May 22 2013 Latest news:
Will Giles, The Exotic Garden, Norwich
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
A warm welcome to our columnist Will Giles, of the Exotic Garden in Norwich, who returns to our gardening section from this week.
It’s good to be writing again after such a long break. My last article was at the end of October, but nevertheless the Exotic Garden kept on going right through the winter as weeds and branches never stop growing and new ideas for the garden never stop flowing!
At one acre in size the garden is quite a stretch for one person to maintain as there is always so much to do. Luckily, though, I did manage a working break with Matt Biggs (of Gardeners’ Question Time fame), taking a group of avid gardeners around the gardens and jungles of the Caribbean for Gardeners’ World magazine which is always welcome during the darkest days of winter.
Just after my return in early December, a good friend of mine, Jamie Spooner, also arrived back from a year’s travels around Australia - he asked me if he could stay in my tree house in return for helping in the garden and, of course, the answer was a resounding yes!
Last spring it was quite a struggle keeping the garden up to scratch on my own. I found myself particularly exhausted by the end of the big ‘tender perennial’ plant up in late May. After a visit to my doctor and a referral to the hospital, I discovered that I had a hereditary heart condition which had been making me exceedingly tired. I was immediately told to take it easy, something I am not at all used to. I love working hard in the garden and constructing new projects, often working late into the evening - especially at this time of year with such gloriously long June days.
For years I have done most of the garden on my own and still do, though I have had help on the larger projects in recent years which have been tremendous fun. Over the years many people have generously offered me their time, though I have always been stubborn and wanting to do it on my own, though I had to accept that I am now twice the age I was when I started this garden! Now, with the aid of a floating band of helpers, a work experience day has been set up every Thursday which has been invaluable to say the least - I always did hate cutting hedges. I’m not very good at delegating and still like to do most of the exotic planting myself but the heavy lifting is something I don’t miss.
Jamie asked me the day after his return what project I would like him to start on – where should I begin? For some years I had felt that the entrance to the garden behind the Alan Boswell Insurance car park looked rather dowdy and uninviting to visitors on open days, so Jamie took on the job of removing most of the very bedraggled Buddleias and other weedy things to create a brand new drought tolerant entrance garden to flank either side of the entrance steps.
The ground once cleared and dug over and with the aid of Jasen Daymond aka ‘Monkey’ who with Jamie wheelbarrowed many tons of compost to the newly-formed beds where they covered them with a six-inch deep layer. The beds were then allowed to lay fallow until March when Jamie started a grand plant-up of new perennials and shrubs that would fit the bill. They include Erysimum ‘Apricot Delight’, with its intense orange flowers and still very much in bloom at the moment, along with E. ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ as bright splashes of intense spring colour. There are far too many plants to mention, but here are a few to give you an idea of the planting: Hebe, Verbascum, Cystus, Genista, Euphorbia, Achillea, Lavandula, Sedum, Dasylirion, Agave, Aloe, Helichrysum and a whole host more which I will describe in future articles. Jamie also offered me an old polytunnel frame some 8 x 10m in size for the Exotic Gardens’ small nursery. I was very sceptical about this, as the nursery was an awful mess with no room for such a large tunnel. I went into the nursery a few days later on a rather chilly morning in January to find lots of canes with orange balls on the top of them where he had marked out, showing there was not only enough room for the tunnel but enough space for a vegetable garden as well! The new tunnel was to replace two smaller tunnels, though the new one had to be erected over the larger of my old tunnels as it was full to the gunnels with tender plants being overwintered and couldn’t be taken down until mid-April when thy could expand to fill the rest of the new growing area.
In early March another trip across the Atlantic was on the cards as I had the pleasure of giving a talk at a symposium held by the ‘Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group’ in Philadelphia. I was treated royally and taken to many nurseries and gardens, but the highlight was flying out to a nursery I had wanted to visit for some years in Kentucky called Brian’s Botanical, owned by the inimitable Brian Williams who is fast becoming a rising star in the world of hybridisation, especially Colocasia, Alocasia and a fabulous new range of must-have Cannas.
Upon my return Jamie had almost finished the tunnel construction and on a rather warm day in March its polythene cover was put on. Chris Ridley has made several short films in the garden and decided to make one about the construction of the polytunnel using around 2,000 individual pictures to make a one-minute high speed movie of its construction which can be seen here - www.exoticgarden.com/videos.php.
Despite this spring being ridiculously fickle – and that’s putting it mildly - the garden is now ready for visitors tomorrow, despite many plants being up to a month late in growth. Although many plants this spring have found it either far too cold, too hot or too wet, once established they will all settle into whatever our magnificent British weather throws at them for the duration of our short summer and like the Thames Diamond Jubilee pageant last weekend, it will nevertheless be glorious. So here’s to a wonderful summer... whatever it brings!