssinian banana Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, form massive canopies to walk under as do the root hardy banana Musa basjoo.
After many years of living in a flat, the garden was purchased in July 1982 for the grand sum of £28.500 and was in a deliciously run down state having been untouched by human hands for many years. It was waist deep in brambles, sycamores, tree saplings and every kind of weed imaginable, especially the dreaded Ground Elder! It had been used as a dumping area for years and had its fair share of rusty bedsteads, old bikes and other things I would rather not mention!
Will Giles was first asked to open the garden about 20 years ago for the NGS which he reluctantly did, as much of the garden was still incredibly wild.
Wanderlust hit Will, inspired by his father’s extensive travels around the world. Over the next few years he visited various far-flung parts of the globe himself, where he re-discovered his passion for tropical and sub-tropical plants and their utterly exuberant decadence. From this point house-plants started to appear in the garden. He planted out ridiculously tender plants as did the Victorians in the late nineteenth century. There was scant information available at that time on this style of gardening, so it was all rather experimental to say the least! Will soon found that many of the plants were not so tender and with some protection, many could survive the vagaries of an East Anglian winter and some of them were just plain hardy! Of course this was helped by the fact that the garden has its own microclimate. The garden is on a south facing hillside dropping some fifty feet from back to front and is surrounded on the North East and West sides by tall hedges and trees.
Many of the plants Will Giles grows today were considered only viable in the balmy south west of the British Isles a few decades ago. With global warming, the winters in Norfolk are far warmer than they used to be when he was a child, hence many of the more tender plants now grow well, as lows in the garden of less than -5C are rare. Today you will find many different species of Palm trees and other exotic plants like the ginger family, which are interspersed with other more hardy but exotic looking species and of course the now popular tree ferns. These are the backdrop to the more tender planting which is carried out by him and his team of intrepid slaves in late spring when the nights have warmed up.
Most exotics such as cannas, gingers and colocasias to name only a few grow exceedingly quickly, so knitting together and forming an impenetrable jungle of foliage and flower by high summer. Over the last few years Will has been experimenting with plants more strictly described as houseplants such as Bromeliads, Chlorophytum, Monstera, Tradescantia and Platycerium. Many are tied to the branches of trees during the summer months, giving the garden a truly exotic and magical feel.