Ex­otic jun­gle... palms

Tree ferns, ba­nana plants and palms cre­ate a leafy back­drop for flow­ers in this vi­brant gar­den. Own­ers Lynn and Alan Nokes tell us more

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

Subur­ban gar­dens are fa­mous for their sim­ple lawn-and-borders lay­out, but this town gar­den in Broms­grove of­fers a far more ex­cit­ing out­look. “Over the past 22 years our view has been to­tally trans­formed,” says owner Alan Nokes, who lives here with his wife Lynn. “Where once we had a slop­ing grassy waste­land, now it’s a jun­gle of tow­er­ing tree ferns, ba­nana plants, tetra­panax and tra­chy­car­pus palms. “I’ve al­ways loved ex­otic plants so I was keen to grow them here,” says Alan. “I used a set of ter­ra­cotta f lag­stones to cre­ate a Mediter­ranean pa­tio be­side house where I grew lots of pot­ted, ten­der plants. They sur­vived the first four mild win­ters be­fore re­al­ity struck and I lost a num­ber of them to Our garage is chock-a-block with stored ex­otic plants from Oc­to­ber to May TURN UP THE HEAT (clock­wise from top left) Ten­der abu­tilon climbs an obelisk, with dahlias be­hind; be­go­nias min­gle with ac­ers, rici­nus, phormi­ums and fat­sias; red be­go­nia; Echi­nacea pur­purea; dahlias ‘No­ord­wi­jks Glo­rie’, ‘Fire Pot’ and ‘Lake On­tario’ with pot­ted eu­comis; can­nas and amaran­thus are started from scratch frost. Af­ter that I de­vel­oped a new, more in­ten­sive over-win­ter­ing regime.” This new regime in­volves mov­ing some of the smaller ex­otics into the green­house, then mov­ing the rest into a win­ter gar­den room (the garage). “We dig up favourite bor­der spec­i­mens to pot up and store in the warm,” says Lynn. “It’s chock-a-block in there from Oc­to­ber to May – you can hardly move!” The cou­ple com­pletely empty their main hot-themed bed by the pa­tio and re­plant it in late spring ev­ery year. Pur­ple and green Ensete ven­tri­co­sum (Abyssinian ba­nanas) are dug out and pot­ted up, while the canna, be­go­nia and dahlia tu­bers are wrapped in news­pa­per and boxed in the loft. Pot­ted le­mon trees, cal­lis­te­mon, cy­cads, colo­ca­sia

and abu­tilon are also moved un­der cover, while an­nual coleus, amaran­thus and rici­nus are grown from seed each year and al­lowed to die back nat­u­rally. Some hardier ex­otics do sur­vive out­doors. “Phormium ‘Maori Queen’ re­mains in the ground,” says Alan. “And our spiky tra­chy­car­pus palm is so hardy it keeps grow­ing even in win­ter.” Other plants need swad­dling in fleece. “I’ll wrap up the heads of our five tree ferns, ba­nanas and tetra­panax and cut back the Melianthus ma­jor al­most to ground level. I give it a thick mulch to pro­tect it from cold.” The gar­den com­bines its ex­otic good looks with a pro­duc­tive veg gar­den. “In our last house I had a sep­a­rate al­lot­ment but I was fed up trav­el­ling to and fro, so de­cided to make a veg plot my first pri­or­ity when we moved here,” says Alan. “We built it at the far end of gar­den, and also con­tains a sum­mer­hous­es­tyle shed, two green­houses, com­post bins and a wildlife pond. “The soil was ex­tremely sandy so we im­ported loads of top­soil,” says Alan. “What’s more, the gar­den sloped left to right as well as down­wards, so I had to bar­row loads of soil from one side to the other to level it. We also in­stalled a 400-gal­lon tank and 11 wa­ter butts to col­lect much-needed wa­ter.” Af­ter build­ing 10x 4ft-wide raised beds, each painted in a dif­fer­ent bright colour, the cou­ple de­cided to screen off the area be­hind a large trel­lis panel clothed in hon­ey­suckle and clema­tis. “Next to the veg plot Alan and I cre­ated a lush lawn with beau­ti­ful borders, which are my do­main,” says Lynn. “These started out quite bor­ing and straight, but then we made the edges wavy to add in­ter­est. How­ever, the plant­ing started to take over and we couldn’t cut the grass prop­erly. In the end Alan put sleep­ers down the side, which he could stand on to cut the hedges.” Vi­brant dahlias, fuch­sias, lilies, eu­comis and echi­nacea weave through the colour­ful plant­ings, while a cir­cu­lar black and white is­land bed fea­tures a strik­ing com­bi­na­tion of Hy­drangea pan­ic­u­lata ‘Lime­light’, dark-leaved Sam­bu­cus ni­gra, white lysi­machia, al­li­ums and a skirt of black ophio­pogon. “Our next project was a large pa­tio and pond area com­plete with gur­gling stream,” says Alan. “It’s the per­fect spot for out­door en­ter­tain­ing and is home for my col­lec­tion of pot­ted fo­liage plants, in­clud­ing ac­ers, ferns, more than 100 hosta cul­ti­vars and a podophyl­lum. There was a small con­crete pond there which was no use to us, so I re­moved it, dug down to 6ft at one end and used all the soil to cre­ate the lower pa­tio.” Hid­den in the borders are un­usual or­na­ments. “They’re here, there and ev­ery­where to add a bit of fun,” says Lynn. “We’ve got a gi­ant la­dy­bird crawl­ing up a Prunus ser­rula and a cop­per heron by the pond. Our vis­i­tors love see­ing what’s hid­den among the jun­gle of fo­liage and flow­ers.”

I’ll wrap up the heads of five tree ferns, ba­nanas and tetra­panax in fleece

CRE­ATIVE CON­TRASTS (clock­wise from be­low left) Be­yond the trop­i­cal area lies a lawn with wavy-edged flowerbeds; Alan’s well-stocked veg plot with bean arch; seats among the ex­otics; a bridge and raised deck winds be­tween a leafy fat­sia, tree fern and tetra­panax; hy­drangea and ophio­pogon in the black and white bed

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