We started the day with a meeting. I try to get everybody together one day a week so we can run over how we’re doing, where we’re heading, urgent tasks that need completion and projects we want to achieve in the near future. We began today’s meeting at 9am with a cuppa and cake. Surprisingly the cake was mostly refused – too early for cake apparently. It was gone by lunch time however.
We usually have meetings last thing in the day but as it was SNOWING it seemed opportune to sit in the warm office and run over a few things.
I had to break it to the guys that the first job of the day was digging a trench in our windswept car park so that we could erect a rabbit fence. Talk about troopers. They steamed through it and Lucy got down to a vest, despite the north easterly wind sweeping across the field. The wind chill was enough to take your breath away.
This afternoon however they had a much more interesting project. They’re building a walkway with bamboo poles in a series of arches for our gourds to scramble over. It all looks a little Heath Robinson, using canes we harvested from our clump of Phyllosatchys vivax aureocaulis and wire and string. I’m leaving them to it, so they can use their skills, imagination and ingenuity. They have a plan apparently.
Meanwhile Di’s shut herself away in the relative warmth of a greenhouse and has gone into potting machine mode. Heucheras, Grasses, Musas and Ensetes and lots of exotic bedding which we’ll need to keep warm during this cold weather.
So while we’re usually watering, filling up our sales benches and serving customers at this time of year, the cold weather has meant that all but the very keenest customers are staying warm at home, and the plants aren’t drying out very quickly. We’re keeping busy however, getting ahead with numerous other jobs. Once the walkway is finished we intend to build another vertical garden in our Edible Jungle. When the weather gets better we’ll be well ahead of ourselves and able to focus all our attention on customers with any luck.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
We started the day with a meeting. I try to get everybody together one day a week so we can run over how we’re doing, where we’re heading, urgent tasks that need completion and projects we want to achieve in the near future. We began today’s meeting at 9am with a cuppa and cake. Surprisingly the cake was mostly refused – too early for cake apparently. It was gone by lunch time however.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Dahlias have had a rather old fashioned image. Often associated with Grandads’ allotments, earwigs and endless staking and tying, they’re not considered the coolest plant on the planet. Too right they’re not cool. They’re Red Hot! These Mexican exotic beauties are justifiably becoming more and more popular and we love them here at Urban Jungle.
Dahlia 'Blue Boy'
Three years ago Jamie brought in some Dahlias to grow in our Edible Jungle amongst the Cannas, Gingers and vegetable plants. The first year they grew brilliantly. It wasn’t a particularly wonderful summer and many of the Cannas and Gingers were reluctant to put on a really good flowering display. We had to admit the Dahlias that summer were the star plants in the garden.
Of course last year, 2012, was the coldest, wettest and dullest summer on record. Some species of Canna and Ginger didn’t even manage to produce a single flower – others began to bud up so late that the frosts nipped them before they had a chance to open.
Dahlia 'Honka Surprise'
But the Dahlias didn’t seem to mind the wet and cold one bit. They bloomed magnificently. In fact it almost became a chore to dead head them every day. We had vases of Dahlias in our pay hut, on the tables in our coffee area and we were able to make lovely bunches to take home.
We don't bother shaking much soil off
After digging them up from the garden in late autumn we shook most, but not all the soil from them, labelled each tuber and simply stacked them on trolleys in a frost free greenhouse. That was in November and we’ve completely ignored them until this week. We’ve never cleaned the soil off the tubers, cut back fine roots, dried them, and inspected them regularly, as usually recommended. That seems to just make extra work – and we’ve never lost any yet.
Dahlias stacked on trolleys in a frost free greenhouse
Now is the time to start to prepare them for growth. It’s amazing to think that these lifeless-looking knobbles will grow into magnificent flower-pumping machines by mid summer.
Slicing through a Dahlia to increase stack
Of course we want to increase our stock so we’re dividing them too. Each tuber is sliced through the neck into two or three pieces with dangly tubers still attached. They’re then potted in to 2 or 3 Litre pots in good quality compost and left in the greenhouse. We’ll keep them on the dry side until the weather warms up and we start to see evidence of shoots and roots.
Watering and feeding will then begin in earnest. We’ll nip out the growing tips to make them into bushy plants and take a few cuttings from each to increase stock even more.
Did you know that Dahlia tubers are edible and can be cooked like a sweet potato? The flower petals can be eaten too and look sensational sprinkled over a salad. They’re also essential for the bee-friendly gardener, especially the single flowered specimens.
If you want to grow them as an edible crop we recommend Dahlia imperialis which is a magnificent tree-like Dahlia that makes incredible yam-size tubers. Sadly, it’s reluctant to flower in the UK but is nevertheless a stunning architectural beauty. It’s also very hardy and one of the few Dahlias we leave in the ground, protected by a thick mulch of straw.
Stacks of Dahlias. We'll spread them out once they start to shoot
We’ll have stacks of them this year to plant out and for sale and may be some to eat too. Dahlia collection.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
The Edible Jungle is a garden that we create every summer at the nursery to grow on our Cannas, Gingers, Dahlias and Bananas. We combine these with highly decorative edible plants and annuals for cut flowers. A beautiful and productive garden that doesn’t look a bit like an allotment. We don’t use any chemicals in this garden.
But we have a problem area. Every garden has a patch where the soil is dry and impoverished. We have a strip of ground in our Edible Jungle under birch trees. This area gets the sun for most of the day but the trees suck up all the moisture and no amount of additional soil improvement or irrigation seems to make any difference. We’ve tried growing Runner beans and Sweet peas here in the past but the results have been less than satisfactory.
23 straw bales being moved into the garden on a rare, gloriously sunny day.
This year we’re going to try growing them in straw bales. Straw works much better than hay and is considerably cheaper. The bales cost £3 each from our local farm shop and should last 3 years. Not a bad investment - £1 a year. Compare that to the price of a Grow Bag. After 3 years they’ll have rotted down sufficiently to be able to dig into the soil as a conditioner.
Straw bales in place topped with a generous helping of super rich fish waste.
The straw inside the bales needs to have decayed somewhat before planting our crop. Ideally we would have put the bales out 6 months before planting. As we’ve left it a little late we’ve placed on top of each bale a good layer of fish waste that we collected when we cleared out our Koi pond filters last year. And the guys will be adding their own special ingredient daily. This should really accelerate the rot down – urine is the ultimate fertilizer, and it’s free and environmentally friendly. We’re not squeamish, and if you are, you should be aware that urine is completely sterile and free from bacteria – safe enough to drink in fact. Allegedly. Anyway, we’ll continue to do this until a week or so before planting in late May/early June. Visitors are also welcome to make a donation!
When it’s time to plant up the bales, after the danger of late frosts has passed, we’ll simply squeeze the little root ball into the top of the bale and water regularly. We may need to give some additional feed through the season – the straw bales are going to be planted quite intensively, and they may run out of steam after a while.
Runner beans are actually tropical plants and were originally introduced as ornamentals. They provide a lush screen of foliage and their flowers can look beautiful. Apart from the abundant crop they can produce in a good year, they have another use too. They are legumes and have nitrogen fixing roots. This means that they’ll also add nutrients to the straw bales and help to feed the pumpkins and squashes that we intend to grow with them. We’ll add some nasturtiums for decoration, and to conceal the bales, and I think we’ll have a winning combination.
Canna 'Wyoming'. Gorgeous orange flowers stand head height above lustrous dark foliage.
In another area, under a large conifer we’ll be using the same method to grow some ornamentals such as Canna Wyoming (Cannas), under-planted with Dahlia ‘Sarah’, a beautiful single scarlet Dahlia that the bees find irresistible, and some trailing Ipomoea to conceal the bales.
Dahlia 'Sarah'. Intense red flowers for months and months.
It’s always good to try something new.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The undersides of Colocasia 'Fontanesii'
Colocasias are dramatic plants and give a taste of the tropics to a bedding scheme. These tender perennials are commonly called ‘Elephant’s ears’ but are not to be confused with the hardy perennial Bergenia which share the same common name.
This is why we have Latin names; we can all be sure we’re referring to the same plant. Capable of reaching quite enormous proportions in a single season, they can be finicky to keep healthy through winter. Over the years we’ve tried so many different methods but this is what we’ve done for the last three years and we have a pretty good success rate now.
Colocasias freshly dug with soil shaken off
In late autumn, before the frosts we lift ours from the ground and shake off most of the soil, removing all but the newest leaf. If you grow yours in pots, downsize them.
Colocasia 'Thailand Giant. Big plants crammed into 2 and 3L pots
We’ll pot these in to the smallest pots we can cram them in to with very
little compost. Just enough so that we can give them a tiny amount of water
without then drying out completely but not so much that they’ll sit in cold
soggy compost. We’ve found that a minimum temperature of 8 degrees centigrade is
enough to keep them alive, without wasting too much on heating.
By early February they’re looking pretty sorry for themselves but as the temperatures begin to rise (on a sunny day it can reach 30 degrees centigrade in the greenhouse) they begin to grow and it’s time for their next round of treatment.
The bottom of this tuber has rotted so we've cut it off and dusted with Sulphate
We remove them from their pots and inspect the tubers. Any that have rotted
completely are discarded but many will be showing some signs of decay but are
easily salvageable. We cut away any rot and give them a puff of Flowers of
Sulphate powder. You may find that they have multiplied and if the baby tubers
come away from the parent plant these can be grown on separately.
Next they’re placed in compost on a propagation bench set at 25 degrees centigrade. If you don’t have a propagator at home you can pot them in to trays and place in a warm spot in the house for a few weeks.
It's freezing outside but this batch of Colocasia and Alocaisa offsets will be snug in the propagator
Almost immediately they begin to produce new leaves. They’ll also be producing new roots. We don’t lavish them with water at this stage – that comes later, but we keep them just moist.
After a few weeks like this we lift them, carefully prising apart the roots and pot them. Again we’ll use very small pots till the roots become established. Once they’ve made a good root ball we’ll pot them on, lavish them with water and feed and by mid to late May they’ll be ready to storm away in the garden. In a good year with plenty of warmth and rain the growth rate is phenomenal.
High maintenance but we believe they’re well worth every minute of love and attention.
This year we’ll be stocking the following. For sale on the website.
Colocasia ‘Black Magic’
Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’
Colocasia ‘Noble Gigante’
Colocasia ‘Dragon Heart’
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
In spring, the eagerness shown by some people to bed out tender and half-hardy plants leaves me flabbergasted. This year I knew of so many friends who got just a little carried away by the mild weather, in March no less, and brought their Bananas and Cannas out of winter hibernation. Of course, just a few weeks later they were beaten back into submission by some really nasty frosts.
And now, with most exotic plants growing in full glorious splendour, those very same eager beavers have already dismantled their gardens by digging up or wrapping their tenders.
Noooo! These are the golden days for exotics, when they are looking their very finest, and they should be enjoyed up until at least the very end of this month. That’s the whole point of using these plants in the garden. They are still giving a spectacular performance when most other plants have long since had their final curtain call.
We’ve had a couple of nights of frost but not serious enough to do any damage and I only know of one person whose Dahlias were blackened. This simply means they are spoilt for the remainder of this year. They won’t have sustained any damage that will affect their performance next year.
We didn’t give any thought to winter protection, or start preparing the garden for winter until 7th November last year, and even then all our plants were still looking fairly pristine. Had we known how mild the winter would turn out to be, right up until February, we could have left many of them in the ground much longer, possibly even wrapped in situ for the whole winter. Ah, but isn’t hindsight is a wonderful thing?
Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' - Pic taken 7th November 2011 as we prepared to lift the garden. Most plants still looked amazing even in the gloom. Ensetes haven't been amongst this year's winners having made little growth.
In October, growth above ground may be coming to a standstill but underground structures – bulbs, tubers and rhizomes, which are essentially food storage organs to enable the plant’s survival over winter (or through drought periods), will be bulking up by converting sugars into starch. For us gardeners this means stronger plants to take through winter and bigger plants next year. Frost blackened leaves are our cue for protecting Cannas, Dahlias and Musas in winter. We’ll blog about the treatment we give these in a couple of weeks time.
Our Dahlias are providing us with new flowers daily and show no signs of abating. By regularly dead-heading we’ll keep them in bloom for at least a couple more weeks yet. And they are of course providing late nectar for the bees.
Dahlia 'Honka Surprise'
Dahlia 'David Howard'
Many varieties of Canna are still putting on a magnificent show of flower, but some, due to the poor summer, are only just producing buds. Hopefully we’ll get to enjoy a bloom or two from these before the frosts. And as for the no-show of flowers on some? Oh well – there’s always next year.
Canna 'Ermine' - has flowered for several months and still producing buds.
Canna 'Endeavour' - Flower buds only recently formed - will they open?
Canna 'Intrigue' - No flower buds this year but gorgeous foliage.
Canna 'Cleopatra' & 'Striata' - Both have produced a few flowers this year but are valiantly making new buds.
A few Ginger species didn’t seem to mind the cool weather this summer, and produced luxuriant foliage and amazing exotic blooms, but others have been lagging behind and have little chance of flowering now. When we lift them we’ll keep them in the green and should still get to appreciate their flowers, albeit inside the greenhouse. There’s nothing that lifts the mood quite like the fragrance of Hedychium coronarium in the greenhouse on a dull winter’s morning.
Hedychium greenii - A reasonable show this year but I love them for their foliage alone.
Hedychium coronarium - If you look closely you can see a bud forming.
Hedychium gardnerianum - Masses of flowers and look at the number still to come. Didn't mind this summer's weather at all.
We will of course lift the Abysynian Bananas (Ensete maurellii) before any harsh weather, but the Musa basjoo will be wrapped outdoors later in the winter. These are still growing strongly and won’t need any protection until after they’ve had some frost, with any luck after Christmas. I like to wrap them after the foliage has completely died in the frost (but before any really penetrating frost turns their stems to mush). We’ll be blogging about winter protection for bananas soon.
Musa basjoo in the backround. In the foreground are young Musa 'Mekong Giant' which have put on really good growth this year..
In the mean time we’re cleaning and preparing the greenhouses in readiness for their winter guests. And as usual we’re scratching our heads wondering quite how it’s all going to fit inside. Somehow it always does.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
We’ll be attending a plant fair at West Acre Nursery on Saturday with the theme of ‘Autumn Colour’. So for inspiration I took a walk around the nursery yesterday to write a list of all our plants that are looking their seasonal best, ready for collecting together for loading on our van.
There were too many good lookers to choose from of course, but what I found demanding was selecting enough of those that particularly display autumn colour. We have plenty of plants that will have phenomenal autumnal tones but the predicament is that most plants have as yet barely started the progression from summer to autumn.
Some are teetering on the brink, displaying subtle hints of autumn hues but plants with full-blown autumn razzle-dazzle are few and far between.
But here are a few that we’ll be taking with us.
Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group
A soft, bushy Japanese conifer with red/brown bark. During spring and summer the feathery-like foliage is dark green but there is the merest hint of colour on a few of the leaves and over the next few weeks they will turn plum purple. Amazing.
We’ll certainly be taking these to West Acre. They are transforming from summer to autumn colour by the hour; their stems, leaves and veins acquiring tones of pink and orange. By mid October they’ll be brilliant red.
Rhus typhinus 'Tiger Eye'
These are looking so gorgeous I don’t think we’ll have any remaining by the weekend for the plant fair. This little tree has been a stunner all summer with its golden yellow, deeply dissected foliage and pink velvet stems, but now that the leaves are rapidly turning a brilliant red, they’re being snapped up at Urban Jungle.
The Kentucky Coffee Trees have looked finger lickin’ good this year and their long, tropical-looking, rich green leaves are turning fabulous shades of gold and yellow. On the van they go.
Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze'
This is our new Marmite plant. Like many strange plants from New Zealand you either love it or hate it. It’s manifested several shades of brown during spring and summer. It’s still brown. But I can detect some brighter shades of bronze and wine putting in an appearance. We shall see.
Coprosma repens 'Midnight Martini'
The colour and dazzling sheen of the foliage is outstanding and they rapidly shape up into handsome little shrubs. They’re evergreen too and the cooler weather is intensifying their colours. Ours looked fantastic in the border last winter until we had 2 weeks of deep freeze (-11 degrees on a couple of evenings). This was too much for them. They’ll shrug off temperatures down to –7 but recent winters have been extreme, so they need some protection in exposed positions.
Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty'
Usually grown for its flame-coloured stems, which are most apparent in winter, the autumn foliage has wonderful shades of orange and yellow. Subtle at the moment but on the change.
Some of the vines are rapidly changing into their autumn attire. Vitis ‘Brandt’ is gorgeous with leaves that are beginning to exhibit magnificent shades of orange, red and purple.
The leaves of Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ are purple all year but are becoming brilliant red.
Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea'
Vitis ‘Merlot’ are producing good bunches of grapes for young plants and the leaves are turning a beautiful wine red.
Used to be called Schizostylis and more commonly known as Kaffir lily, this hardy perennial gives splashes of bright scarlet in the garden in autumn and winter. I’ve known these to be in flower on Christmas day.
The golden arching flowers of this tropical looking species have a silky sheen to them at present. Shortly the seed heads will fluff and puff like great balls of cotton wool.
Echinacea 'Tomato Soup'
Our most popular plant at last week’s Pensthorpe plant fair. The flowers emerge orange but turn tomato red. A new variety, which has grown robustly this spring and summer.
The big double blue flowers look so exotic, and blue is such an unusual colour for autumn. They flowered in spring, so this is their second flush.
Beautiful rich green quilted leaves and purple stems, which are bearing tantalizing flower buds. Will their lavender/blue flowers open by the weekend? Splendid plants for a cool conservatory.
This little succulent forms a carpet of fleshy bright green leaves. On sunny days the bright purple flowers gleam. They’re small but so brilliant they shout out from a hundred paces.
So many dazzling Dahlias to choose from and ‘Pooh’is just one on my list. If you think its too late in the season for Dahlias it’s worth remembering that they’ll flower until the frosts – potentially November, and with the protection of a thick mulch, should return again next year.
This tall-growing Canna has pretty coral-pink flowers offset by superb elongated glaucous leaves. Ours are blooming their socks off. A water Canna, it can be grown as a pond marginal or in fertile, moist soil. Will flower until the frosts.
For foliage alone this Ginger is unbeatable with rich dark green leaves with a burgundy underside. Their brick red flowers have made a timely appearance too, so they’ll be coming with us.
So many people start to give up on the garden now. Why? So much to plant. So much to enjoy.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Liz and I realized that our last blog post was about the hosepipe ban, and how we laughed as we remembered saying “it would have to rain all summer for the ban to be lifted this year”. On that note- enough said!
Some plants, however, are revelling in the cool wet conditions. Our Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis from mountainous regions of Southeast China is thrusting many new culms skywards, far exceeding the height and thickness of last years and they’re still growing. While I was rummaging through the Gunnera leaves and squeezing through the canes to take photos of the new culms the morning sun was shining straight through the two inch thick canes illuminating them like golden strip-lights. The canes are still soft and supple to the touch as they have not yet turned woody.
Golden canes of P. vivax piercing the canopy of Gunnera manicata leaves.
Looking up the rocketing new culms.
Tetrapanax p. ‘Rex’ also loves the abundant moisture with its massive leaves making the most of every fleeting shaft of sunlight and are happily popping up new foliage.
The new leaves of Tetrapanax p. ‘Rex’.
As well as giant water hungry exotic species our native wild flowers are looking spectacular right now too, the cool weather prolonging their displays where in past years they would by now be burned to a crisp. If you’re not inspired to get out in your garden at the very least put on a jumper and go out in to the countryside to appreciate the wild flowers before they’re over and while you’re at it come and have a look at our bamboo.
Wild flower meadow in the disused quarry site opposite the nursery.
Spectacular displays along the roadside into Queens Hills near Urban Jungle Nursery.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
Customers regularly ask me how the hosepipe ban will affect the nursery. Fortunately, as a business we will still be able to use a hosepipe for watering our plants. Can you imagine filling a watering can 6 zillion times a day to water a whole nursery?
We’ve been more interested in how our customers will water their plants. So I have been asking all of them what they intend to do this year.
I’ve yet to speak to a customer who is altering their planting habits this year. It seems that very few use a hosepipe anyway. Most are on meters and view hosepipe usage as unaffordable decadence. Instead they have stocked up on water butts in preparation for when the rain does fall, and extra watering cans. They have joked about cancelling their gym membership and getting fit from all the extra trips with a watering can if the dry weather continues. They have quizzed us about plants that are drought tolerant. They have installed drip irrigation (not banned), and laid moisture-retaining mulch. They are saving plastic water bottles to insert in the ground to carry water to the plants’ roots. They are determined to enjoy their gardens and add new plants, regardless of any adverse conditions our unpredictable climate throws at them. They are going to relish the challenge. They love gardening and adding new plants and will NEVER surrender!
So I was extremely disappointed by the response to a question posed to Christine Walkden on Gardener’s Question Time on Radio 4 last week. She was asked how she would cope with the hosepipe ban this year. Ah I thought, my ears pricking up in interest. Here’s an experienced celebrity gardener about to share her wisdom with an eagerly awaiting public. An opportunity to give some sound advice for gardening in drought conditions. Instead she said she wouldn’t be planting anything this year because of the drought. Talk about throwing the towel in!
Urban Jungle has had a very strong start to the season, no doubt helped by the lovely warm weather – I can remember snow in March in previous years. From the first of April, will we be nurturing stock that no one will want to buy, and cancelling our outstanding plant orders? Somehow, I don’t think so. Gardeners are still gardening.
So come on Christine – where’s your fighting spirit?
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Somewhere out there, perhaps my parents still have it, is a photograph of yours truly in a Brownie uniform, planting a tree. At least I was assisting some local dignitary by handing them the shovel. I very vaguely remember the event itself. Anyway, stored in my memory bank, this event has always been filed under the ‘Queen’s Silver Jubilee’ but thinking about it now, it was more likely to have been connected with ‘Plant a Tree in Seventy Three’. Or maybe it was to celebrate the opening of a new toilet block. Whatever, it was definitely some very special event that prompted this planting.
Customers often buy trees from us to plant in memory of a loved one and sometimes we send them by mail order, so the customer is relying on us to select the best for them. Choosing a tree in this instance is always poignant. Occasionally we’re asked for advice on planting a tree to celebrate the birth of a child – a lovely idea I always think. There is something about planting a tree that shouts out to the world – ‘I am alive and I believe in a better future!’ But to so many people, the idea of planting a tree strikes a chord of terror in their hearts.
I live on a new estate. The house is clean, modern, energy efficient and a stone’s throw from the nursery. I’m lucky to live on the periphery of the estate, so one side of the house looks onto what’s left of the original woodland, before the developers bulldozed the rest. The other overlooks twelve or so of my neighbour’s gardens. And from this aspect I can’t see a single tree – not one tree in twenty gardens! It’s ironic that the road I live on is called ‘Magnolia Way’ because there isn’t a damn single Magnolia.
Imagine the perfume in summer of a street lined with Magnolias, instead of wheelie bins.
The name can surely only refer to the colour of the paint. The legacy of the minimal amount of obligatory planting undertaken by the developers 10 years ago is a few Euonymous and Cotoneasters – I can’t even remember the others even though I’ve passed them a thousand times. It’s an absolute triumph of the most unimaginative, ubiquitous, non-descript, bog-standard, industrial estate-style planting imaginable.
My neighbours’ approach to gardening seems rather similar, with neatness, ease of availability and moderation of growth being held in highest esteem. God forbid that any plant should dare to raise its head above the 6ft panel fencing parapet, or put on any show of vigour or exuberance. And the thought of a tree – those damn things that grow big and cast shade and drop leaves and make a mess and undermine foundations.
Even the tiniest of gardens would have room for a Pencil Cyprus. We've found birds nests in ours.
What a shame because our lives are surely impoverished by living in a treeless environment. So this year I am on a mission to persuade anybody who comes through the nursery gate to plant a tree (or at least a shrub that can be trained into a small tree). It could be a ‘Diamond Jubilee Tree’, An ‘Olympics Tree’, or a ‘2012 End of the World Tree’ (that last sales angle probably won’t work). But really, we shouldn’t need a special occasion to plant a tree.
Birch cast a light, dappled shade and in winter the white, peeling bark of Betula jaquemontii would liven up a small garden.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
Our Clematis amandii is in flower and for me that’s the signal that spring has started. Time to get blogging
New Garden at Urban Jungle
The cold weather last month forced a retreat inside and though frustrating, being prevented from doing some of the jobs we’d intended to tick off the list, we were able to focus on a project much more enjoyable than cleaning greenhouses and pressure washing benches – the design for a new garden that we’ll be planting at Urban Jungle later in spring. The benches will have to wait until next year now,
The Edible Garden last year
The area previously known as The Edible Jungle is having a revamp. For the last 3 years, this has been our stock garden for tender and borderline hardy plants. We also combined unusual and ornamental fruit and vegetables among the exotics, such as the black Nymans lettuce, Rainbow chard and the stonking Tamarillo tree (Solanum betaceum), intermingled with some more run-of-the-mill edibles such as tomatoes and sweetcorn.
Actinidea sellowinana ‘Unique’, a self pollinating Kiwi with stunning flowers
We allowed the Nymans lettuce to go to seed and they made 1m tall towers
Tomatoes, Dahlias and Hedychium gardnerianum made a colourful combo
Solanum lacinatum (Kangaroo apple with edible(ish) fruits. A 3m tall plant from seed in 1 season
Rainbow Chard works brilliantly as bedding. Crazy colours
Like all gardens, it was hard work of course and exasperating when we were battling with the elements and wildlife - rabbits, deer, pigeons, and caterpillars all made a nuisance of them selves last year. And lack of rain meant we were planting in soil that was the texture of kitty litter. But it was also fun and rewarding, and gave us a great sense of achievement (not to mention an awful lot of stock to divide and repot). And what better way to help sell the non-descript looking plants in a 2 litre posts than a nursery garden full of ‘living labels’. We raised nearly £1000 for charity by charging a small admission fee, and even more amazingly no one asked for a refund! But time for a change.
Dismantling the garden in November
At the end of the season the garden was cleared as usual, and the Cannas, Colocasias, Gingers, Bananas, Dahlias etc. were tucked away in their winter quarters.
Very soon we’ll divide and pot to make sales stock. We hold back between 10 and 20 large plants of each species to plant out again in late May/early June for next year’s stock, and so the cycle continues. In case you’re wondering about a complete dereliction of duty, we’ll still be having an exotic garden this year (without edibles), but located another area of the nursery – the car park.
Original design for the Edible Jungle. The layout of beds and paths was accurate but we went completely off piste with the plantin
The key difference between the old and new layout is the creation of 1 large central border instead of 2 separate smaller borders. In fact the whole, carefully thought out geometry of the original layout has been abandoned. That’s not to say it didn’t work but it wouldn’t be suitable for the informal blending and intermingling of the wide range of species we want to use in this new garden.
In this new garden we’ll be using mainly grasses and perennials. Without a name we’re referring to it as the Prairiesque Garden for the moment, but of course that’s a pretty tenuous use of the term ‘prairie’. Prairie gardens are large and open and this garden is only 30mx30m and fairly enclosed by trees and bamboo. Rather, we’ll use plants that are normally associated with Prairie gardens, such as Miscanthus, Deschampsia, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Eryngium, but also adding our own take in the way of spiky Yuccas, Phormiums, Pseudopanax. Some of the beds will have a fairly restrained prairie colour palette, with combinations of blues, pinks and purples, but in others we’ll totally let rip with vivid oranges, reds and yellows.
Jamie Spooner. We’re lucky to have Jamie working with us again. Jamie was head gardener at the Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe in Norfolk between 2005 and 2008. The Millennium Garden was designed by Piet Oudolf, the Daddy of Prairie Gardening no less. Jamie has also worked at Piet’s nursery in Holland. I’ve run the design by Jamie. He seems to approve. He’s a polite chap.
Part of the planting design for the 'Prairiesque 'Garden
This new garden will be a stock garden but again, we’ll do our best to use the plants in dynamic combinations, rather than in utilitarian/stock border style. Once the plants have established (about 3 years) we’ll be able to lift and divide regularly for sales stock. We’ve been staggered by the amount of plants this garden is going to swallow up. We’ll be using small plants in 9cm pots and in the design we’re drawing the plants to scale at maturity. The design is only half finished but it looks as though we’ll be using well over 1500 plants. For the first year or two the garden may look a little sparse until the plants mature but we can be patient, and it’ll be fascinating to watch the garden growing week by week, season by season. Work should start in March and we’re hoping to plant during spring and early summer. Some of the plants aren’t readily available to us so it will be a case of hunting them down from specialist nurseries. The only real potential spanner in the works is the drought. Bring on the rain.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Hiking to the end of Blakeney Point, a gravel spit that stretches 3.5 miles along the North Norfolk coast, in the middle of January isn’t what most people would chose to do on a day off, but that’s exactly what Liz and I did last Saturday. I worked for Urban Jungle throughout 2010, spent 2011 travelling and now, in 2012, I’m back at Urban Jungle. I’ll be Blogging about all that’s going on here at Urban Jungle and you can still follow Liz’s botanical musings on
Now anyone who knows Liz will know that even on the balmiest of summer days she can be found in the hothouse, amongst the plants, soaking up the heat and humidity with great relish. Bearing this in mind, my initial suggestion to her was “Do you want to see a fine specimen of a Yucca gloriosa?” Of course, being a plant junkie, she said yes, not knowing that it was growing at the end of windswept Blakeney Point.
Yucca gloriosa flowering at the end of Blakeney Point in mid winter.
We set off from Cley along the low tide-line into grey skies and a very brisk head wind. The dark skies made for a spectacular seascape when the sun broke through and we have the blustery westerly winds to thank for the mild weather of late. We paused from time to time to watch the Grey seals playing in the surf and lounging about on the beach and admired the patchwork of lichens, mosses and ferns as we made our way through the dunes in search of the Yucca. Quite incongruously, it sits overlooking the salt marshes not far from the old Lifeboat House. Despite its desolate location it appears to be thriving and even in winter was sporting a few flower spikes. If you’re looking for a plant that will tolerate exposed coastal locations and salt laden winds we can testify with great certainty that Yucca gloriosa will serve you well. As we trudged back along the top or the shingle ridge, helped along by the wind behind us and feeling refreshed, we wondered just how it got there!
Grey seal pups chilling out in the lea of the dunes. Blakeney Point is one of the best places in the country to observe seals. Grey seals give birth to their young between November and January.
A beautifully corroded wreck stranded atop the shingle bank.
Liz admiring the yucca in a fleeting ray of sunshine.
Yucca gloriosa (Spanish Dagger, Moundlily Yucca, Soft Tipped Yucca, Spanish Bayonet or Sea Islands Yucca) is native to the South Eastern coastal regions and Barrier Islands of North America. It is said that it can tolerate temperatures down to -20oC without damage and will tolerate prolonged periods of cold and snow unscathed. We know of several that sailed through last winter and think it’s an invaluable plant for any arid or exotic border thanks to its toughness, architectural form and spectacular flower spikes. It will form a multi headed shrub around 2m by 2m. The yucca on Blakeney point is closer to 3m high and 4m in diameter but this is a particularly old specimen. Just give it full of sun and excellent drainage then leave it to it. We’ll have Yucca gloriosa and variegated cultivars available this spring.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Putting the Exotic Garden to bed has now begun in earnest. And, with spectacular timing I’ve put my back out. I constantly move heavy plants around the nursery without any problem – (no concessions at Urban Jungle for being female) but last Thursday, in a dash to tidy the kitchen before leaving for work I leant into the cupboard under the sink for a bin bag – and crack. In excruciating pain I managed to crawl to bed where I stayed for the next 4 days. Oh the agony – both physical and mental. But Monday was my first day up and about, and unable to physically get into the car, I managed to hobble on foot into work to check on progress and take some photos. The journey into work was eventful. A group of travellers have set up camp on the footpath through the piece of waste ground on my cross-country walk into work. I had no choice but to weave my way around their caravans and felt as though I was trespassing through their living room despite it being public land. A pack of dogs circled me, snapping and snarling at my heels but thankfully they were all bark and no bite and were quickly called off. Adrenalin is amazing and for a while I completely forgot I had a dodgy back.
As I arrived at the nursery, work was starting lifting the Ensete Maurellii (Abyssinian red bananas).
Craig had the honour of wielding the bread knife and cutting off all the leaves – a job he took to with somewhat disturbing relish.
He was quite brutal with the knife, removing all foliage except the newest leaf, and even this was reduced by half. There really is no need to leave any more foliage on than this – it simply takes up too much room and blocks the light to other plants in the greenhouse.
The Ensetes are dug out of the ground with very little root and most of the soil is shaken off. The lower leaves are removed and then the plant is turned upside down, to drain any excess water from between the leaves. (We used to leave our Ensetes to drain, lying on their sides on the floor of the greenhouse for a few weeks but found this to be unnecessary – and it looks messy.)
The now very much reduced Ensete is placed in a pot with just enough compost to hold it stable. Any cheap compost will do but don’t use garden soil.
It’s then placed on an upturned crate in the greenhouse. We’ll be maintaining a temperature of 8 degrees centigrade over the winter, which is ample to keep an Ensete in good health. 4 or 5 degrees would be fine but they share a greenhouse with other, even more tender plants. The greenhouse is bubble-wrapped and is heated by two thermostatically controlled fan heaters, which keep the air moving continuously – something that is very important to control Botrytis. Botrytis is a fuzzy, grey mould that thrives in cold, humid conditions with poor air circulation. That’s why it’s also important to leave the greenhouse door and vents open as much as possible during mild days in winter. We’re still leaving ours open day and night at the moment.
It’s a really god idea to keep your plants off the floor if at all possible – if you don’t have crates, upturned pots will do. We’ll keep these dry until spring when we’ll gradually begin to water and then they’ll be planted out again next May/June.
Ensetes are capable of making stupendous growth in favourable conditions. They love warm, wet weather but we had a horrible cold and dry summer - poor things and their growth was only average this year.
We’re often asked if it’s possible to keep Ensetes in the garage or shed for winter. Well if they’re wrapped well and the winter is mild, it may be possible but after the last three winters – forget it.
I’m always fascinated to hear other people’s techniques for getting tender plants through winter. I would never use bubble wrap but have customers who use it every year and swear by it. We’ve thought about using fairy lights or heated cables on a few plants this year – if you have any experience of this please let us know.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
About this time last year, after a day away, I returned to a box of rooted cuttings that a customer had kindly left for me at the nursery. Apparently they were a selection of rare goodies, but as with most small rooted cuttings they didn’t look very exciting and were put to one side to be dealt with later. I am ashamed to say they were virtually forgotten for several months, but were at least watered and protected from frost. This spring we used them to plug a few gaps in our garden. And now those little ugly ducklings have transformed into beautiful swans.
Salvia indicia ‘Indigo Spires’ with masses of buds.
First there were some Salvias, including the gorgeous Salvia indica ‘Indigo Spires’ with its deep blue 30cm long flowers. It’s become a monster of a plant at 3m tall, and would probably have benefited from a chop half way through the season to make it bushy rather than leggy – we’ll remember that for next year. It’s absolutely covered in flowers and buds at the moment. With luck they'll open before severe frost finishes them off.
More rare and unusual however were the selection of Plectranthus. Plectranthus are tender perennials or shrubs and are related to the mint family. This year we've grown the annual Leonotis nepetifolia, which is now 4m and still blooming and is a member of the same family, with its distinguishing lipped flowers and square angled stems.
Leonotis nepetifolia still flowering at 4m.
A curtain of Plectranthus madagascariensis
A few Plectranthus species are commonly used as bedding plants or conservatory specimens but are easy to over-winter with minimal heat and are easy to propagate. Many gardeners are familiar with P. madagascariensis (Variegated mintleaf). It’s a popular hanging basket plant. You can see it at Urban Jungle trailing to the ground from a pot, planted with variegated Brugmansia and Colocasia ‘Ruffles’ and Iresine 'Blazing Rose'. It's covered in small blue/grey flowers.
The silver, hairy leaves of P. argentatus contrasting with the huge, glossy black leaves of Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’
We also grow the vigorous Plectranthus argentatus in a shady part of the garden where its silver stems and soft, hairy silver/green foliage create a foil to the huge glossy black leaves of Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’. It’s in flower at the moment, at about 1.4m high and is covered in pale blue/white flowers although these are less showy than its handsome foliage. We’ve already had a couple of nights of frost this autumn but argentatus remains quite content and is doing its thing in the garden.
Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Sasha’ has spent the summer illuminating a shady spot of the garden
In contrast, Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Sasha’ is compact and ground hugging with bright yellow leaves (these have faded now the weather is turning cold) and bronze and green markings. This appeared at the nursery last year – I think it may have sneaked its way over to us as a cutting from Will Giles’ Exotic Garden. Like most Plectranthus it’s incredibly easy to propagate and it’s best to plant afresh with rooted cuttings each year as these give far better foliage – older plants become woody and rangy. This has looked zingy this summer growing next to the black leaves of Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’.
The wonderfully named Plectranthus zuluensis
Among the newly acquired Plectranthus is P. zuluensis. The leaves are rich green and heavily textured, and they densely clothe the purple, square angled stems These are topped with lavender flowers spikes, held erect above the foliage. Very pretty and in flower at present in our garden.
The extraordinary undersides of Plectranthus fruticosus leaves
Plectranthus fruticosus has grown to 1.3m and has superb foliage with toothed dark green textured leaves with a rich burgundy underside and burgundy stems. It hasn’t flowered yet (it’s not going to either as I’ve chopped it into pieces to propagate) but next year I’ll look forward to spikes of purple and blue flowers.
Plectranthus fruticosus ‘James’
Plectranthus fruticosus ‘James’ is shorter, growing to about a metre with smaller, more succulent leaves, slightly hairy with purple veining. It’s just beginning to flower and I’m looking forward to a display of spikes of purple speckled pink flowers very soon. I've only seen pictures of it in flower and it looks superb - can't wait. You can see it here growing at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa.
So Nick, if you’re reading this – thanks for the cuttings.
What’s great about all these Plectranthus is that they will grow happily outdoors in the summer/autumn, enhancing a shady spot, and their foliage creates a great contrast to the larger leaved shade lovers such as Hostas, Colocasias, Musas. And if you’re lucky enough to have a conservatory you can enjoy them through the winter too.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
It’s that time of year when those who grow tender exotic plants start getting the jitters. We want to savour our gardens for as long as possible and indeed many specimens such as Cannas, Gingers and Dahlias are at their peak. They’re still growing and blooming and the cooler weather will harden them off before they spend a long winter under cover. However none of us want to be caught short – it’s all well and good planning to leave everything to the last minute but what if it takes a week of lifting or wrapping to protect the plants and the Met only give us a couple of days notice of frost. That may be the case but I’m not going to get into a panic about it - I believe at this time of year, the chance of frost severe enough to kill most tenders is highly unlikely. Indeed many gardeners use frost blackened leaves as their cue to begin the big dig and wrap. So, we have yet to take a spade to our Exotic Garden, but are keeping a very sharp eye on the weather forecast.
But we must start our preparations for winter somewhere so today we began lifting some of the evergreens we planted in our stock borders earlier in the year. In April we planted sixty or so tiny Pittosporun tenuifolium ‘County Park’, to fatten up into chunky plants for sale next year.
County Park is one of my all time favourites of all plants and I am astounded that it isn’t in wider circulation. It’s a very architectural evergreen shrub, forming soft, round orbs, about a metre in diameter, with fresh, shiny green, wavy-margined leaves.
It’s incredibly tactile and springy; I can’t resist prodding it every time I pass just so I can watch it quiver and bounce. It’s a superb alternative to Box and much faster growing (Box doesn’t bounce either).
Although our plants were damaged by last year’s severe weather (so was Box), they have now made a complete recovery. It’s possibly my fault as I pruned them in late September, which of course breaks all the pruning rules, and I paid the price with blackened late growth. Although County Park is naturally spherical I clip ours, as I prefer compact round balls as opposed to loose shaggy ones. Why more nurseries don’t list this wonderful shrub remains a mystery to me.
So today, we dug up the County Parks and potted them into 10L pots. We’ll keep them under unheated glass, just in case we suffer another severe winter, and they should be peachy for next spring.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
I love gardening on the dark side with purple and black plants.
They add glamour and sophistication to any planting scheme. If you want to look
inconspicuous wear dark coloured clothes. But, if you want your garden to stand
out from the rest, use dark coloured plants.
Here’s a list of some of my favourites at the nursery.
Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ isn’t really purple at all – it’s one of
the blackest plants we grow. It’s 5 fingered leaves carpet the ground although
it would quite happily trail from a container and it has very pretty purple/pink
flowers. The small tubers of this sweet potato are edible, though not as well flavoured as other varieties.
Iresine herbstii ‘Blazing Rose’ forms the little hedge at the entrance to the Edible Jungle. It’s called the Beefsteak plant but it doesn’t have any edible use that I know of. The leaves are puckered and quilted and are a deep purple black with heavy pink/purple veining.
Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ is a fast growing hardy perennial of the knotweed family. It's very vigorous but not invasive like the dreaded giant knotweed. It has arrow shaped purple leaves with a pewter-coloured chevron, unfilled with deep purple/black. It can become leggy but cutting back keeps it bushy. The deer have been pruning ours for us recently.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ is one of the blackest of all plants. Its huge mat black leaves on dark purple stems absorb all light. The last few summers haven't been ideal for growing Colocasias - too cool and dry but Black Magic can reach huge proportions in favourable years (2003) and we have grown it to 1.5m.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Diamond Head’ has equally black leaves but with a soft metallic sheen - lovely with rain drops.
Nymans lettuce should be cropped before it starts going to seed as the leaves become bitter and unpalatable. We’ve left ours and they’ve formed these metre tall towers of intense purple/brown foliage – so ornamental. We have replacement plants ready but are reluctant to pull these out of the garden.
Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’, the Abyssinian black banana has the most tremendous leaves in the garden; great paddles, well over a metre long. These vary greatly in colour but on those with really good colouration they can be streaked in tones of green, red and almost black.
Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ makes lovely clumps of overlapping deep purple/black leaves. Amazingly these are evergreen and extremely hardy. It does well in shade and can even tolerate dry shade, at the base of a tree or hedge as long as it’s given a little help to establish.
Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal Purple’, the Smoke bush, has deep purple leaves, turning redder in autumn. You can cut it back hard each spring to maintain it as a large leaved, short shrub.
Only ‘Platt’s Black’ is darker than Phormium ‘Black Adder’ but it lacks the vigour of its larger relative. ‘Black Adder’ has rich purple/black foliage and is outstanding.
Coprosma repens ‘Pacific Night’ is captivating with highly glossed rich purple/black/green foliage. This lovely shrub from New Zealand isn’t quite hardy enough to survive a hard winter outside and the flowers are pretty insignificant but as a foliage plant alone it warrants space in a greenhouse over winter.
Oxalis triangulis subsp. triangulis pops up every year all over the nursery. Funny that it used to be sold as a houseplant. I love its deep purple, velvet, shamrock leaves, and they way they close like butterfly wings in the evening. It has small, pretty pink flowers in summer. Its little pink shrimp-like tubers are allegedly edible but I haven’t tried them yet.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful small, rounded, evergreen shrub with rich, glossy purple/black foliage. New growth is green, quickly turning darker during summer and very black during winter. It has very tiny, honey-scented flowers. A tough little number, this winter really put it to the test at the nursery. The plants in the ground survived outside with little or no damage.
Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) is a popular bamboo, but it needs a little pruning to look its best. We strip the leaves and branches from the lower metre or so to reveal the shiny, ebony canes. Nigra needs to be planted in full sun for really black canes to develop.
Aeonium urbicum ‘Zwartkop’
Aeonium urbicum ‘Zwartkop’ intensifies in colour in warm sunny weather. In winter it’s green but as spring turns to summer its large rosettes turn a polished deep brown/black. Chopping off its head can encourage branching.
Aeonium ‘Voodoo’ can reach monster proportions but never quite attains the same intensity of black as Zwartkop.
But the title of blackest plant of all must surely be awarded to Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, the Mondo grass. It’s a dense, tuft-forming little evergreen perennial (it’s not actually a grass) with arching deepest black leaves and pink flowers in summer followed by shiny black berries.
More dark plants to follow in the next blog.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Cleome amongst Canna leaves
We grow many plants in the gardens of the nursery that we don’t actually stock in our range. This is frustrating for our visitors – they fall in love with a plant they see in the ground but are unable to take a potted specimen home with them and frustrating for us too. This weekend I've been asked at least a dozen times for Cleome.
Spider-like, long-stamens on two-tone Cleome
We’ve planted lots of Cleome hassierana ‘Colour Fountain’ (Spider flower) in the Edible Jungle. They’re so exotic looking with their extremely long lasting fat, bottle-brush-shaped heads of pink, white and mauve spidery flowers on 2m tall stems. What’s more, they make an excellent, long-lasting cut flower. In truth, we did have a few plants to spare at the beginning of the season but the problem is they’re an annual. By the time they look at their best in the garden they no longer have any shelf appeal in the nursery. The best we can do is to send the enquirer away with a scrap of paper with the name scribbled on it and the suggestion that they buy a packet of seed the following spring. Maybe we should start stocking seeds – now there’s a thought.
Cosmos in shades of orange
Tomato red Cosmos
The same applies to annual Cosmos (Mexican aster). These are Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Polaris’ and a packet of seed sown in early spring this year produced hundreds of plants. Originating from Mexico they have very pretty, feathery foliage and single, bowl-shaped flowers in the richest orange. Other varieties have white, pink or purple flowers. We chopped ours back earlier in the season to encourage bushier plants. Despite having a reputation for requiring full sun to produce a good flower display, they’re doing pretty well in a shadier part of the garden.
Dahlia 'Alfred Grille'
This year our Dahlia collection is looking superb. They’re rapidly becoming one of my favourite plants (this week anyway). Dahlia enthusiasts would never run out of plants to add to a collection – there are over 20,000 cultivars! We’ve always stocked a small range of Dahlias such as Dahlia ‘David Howard’ and this year we have ‘Sarah’ which has lovely dark foliage and deep red single flowers.
But in the Edible Jungle we have dozens of fancy-pants Dahlias with huge flower heads in a rainbow assortment of colours. They’ve grown into such healthy, fat specimens, with masses of flowers per plant. Deadheading is becoming very time consuming. I consider these to be the real show stoppers in the Edible Jungle, but we don’t have them available to take home. We simply must for next year though.
Dahlia imperialis (Tree dahlia)
Our Dahlia imperialis (Tree dahlia) survived winter outside this year and has grown into a sizeable plant already but no sign of flowers. I’ve yet to see one in flower in the flesh. Still, it makes a terrific foliage plant.
Gourds taking over the greenhouse near the Koi Pond
The glasshouse with the Koi pond is becoming more jungly by the day, thanks to the gourds we’ve planted around the bridges. These are snake gourds and the amount of growth is phenomenal. They’ve twined around posts, poles, shade netting and are now growing out of the roof vents.
Gourd tendrils reaching for
Colocasia 'Black Diamond'
Snake gourd flower
Young Snake gourd fruits. These will elongate and coil over the next couple of months.
They’d twist their tendrils around us if we stood next to them for 20 minutes or so. I’m so pleased with the leafy, vine effect they’re creating but already dreading the clean up operation in late autumn. They’re producing very pretty white flowers and some are growing fruits.
Snake gourd fruit with blossom end rot
Blossom end rot, where the fruits begin to form but rot where the flower is still attached has been a problem and is possibly caused by inconsistent watering, so this is something we’re got to get to grips with. Again, these are plants that we grow for our own and our customers’ enjoyment while at the nursery, and when asked, we simply advise to buy seeds to sow in spring next year.
Dinosaur gourd growing up dead
Monstrous Dinosaur gourd in the making
The Dinosaur Gourd growing at the entrance to the glasshouse has one magnificent fruit on it though. I saw these at a garden show last year and knew I just had to grow them myself. They can develop huge, monstrous-looking fruits with heavily textured, plated, veined skins. This plant is being supported by the trunk and branches of a rather large but sadly dead-as-a-Dodo lemon tree – yet another casualty of winter 2010/11.
Nobbly young gourd in the Edible Jungle
In the Edible Jungle we have yet more ornamental gourds and these are producing fruits in a variety of shape and colour. We had a group of ladies from The Congo visiting Norwich last week and they popped along to see the garden. They told us that they eat the boiled leaves – rather like we would eat spinach. I don’t know whether I’ll be trying them. They’re rather prickly.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Steve and Karen have run the Whalebone Public House in Norwich for the last 19 years. It’s located in the Catton area of the city, where I was raised and my parents still live. I have an affection for the Whalebone. As a youngster I would regularly pop to its Off License serving hatch to buy Walker’s Snaps and Corona in the early evening. This was long before open- all-hours shops and it was the only outlet to buy tuck after 5pm. Incredible how times have changed. Back then it was a typical ‘local’ and I adored the odour of beer soaked carpet and nicotine that used to waft from its doors. It would sadly have suffered the same demise as many other local pubs, had it not been for a tasteful restoration and the offering of an excellent selection of real ales and wine. It’s now widely regarded as one of the finest watering holes in Norwich and is always busy. And it smells as fresh as a daisy.
A great deal of attention has gone into providing a comfortable outdoor area for smokers and non-smokers alike and to further enhance this area, Steve asked us to help with the design of a Vertical Garden. Being a handy chap Steve set about building the construction, referring to Jamie Spooner’s excellent ‘how to guide’. You can read more about the construction of a Vertical Garden on Jamie's Blog (click link below diagram)
However, although Steve loves plants and tends the Whalebone’s baskets and containers, he commissioned Urban Jungle to design and plant the wall.
The Vertical Garden measures approximately 10ftx6ft. As it’s against the outside wall of the Lounge Bar, it’s backed by plastic to prevent any problems with moisture seeping through. We recommended more widely spaced pockets than we have in the Vertical Garden at Urban Jungle to give the plants more space to grow. We’ve found ours to be a little crowded.
It’s in quite a shady spot, being permanently under a canopy, so we had to choose shade-loving plants. The garden is used all year and Steve was keen for the Living Wall to remain evergreen and have plenty of colour all year round.
We used 3 different varieties of Heuchera – 'Fire Chief', 'Obsidian' and 'Stoplight' and Heucherella 'Kimono'
Heuchera Fire chief
Carex ‘Evergold’ is an evergreen grass that reminds me of the Spider plant and I put a bold diagonal line of these through the centre of the composition.
Ferns are invaluable in a vertical Garden and we used 2 different species in the wall. Asplenium scolopendrium (the Harts Tongue Fern) has long, glossy, leathery leaves and in contrast to these we used Polystichum munitum, which forms a loose shuttlecock of evergreen fronds and is pretty indestructible. We considered using Cyrtomium fortunei instead of the Asplenium as it has evergreen, holly like fronds but ours didn’t fair too well in the winter in our wall. They survived but have been very late in reappearing and are still tiny. Although the Whalebone wall is so much more protected that the one at Urban Jungle I didn’t want to risk it.
I noticed there was a section right at the top of the wall on the right hand side that more light was reaching so we planted some Stipa tennuissima here. When they’ve matured, their floaty foliage and fluffy flowering heads will add yet another texture.
We added Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ to give some floral impact. This Vertical Garden is so sheltered there’s a good chance that the Fuchsia may remain evergreen throughout winter, and in mild winters I’ve seen it in flower on Christmas day. It’s such a beauty with its arching red stems and scarlet and purple pendulous flowers but will require regular pruning to restrict its size.
Steve particularly liked the Hostas we have in our wall at Urban Jungle, but of course they’re not evergreen so we used Bergenia ‘Overture’ instead. The tough, leathery leaves of these can become quite enormous and turn the most amazing red in winter. Coupled with magenta flowers in spring and then again in autumn these should look fabulous. Looking decidedly unimpressed with the Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ I planted, I assured Steve that in spring this would be his favourite plant in the garden. It’s evergreen and produces very pretty, small, orchid-like yellow flowers, but it’s the abundance of new pale green, heart-shaped leaves, suffused with russet tones in spring that will set it apart from the other plants at that particular time of year.
Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’ is another plant that will be a scene-stealer in spring. The glossy, fresh foliage, spilling out from the wall and small white, delicately scented flowers, will perk up the planting early in the season.
To disguise the gaps we added some variegated, trailing, tiny-leaved Ficus – a species that will fulfil its role for this year but die in the winter, by which time the permanent planting will have filled in. And it wouldn’t be a proper pub garden without a few Impatiens. I was rather reluctant to plant these but I knew Steve really wanted the wall to be colourful so I planted just 8 in a dark salmon colour. I must admit, they do look lovely.
Friday, July 08, 2011
I was recently interviewed for a magazine article and was asked the ubiquitous question ‘what’s your favourite plant?’ I was prepared for this, in that I knew the question would be coming, but still found myself dithering, then citing a particular plant, qualifying it, changing my mind, adding a proviso etc. How can any gardener possibly have a favourite plant? It’s like asking a mother to name her favourite child. If pressed at gunpoint she may reluctantly chose the child who is looking the cutest or behaving itself at that given moment and I guess this is pretty much how I feel about plants. Except that very few mothers have more than a handful of children to choose from but I’m surrounded by thousands of plants every day. So as I dodged the heavy showers yesterday I took a few moments to make a list of those that made my lucky 7 for the 7th of the 7th. My ‘looking good in July list’ if you like.
1. Fargesia jiuzhaigou
After losing so many potted bamboo plants of the Phyllostachys species last winter I am knocked out with the hardiness of all the Fargesias, which came through unharmed. This recent introduction has outstanding bright red canes and delicate foliage. It needs some sun on the canes for the colour to be really intense. I think I’ve found just the spot at the nursery.
2. Verbena bonariensis
If there is a ‘cottage garden’ plant that exotic gardeners can enjoy, and still hold their head’s high, Verbena bonariensis is it. The mauve/violet flowers are held on slender, almost leafless stems and it blooms all summer and autumn. You can mix it with Cannas and Gingers and not have to worry about losing any credibility whatsoever.
3. Canna ‘Panache’
At this time of year Canna ‘Panache’ is my favourite Canna by virtue of the fact that it’s actually in flower. Its one of the first to bloom with very pretty, delicate, peachy petals. Later in the season I’ll be bowled over by some of the giant Cannas but for now Panache is doing it for me.
4. Dicksonia Antarctica
Despite the ravages of last winter it seems gardeners haven’t fallen out of love with tree ferns and neither have I. I love this time of year when the fronds are a fresh, bright green with new croziers still unfurling from the crown. It’s an excellent anorak activity, counting your tree fern fronds each year, and tragically I still do.
5. Stipa gigantea
Most tall grasses are late season flowerering but Stipa gigantea flowers emerge in May. These shimmering, golden panicles are held on long, long stems and look impossibly ethereal in morning sunlight.
6. Brugmansia suaveolens
Every evening at 5pm (you can set your watch by them) the Bruggy flowers switch on. As the last customer leaves, the perfume pumps out. If only we could bottle it.
7. Fuchsia ‘Blacky’
Blacky is an exquisite Fuchsia with pink buds and deep black petals. We propagated so many last year that we didn’t bother lifting them from the garden last winter. Luckily for us we can now say with hand on heart that it’s a hardy little number. With no protection whatsoever all 3 plants in our Edible Jungle have re-grown beautifully (did you know you can eat the fruits? Full of vitamin C apparently).
Monday, June 13, 2011
Well - drought or no drought we’ve planted the Edible Jungle. We thought last year’s planting conditions were hostile but this year’s are extreme. The tiny amount of rain this region has experienced in the last few months has been so localized and has generally missed us in Old Costessey. So it’s been a case of digging in the dust (quickly because the sides of the hole cave in), sticking the plant in and watering like mad. We plant a section, turn on the rotating sprinkler and move on to the next. We’ve lost a couple of plants where the sprinkler didn’t quite reach but otherwise everything is growing away quite nicely now. Hopefully the rains will come soon and we’ll be able to turn off the hose.
The structure of the garden has remained unchanged (3 intersecting circles), but we’ve planted differently this year. For a start there’s more veg than last year including Sweet Peppers, Rainbow Chard, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Aubergines and Lettuce in the beds. We’ve also planted Tuscany Black Kale but the pigeons have pruned them (or perhaps it was the rabbits that evening when we went home and forgot to close the gate). I think they’ll re-grow though. I hope so because we grew them a couple of years ago and they were beautiful.
The Nymans lettuce looks as good as any ornamental foliage plant I’ve ever seen. Its leaves are glossy and the deepest burgundy/black. I’m about to sow some more so we’ll have replacements in case they go over, as no doubt they will. Interestingly wildlife has so far steered clear of eating these…hmmm. We also have Runner Beans and Mange tout against the fence but these really are struggling with their limited ration of water. And climbing up the poles in the centre of the garden are the gourds that looked so incredible last year. This year they’ll be fighting it out with a grape vine.
Craig has made an African style planting bed of Colocasia esculenta, to hold in the water as these love lots of moisture. This year I’m determined to eat some. I’ve grown them for years but have yet to taste them! How ridiculous. Also some Tamarillos – handsome looking plants but I’ve a feeling we won’t be harvesting fruit from them. And not forgetting the self-pollinating Kiwi which should eventually produce fruit, and Acca (pineapple guava) which are flowering beautifully at present and will produce fruit this year.
Acca - See the picture in Hi-Res.
Anyway, fruit and veg aside, the main difference this year is a design one. Last year everything grew so huge, and was so tightly packed in (‘hugger mugger style’ according to Bunny Guinness in the Telegraph; I don’t think she was being derogatory), you couldn’t at times see the wood for the trees. So whilst it will still be full of tall Musas, Gingers and Cannas we’ll be sticking more to the oldest design principle of them all – Big things at the back, little things at the front.
It’s just started raining!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
We’re itching to get planting in the Edible Jungle but dust-bowl-like conditions are causing a delay. It’s months since we’ve had any real rain and even though the 5-day Met Office forecast keeps promising showers, they simply don’t materialize. The weather yet again is leading us all over the shop. We’re just glad we don’t have a lawn.
Exotic Vertical Garden
I’ve replanted the Exotic Vertical Garden. Despite good intentions of keeping the plants alive over winter it was a lost cause in a greenhouse that went down to –6.6 degrees centigrade, but Hey Ho. New planting opportunities etc. Had all the plants survived I wouldn’t have had space for these lovely Bromeliads.
There are a couple of gaps left for Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ but I daren’t put these in yet as they’re only little and just last week we had a shocking frost. -6 degrees centigrade!! We shouldn’t forget we could be caught out by frosts right up until June.
This Mother Blackbird is making good use of a dead Cordyline before it goes onto our very expensive compost heap. We also thought the Wrens might raise another family in the nest they built last year in our pay hut. They inspected the nest several times earlier this spring and did what birds do all over our till (that’s probably not good Feng Shui), but obviously decided against it.
Lots of plants that we’d left in the ground over winter and given up for dead are reappearing. Canna Taney is sending up good, strong shoots. Dahlia imperialis, the tree dahlia likewise. Musa basjoo are very much alive. Even Hedychium gardnerianum (Kaffir lily) has what appears to be growth on the tuber (perhaps its just mould). Pittosoprum ‘County Park’, one of my favourite evergreens is recovering from the winter damage and I think will look as good as new in a month or so, and Purple Oxalis, once considered so tender that it used to be sold as a house plant is continuing its slow but steady march across the border.
Pittosporum tenuifolium 'County Park'
Oxalis triangularis subsp. triangularis
Cordylines are also sprouting new shoots.
So who says these plants aren’t hardy? What does hardy mean? I’m confused. I think I’ll go water some plants.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Now that we’re well into March, most of us are tidying the garden and salvaging what we can. Cordylines have been badly hit. A friend and I had a wander around the nursery together and he managed, with very little effort, to poke a bamboo cane through the base of the trunk of our 15-foot Cordyline australis thereby thwarting my hopes that it would re-sprout at about 10ft – thanks Kevin. But we shared a high five when we unwrapped the Cycas revoluta to reveal a very healthy looking crown.
Unbelievable damage to Phormiums. This Phormium cookianum has no sign of life whatsoever.
A mature Phormium cookianum
Firm, healthy-looking crown of Cycas revoluta
Ghastly looking Cordyline australis
This time last year I blogged about the Phoenix canarienesis around Norwich that coasted through winter. The one outside John Lewis that flowered this year - Toast. I thought I’d try to pull the centre spear but couldn’t get close enough and also risked being injured or arrested. Even if it has survived it will take years to recover to its former majesty.
Chamaerops humulis – some dead, some alive but badly disfigured and Yucca fillifera reduced to jelly. Olives – complete leaf drop but still alive.
Astelia – perhaps a glimmer of hope?
Even Yucca gloriosa is severely damaged - probably still alive but I don’t think I have the patience to wait for a full recovery. I would have to look at its piteous foliage every day during summer, reminding me of what’s potentially to come again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if only we had known how severe the winter was going to be we could have taken more precautions. But more useful still would be a crystal ball for next winter’s weather.
I could go on with the losses – other species of Yucca, Puyas, trunks of all Musa basjoo and possibly a couple of tree ferns. But enough – on to the survivors
At one point the leaves on our Pittosporum tobira standards were frozen solid and you could snap them in half but they’re looking amazing now. Fuchsia magalanica planted beneath is re-sprouting and the drift of Yucca colour guard – wow! Untouched by the weather and they have been looking magnificent all winter.
Dickson Antarctica obviously lost all their fronds but fingers crossed, apart from a couple of dubious specimens they seem to be ok.
|Pittosporum tobira standard|
Fuchsia magallanica sending up
Yucca colour guard
Podophyllum Spotty dotty and Kaleidoscope are pushing up their weird umbrellas and the Dracunculus vulgaris have been on the move since early February. Euphorbia Dixter is pushing up new shots like red asparagus spears.
Podophyllum Spotty Dotty
And of course Trachycarpus fortunei looking marvellous.
|Winter – what winter?|
Everywhere you look, fat buds are forming on branches and succulent shoots are pushing up from under the soil surface.
Strange flowers of Petasites japonicus giganteus
New leaf of Ligularia Britt Marie Crawford
Acer Japanese Sunrise – its colourful bark has cheered us through winter and its just starting to bud
But we have work to do. Summer isn’t that far away and we’re determined that Urban Jungle is going to look the best ever this year. Seed sowing this week for the Edible Jungle. I’m working on the design for this year’s layout to include lots of ornamental-looking vegetable plants and will blog about this soon.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
If the winter before last began to ring the death knell for Exotic gardening, will 2010/11, with its deadly temperatures of minus 17 degrees in parts of Norfolk (and worse elsewhere), be the final nail in the coffin? Not likely.
Few individuals will have the stomach or deep enough pockets to replace all their losses this year – nobody can guarantee us that we won’t suffer another severe winter next year. But that doesn’t mean to say that we have to accept defeat and start gardening like our grandparents.
As we return to our gardens this spring, let’s stand back, take a deep breath and remember just what we’re trying to achieve in our gardens. The essence of Exotic Gardening isn’t about what rare, individual species we grow, fun though this aspect of Exotic Gardening is. No, let’s look at the bigger picture and remember Exotic Gardening is about using plants and other features to Evoke an Exotic Landscape.
By returning to what had recently seemed like old fashioned methods of protecting plants in winter, using hardier plants in inventive combinations and learning pruning techniques to alter the natural shapes of more common trees and shrubs (think pollarding, skirt lifting, Bonsai/Niwaki), we’ll continue to be able to transform our gardens from bog standard into rather unique and special places.
This winter has to be accepted as part of the evolution of Exotic Gardening in the UK. Many plants that we thought of as forming the backbone of the Exotic Garden have succumbed. At Urban Jungle we’re mourning the loss of many specimens in our borders, some we planted in our first year here. There are some big gaps - but we won’t be filling them with Buddleias!
Spring, monstrous Rheum leaf emerging.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
The main topic of conversation in the UK for the last couple of weeks has understandably been the weather. Not the usual passing the time of day pleasantries that we English are so famous for, ‘bit nippy this morning’, kind of remarks but, ‘Oh my word, it’s game over for the garden!!!’
Is this exceptional freeze a temporary blip? Is it set in for the rest of the winter? Is the Gulf Stream that keeps our island mild shutting down permanently? Who knows? I guess we’re about to find out. We’ve been spending the last few days knocking snow off the tunnels – some were groaning under the weight of it and the carnage of a collapsed roof falling onto a tunnel full of plants would not have been a pretty sight. Stock that we’d planned to leave outside, has been squeezed into every nook and cranny in tunnels and glasshouses – it’s amazing how, after declaring a greenhouse so full you couldn’t slide a fag paper inside, with a bit of imagination, nay desperation, you can find yet more space willing to house another poor little frozen Pittosporum or Chamaerops refugee. Even though some of the plants we’ve tucked away would be considered really hardy in the garden, those same plants in 3L pots, outdoors all winter in a nursery, won’t look their best come spring. But one plant that seems to be positively relishing the big freeze is Arbutus unedo. As I brushed off the snow this morning its jaunty little flowers greeted. And, yesterday in Norwich city centre, I checked up on my old friend the Phoenix canariensis outside John Lewis. It’s looking amazing and in flower! I didn’t have the camera but will go take a photo soon. However here’s a description of Arbutus unedo from our website.
Originating from Mediterranean and Ireland
An evergreen tree, with an abundance of glossy, leathery dark green leaves, beautiful red/brown, shredding bark and drooping panicles of pink/white Lily-of-the-valley like flowers in late autumn/winter. It produces small orange/red fruits, which take 12 months to mature, so it’s usual to see fruits and flowers on the tree simultaneously. The fruits, while edible are not particularly palatable (unedo means ‘I eat only one’), and are probably best left for the birds, at a time of year when food is scarce – late autumn/winter. One of the many attractive features of Arbutus unedo is the gnarled looking nature of its trunk and branches with their peeling, shredding bark. Even quite young trees can have the appearance of venerable old age.
It is eminently suitable for small gardens, quickly achieving its mature height of only approximately 5m in the UK. Although a member of the Ericaceae family, and one would assume requiring acidic soil, Arbutus unedo is lime tolerant, but in very chalky soils it may not achieve its full growth potential. An easy tree to grow requiring little if any pruning, but may be grown as an evergreen hedge with regular clipping.
Grow in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun.
Height and spread 5m.
Monday, November 29, 2010
I’ve just finished reading ‘A Little History Of British Gardening’ by Jenny Uglow. It’d been sitting on the shelf for a few years, amongst many other books that I never seem to find time to read. The last section of the book looks at current trends and the future (published 2004). The author talks of the change in climate – the warmer temperatures and droughts, plants that were previously too tender to survive our climate thriving, and their increasing availability in nurseries across the country. I was reading this at home after deciding not to open the nursery today because of the ice and snow. Now I know that climate change/global warming can’t be established one way or another by looking at what the weather is doing out of the window but it does make you wonder. Have we, and the author been duped? If this weather continues for a few more days, as is forecast, this will be the coldest November on record. I’m not a happy bunny.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Flaming foliage and a firework explosion of Cordyline australis and white berries.
Even I have to admit, winterphobe that I am, that autumn, despite heralding the onset of my least favoured season, does have its merits. Jamie took these beautiful pictures at the nursery, capturing the eruption of colours these deciduous trees delight us with at Urban Jungle. He’d waited for a windless day and just the right richness of light and snapped away, in what turned out to be the nick of time. The following day was one of driving winds and rain, which brought down all the leaves in one foul swoop. So that was autumn.
The molten gold of Acer 'Villa Taranto'
Golden leaves and orange/red bark of Acer ‘Japanese Sunrise’and flaming red foliage of Cotinus ‘Grace’
The drive into the nursery – we always try to
line it with seasonal treats
I see overlooked Aeoniums lurking in the picture
(above the red Cotinus). Must bring these in to winter quarters quickly
Saturday, October 23, 2010
After a slight frost this week which knocked back the coleus and a couple of Colocasias, we began lifting the Exotic Garden on Friday with the help of the design students from Easton College.
Although it’s always sad to dismantle a garden in full bloom it’s also very exciting to bring in the harvest. The students began lifting the Cannas. They had bulked up enormously, (the cannas, not the students) so we’ll have lots of the more unusual ones available next year like Musifolia and Ehamanii. We simply put them into pots with very little soil, reduced the height by about 50% and placed in a frost free greenhouse until early spring when they’ll be divided and re-potted. Thank you Easton College Design Students!
Next were the Ensetes and Colocasias. Again, we left very little soil on these but placed them in pots, in our newly bubble-wrapped greenhouse where they were joined later in the day by the Cyperus papyrus and Brugmansias. This greenhouse will be maintained at between 8 and 10 degrees centigrade but it’s so well insulated it hopefully won’t cost too much to heat. We’ve bought a couple of thermostatically controlled fan heaters. The fans run continuously, even when they’ve reached the desired temperature. It’s very important in the winter to keep the air moving to prevent mildew rotting the plants.
Because of these heaters, we haven’t felt it necessary to dry out the Ensetes by leaving them lying on the floor as we’ve done in previous years – a method that’s always worked for us in the past, apart from last year when it was exceptionally cold and gloomy and most of them turned to mush.
Despite taking out all these large plants the garden still looks pretty good with plenty of foliage colour and flowers. We’ll dig up the Gingers, Dahlias and Iresene next week and by then it will look pretty sparse.
The newly bubbled area looks super-tropical and cosy – the plants should be happy and I’ll probably spend quite a bit of the winter months keeping them company.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I’m living on a knife-edge. When do we start to dig up and protect our tenders? They’re looking so beautiful and this is the time of year when all their energy is going into making tubers and rhizomes for next year’s stock. I’m feeling so loathe to commence the harvest. It’s not that I’m too worried about being caught out by an early frost. Most of the plants will take some frost – even the Colocasias and Ensetes won’t come to too much harm for a night or two out in the cold. What I’m most worried about is Jamie leaving us in mid-November to go gallivanting around the southern hemisphere before everything is tucked up safely. There’s always so much work to do in a short space of time.
As usual, some of the gingers are leaving it rather late to flower. Hedychium coronarium, one of the most beautifully scented of all the gingers is staying tightly in bud. I very much doubt, especially if this cold weather continues, that its flowers will open before we move the plants indoors. Hedychium thyrsiforme, with its impressive foliage shows no sign of even a bud. However Hedychium gardnerianum is in full flower and has been for weeks.
Hedychium coronarium in bud
The flowering display of Hedychium greenii is just gaining momentum. Hedychium Tara, ellipticum and Stephen are giving another show and Cautleya gracilis hasn’t stopped all summer. Next summer I may delay planting until the middle of June to see if this will bring flowering slightly forward. Or perhaps next summer we, and our plants will be treated to some warmth and sunshine and I won’t need to – now wouldn’t that be special?
Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen'
Thursday, October 07, 2010
We have home-grown pumpkins and gourds available at the nursery.
Now is the time to enjoy the rich tapestry of autumn colour. Our Acers are beginning to take on tones of red, orange and yellow and the grasses have gold and copper foliage with silvery and purple flower plumes.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Red Head'
Most gardeners enjoy the changes in foliage colour in autumn, but to us exotic gardeners, this is still the season of Cannas, Gingers, Colocasias Dahlias and Brugmansias.
Brugmanisia 'Flowerdream' & Dahlia 'Firepot'
We're enjoying our plants in their full splendour now and savouring every moment over the next few weeks before they're prepared for winter
Our Exotic Garden has been a great success and was featured in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago. We'll also be opening for the National Garden Scheme next year around the middle of September.
When we tell newcomers to this particular style of gardening that almost every plant will be dug up for winter they hold up their hands in horror at what they believe must be such a labour intensive garden. But it's a handful of days to bed out at the beginning of the season, a couple of days weeding mid-season, and a few days spent digging up the plants in November. Compare this to a Cottage Garden with plants that require lifting and dividing in spring, staking, hoeing, deadheading and cutting back in autumn, and I'd say there wasn't much difference in the amount of hours between the two styles of gardening. Exotic Bedding Gardens are simply more labour intensive at either end of the season but it does mean more loafing time to enjoy the garden during the season.
Time is running out to see the garden. We'll begin lifting at the end of the month.
We have some beautiful little succulents available at the nursery. They look great combined in pots and topped with grit. We sell them as individuals or pre-planted in pots.
Weather Warning. Our long range forecaster, www.weatheraction.com who this season has been over 75% correct, is predicting a bitterly cold spell at the end of October with possible snow in the last week for the southeast! Be prepared but enjoy the next few days of warm sunshine.
Monday, September 20, 2010
It’s that time of year. No, I’m not talking about our sale. I’m referring to the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness; or season of rot and putrefaction, and harbinger of bleak, cheerless, bone-chillingly cold, gloomy, short days and long freezing nights. My oh my. How I’m looking forward to winter. Here, it’s been cold and wet recently, which is perfect for Fungi.
Jamie took this picture this morning at the nursery. It’s our baby dinosaur fossil sculpture surrounded by the most beautiful, curious little fungal fruiting bodies. They appear every year on this tree stump, like old friends, warning us that greenhouses need repairing, oil, fleece and bubble wrap need to be ordered and space needs to be prepared for over wintering stock. Not that we’re shifting plants into winter quarters yet. The Garden is looking amazing and will hopefully continue for several more weeks yet, and there’s still time for an Indian Summer you know.
However, the temperature forecast for tonight is 4 degrees in Norwich, colder in rural areas. Ouch!
If you want to see an amazing fungi and parasite video.......
Friday, September 17, 2010
I visited Will Giles’ Exotic Garden on Sunday evening with my 2-year-old grand child Erica in tow. Who ever says kids need large lawns to play on doesn’t know what they’re talking about. What kids need, are towering, triffid-like leaves to be dwarfed by, like Alice in Wonderland, with haughty, sleek, exotic, Abyssinian cats lurking in the undergrowth, a feast of rainbow colours, and wind wandering, weed-winding paths to career along, followed by, an excitingly dangerous expedition up a series of steep stone steps, leading to a garden of towering stone walls and deadly spiky plants. And to add to all this - a Tree House! What a terrific and exhausting adventure. Erica loved it too.
Do you know – I forgot the camera. You can however look at pictures of this fabulous garden on The Exotic Garden website. My photography wouldn’t have done it justice anyway.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Our Ensete maurellii are growing magnificently in the Jungle Garden. We planted out four fairly chunky hunks, along with some baby plants that came to us as plugs in early spring. You would not believe how those little fellas have caught up with their big brothers! They look so handsome and glossy in today’s rain. I think they’re the real showstoppers of the garden. Reminds me I have to plough on, adding FAQ’s to our website. Here’s one I prepared earlier.
Q. What are Ensetes?
A. They are very fast growing, evergreen, herbaceous perennials with huge paddle shaped leaves. Essential in the jungle garden. Ensete ventricosum has bright green leaves with a paler mid rib; Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’ has massive red, green and black leaves. Ensetes are related to bananas, and are a massively important food crop in parts of Africa, but it is not their fruit that is eaten. Instead, the fermented roots are used to make a flour in bread making.
Q. Are they hardy?
A. Definitely not. They require a minimum of 5 degrees centigrade in winter. They cannot be left in the garden, however much protection they are given.
Q. How big and how fast will they grow?
A. In the UK, if over wintered successfully they can reach 3.5m with an enormous fat trunk. Growth rates are astonishing. Tiny plants can reach 1.5m in their first season.
Q. Will they grow in pots?
A. Almost any plant can be grown successfully in a pot and provided it is supplied with adequate food and water and re-potted when required, they make fantastic pot plants. However, size may be restricted in a pot.
Q. What’s the best position and soil type for Ensete?
A. Full sun or partial shade in a deep, rich, moist soil.
Q. How much food and water should I give them?
A. Plenty. Lots of feed during the growing season and keep the soil moist. A liberal dose of well-rotted manure is advisable.
Q. What do I do with them in the winter?
A. Before the first frosts dig up. Reduce the roots and shake off excess soil. Remove most or all of the leaves, especially if space is an issue. Lay the Ensete on the greenhouse floor and leave till after Christmas, rotating occasionally. This allows water to drain from between the leaf blades and will help to prevent rot. In January stand the Ensete upright and place in a pot that snugly fits the root ball. Backfill with compost and keep barely moist. Keep temperature at a minimum of 5 degrees centigrade. Don’t have a greenhouse? Spare bedroom, utility room will do. Sadly shed or garage usually results in failure.
Q. Isn’t that a lot of trouble to go to?
A. Absolutely not. These plants give so much impact to the garden that they are definitely worth the effort. You can of course treat your Ensete as a superior form of bedding plant and leave it to perish along with the petunias. It will have given you pleasure all summer long.
Q. Why is the middle leaf distorted and not growing properly? / Why are the new leaves getting smaller and smaller?
A. These disorders occasionally occur after winter, a problem often referred to as ‘strangles’. To date nobody seems to be sure of the cause. It could be a genetic mutation. Other theories suggest simple slug damage to the growing point. Keep a watch for slugs and snails. If your Ensete appears to be suffering from a case of the ‘strangles’ in spring, you will need to cut the trunk back severely. This will hopefully produce one of two results. The growing point will begin to grow normally or the main stem will perish but produce many offsets.
Q. When can I plant my Ensete outside?
A. Your Ensete has made it through the winter – congratulations! Ensetes shouldn’t be planted outdoors until all risk of frost has past – usually the beginning of June in England.
Monday, August 30, 2010
If I were to confess to being guilty of a deadly sin it would be Avarice. Wrath? - I guess I sometimes get a bit miffed with the weather. Sloth? - I just don’t have the time. Pride? - Maybe a little, but Avarice would surely be my fall from grace. Every year I lust after new and exciting plants (whoops, that’s another sin), that I simply must have/can’t live without. The wanting never stops. This year, at last, we have available one of my long coveted acquisitions for Urban Jungle - hardy Hibiscus moscheutos. Can there be a more exotic flower than Hibiscus? Even the name conjures up the allure of the tropics. Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Fireball’ has 30cm (yes 30cm!!!), deep red flowers with lovely, cut leaves, growing to 1.2m. ‘Robert Fleming’ is shorter growing, with dark green, hydrangea-like leaves and black flower buds opening to huge wine red flowers.
‘Kopper King’ has deeply cut, bronze foliage and a colossal pink flower with wine red centre, streaking outward towards the edges of the petals. Our plants, which we grew from babies, are just beginning to flower! The first black bud of ‘Robert Fleming’ is about to break open. Will post a picture of the flower as soon as it does, but it won’t be until we get one of those illusive, rare sunny days. Hibiscus love a deep, fertile, moist but well-drained soil and a sunny position in the garden and their flowers won’t open on dull days.
By the way the way, if you don’t know, or have forgotten, the 7 deadly sins are
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Q. What are Cannas?
A. Cannas are rhizomatous perennials, i.e. they have a horizontal, underground storage organ (rhizome) that produces the downward root system and upward growing shoots. Their common name, Indian Shot, refers to the hard, pea-size seeds, resembling shot gun pellets. They’re essential plants for the exotic, lush, jungly garden and produce exotic flowers over a long period. Some of the smaller species cannas even associate well with cottage garden plants. They also make bold plants for patio containers. In addition to the green leaved varieties, some have dark bronze, burgundy foliage, others have incredible variegation. Flowers come in a huge range of colours including creamy/white, pink, red, orange and yellow. Some flowers are multi-coloured. Large varieties, producing giant, almost banana-tree-like plants rarely produce flowers in the UK.
Q. Are they hardy?
A. Some Cannas are hardier than others and will survive average UK winters, but many unfortunate gardeners had their whole collections wiped out by the severe winter of 2009/10, so assume not.
Q. How big and how fast will they grow?
A. They range in size from about 1m to 4m. Growth is rapid from mid summer and most cannas multiply quickly. A plant in a 2L pot can be divided into 2 or 3 plants the following year.
Q. Will they grow in pots?
A. Almost any plant can be grown successfully in a pot and provided it is supplied with adequate food and water and re-potted when required, they make fantastic pot plants. However, size may be restricted in a pot.
Q. What’s the best position and soil type for Cannas?
A. Cannas love the sun but will tolerate part shade, though they will be less floriferous. They appreciate a deep, rich, moist soil.
Q. How much food and water should I give them?
A. Plenty. Lots of feed during the growing season and lavish them with water. This is the key to successful Canna cultivation. Well-grown plants, bursting with health, are not only more attractive but are more resistant to disease such as Canna virus. Many cannas can be grown as pond marginals.
Q. What do I do with them in the winter?
A. After the first frosts have blackened the leaves, lift the cannas, shaking off any loose soil and place in the smallest pot the rhizome will comfortably fit into. Fill gaps with peat based compost. Don’t place in a large pot. Lots of compost around the rhizome/roots may lead to rot. Move the pot to a frost-free environment such as shed, garage, greenhouse, spare room. If there is a possibility that building may not be frost free in exceptionally severe weather, wrap the whole pot in several layers of horticultural fleece, hessian etc. Do the same with pot grown specimens. Now the trick is with the watering. They shouldn’t spend the winter in dust but must not be soaked. Keep barely moist. If you’re lucky enough to own a heated conservatory, take inside before the foliage is ruined by the frost and enjoy your evergreen plant through the winter months.
Q. Isn’t that a lot of trouble to go to?
A. No. It sounds more trouble than it actually is. And look at it this way; a hanging basket takes much longer to assemble than planting a Canna, it costs more, and most people are prepared to sacrifice basket plants to the frosts. Clearing away a basket full of dead plants takes about as long as lifting and potting a Canna for winter storage. When you consider that these magnificent Cannas have beautiful, tropical foliage, and flower for the same length of time as a hanging basket (not to mention possessing more impact and distinction), its really no trouble at all to make sure the plants survive so you can enjoy them again the following summer.
Q. I’ve been told that I should clean the stems and all the soil and roots from the rhizome so I’m storing the rhizome only. Is that correct?
A. In our experience, not only is this a lot more work, but also, the failure rate is higher than the method we now employ.
Q. How do I divide my Cannas?
A. Divisions should be taken in spring, as the new shoots begin to emerge. Tip the Canna out of its pot and cut away roots and soil. Using a sterile knife cut the rhizome into pieces ensuring each has a growing bud. Dust cut surfaces with Flowers of Sulphate powder (available from garden centres, hardware stores) to prevent rot. So now from one pot of Canna you have several pieces of rhizome. Place these in the smallest pot or seed tray you can and cover with compost. Keep barely moist. In warm weather root and shoot development will be rapid and the plants can be re-potted. Gradually increase watering.
Q. My Cannas have started to produce shoots - when can I plant them outside?
A. Cannas shouldn’t be planted outdoors until all risk of frost has past – usually the beginning of June in England. In the preceding weeks, harden off plants by placing outside during the day and leave outside at night if mild, just as you would with bedding plants. Plants that are subjected to severe cold will have their growth checked.
Q. Why have my cannas got puckered, streaked leaves and are flowering prematurely?
A. These are the classic signs of Canna virus. Cannas showing these symptoms will fail to thrive. Do not buy Canna rhizomes. Buy plants from a reputable nursery. Before buying plants inspect the leaves carefully. Ask the nursery staff about the virus and where their stock comes from. Avoid Dutch or Chinese plants. If you take home virused plants, they will infect your clean stock. If you suspect any of your cannas have virus be ruthless and dispose of them before the disease spreads. When dividing your plants dip the tools in a solution of bleach to prevent the spread of the virus. Avoid buying cannas from car boot sales.
Q. I’ve been growing Cannas for several years and now have dozens. Should I sell them at a car boot sale?
A. Please see above question.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Imagine chatting to fellow gardeners, who are after all, the nicest of people, about your favourite subject, every day and earning a living at the same time. Well that’s what I do and constantly count my blessings. But some days I do get a little bored answering the same question 80 TIMES A DAY!!!!!! And it nearly always relates to a banana. Now I know every banana tree is some ones baby and we all have to learn about its cultivation from somewhere and why shouldn’t it be from Urban Jungle, but I’m catching myself reeling off the same old spiel like an automaton.
The time has come for a FAQ board at the nursery and on our website and I intend to start one now before the great winter lifting and wrapping operation. That way I can direct customers to it and retain the will to live.
So for Musa basjoo it’s going to go something like this.
Q. What is Musa basjoo?
A. Musa basjoo is a herbaceous perennial. Although we call it a banana tree, this refers to its tree-like stature. It doesn’t produce a woody trunk so technically it isn’t a tree.
Q. Is it hardy?
A. It’s root hardy. In an exceptionally severe winter like 2009/10 it may be reduced to ground level if unprotected, but will produce new stems from the base in spring/summer. However, if you take the time to wrap it, this will usually offer enough protection to preserve the trunk through the winter.
Q. How fast and how big will it grow?
A. Musa basjoo is extremely fast growing. A small plant can reach 3m in as many years, ultimately scraping the sky at 5m.
Q. Will it grow in a pot?
A. Almost any plant can be grown successfully in a pot and provided it is supplied with adequate food and water and re-potted when required, it makes a fantastic pot plant. However, its size may be restricted in a pot.
Q. Does it need sun or shade?
A. Either, although the leaves grow much bigger and are a darker green in some shade.
Q. How much food and water should I give it?
A. Plenty. It’s a greedy plant and loves moist but not waterlogged conditions. Yellow leaves are a sign that its hungry, and slow growth is often due to lack of water during the growing season. Plants in the ground benefit from a liberal dose of manure at planting time and annually thereafter. Plants in pots can be fed weekly during the growing season with a high nitrogen feed.
Q. Why are the leaves on my newly purchased banana turning yellow?
A. When you first take your Musa home from the nursery - where it has been grown under glass, and place it in an open garden it understandably feels a little shocked and needs to adjust to the change in light levels, temperature and wind. The new leaves, when they appear, will be greener and stronger.
Q. Will it produce bananas?
A. There’s a good chance that a specimen that’s several years old will produce a bunch of bananas - always a thrilling sight, but not very palatable. However, Musas are monocarpic, meaning they die after producing fruit. All is not lost though as a plant of this maturity will have produced several good sized ‘pups’ or offsets. Simply cut down the old stem after flowering.
Q. How do I wrap it?
A. After many years of experimenting with different materials and techniques we’ve found the best way is to use horticultural fleece and straw. Make a tube with the fleece by folding it and fastening with staples. Place this over the stem and stuff with straw. Place a plastic bag over the top to prevent rain getting into the stem.
Q. When do I wrap it?
A. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. The aim is to keep it under wraps for as little time as possible to prevent rot. Wrap after the leaves have turned brown and limp in the first frost.
Q. When do I unwrap it?
A. We unwrap at the beginning of March. Frosts after this time will not be severe enough to damage the stem.
Q. Do you think it will grow too big for my garden?
A. Oh don’t be ridiculous.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Remember this back in June?
Well its turned into this in just 10weeks.
Although incredibly blousy and ornamental it contains quite a few edibles – tomatoes, peppers, chard, aubergines, beetroot. We’re already planning next year’s planting scheme to include kale, beans, melons, cucumbers, and grapes, so it will really justify its title, but we won’t compromise on the aesthetics so it has to be only the best looking fruit and veg. No ugly spuds!
By the way, I’m going to be on the radio today!! Radio Norfolk, Gardeners Question Time. Hopefully, if you’re reading this it’ll all be over. I’d be nervous if I thought anyone was listening.
Friday, August 20, 2010
The indoor Vertical Garden. After persistently nagging Jamie, he finally found time to rebuild the Exotic Vertical Garden at Urban Jungle a couple of weeks ago. This was the show garden built for the Royal Norfolk Show at the end of June. I took a couple of photos today. I think it looks awesome. If I had a conservatory, the walls would look like this – well done Jamie Spooner!
This particular Vertical Garden is sited in an unheated greenhouse, so we’ll need to build a little polytunnel over it and add some heating for winter. Some of the plants are hopelessly tender, such as the Alocasia, and really don’t stand much chance of survival. If we can heat this small area to about 10 degrees centigrade it shouldn’t break the bank, and if we circulate the air and ventilate on mild days, I think there’s a pretty good chance that the majority of plants will come through. And if we have to replace a few, so be it. Jamie’s unconvinced and thinks it will be mush by Christmas. He’ll be away from the nursery, travelling for three months this winter, and I’m determined to prove him wrong.
The outdoor Vertical Garden is looking so fulsome now, and with leaves and bits thrusting out all over, has taken on a much more 3D effect.
I’ve had to snip back some of the plants that are behaving like thugs though. Begonia evansiana is crowding out the much more interesting and larger leaved Bergenia ciliata so it’s had a hair cut. Tradescantia (which probably won’t survive the winter) has needed to be tamed, as have the Hostas and even the Myosotidium. The Ligularia seems to have established a root system now and its leaves don’t spend most of the day looking like limp lettuce. I guess the real test will be if we have another heat wave (oh please). I’m not sure, if I were to make another, I would use flowering plants. As pretty as the lilac Hosta and the yellow Crocosmia flowers are, they drop their petals onto the leaves below, quickly decomposing, leaving ugly brown holes. Perhaps the secret is to use the plants for their foliage effect but cut the flowers off. We still haven’t installed a watering system – flicking a hose over it every day seems to give sufficient water but does leave lime marks on the leaves.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Urban Jungle’s first events at the nursery were a huge success starting with ‘Adventures in Mexico’ with Paul Spracklin, on Sunday evening.
Paul treated us to a feast of slides depicting a huge range of Agaves, Yuccas and Nolinas that he encountered, including many unidentified species. He also spoke about the beautiful fishing villages, the cities and the weird and wonderful food he enjoyed and sometimes endured. In the question and answer session Paul revealed his ‘revised’ list of hardy Agaves. I’ll be asking Paul if he’ll send us a list of these.
Next was ‘Floral Design’ with Libby Ferris.
Libby gathered flowers and foliage from our garden and created the most amazing arrangements before our very eyes, using colourful flowers such as Canna, Dahlia and Echinacea, and Phormium, Heuchera and Cordyline leaves and even succulents. It was amazing to watch a gifted florist make such abundant looking creations with so little material and our garden looked untouched.
At the end of the evening we raffled the goodies and look what I won! The evening was an inspiration.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Our little Wrens, who built a nest above the till, successfully reared their brood of three chicks. I checked the nest on Monday morning and was really upset to find it empty – I’d seen squirrels nearby the day before and thought they’d carried out a raid. After last week’s events it made me feel thoroughly miserable. Fortunately, later that afternoon there was a shower and Sapphy, the young daughter of a customer, was about to help herself to a pink umbrella from the stand when she found one of the chicks trapped in its folds. The chick was released and managed to fly away, fully fledged, hopefully to catch up with its siblings. Now there’s a heart warmer.
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Following on from the success of our Vertical Garden we decided to create something similar for our display at the Royal Norfolk Show. We envisaged the tiny Garden Room of a plant-mad person. I had it in my head it was a man and didn’t realize untill right at the end, when Jamie placed a pair of women’s gardening gloves in a trug, as a prop, that all the time he was presuming it to be a lady’s garden. Anyway – I called it ‘Need more plants!’
So we made a vertical garden for a 3mx2m heated conservatory. Being a heated room, we had an exciting range of plants to choose from, things that would never survive outdoors in the UK such as tender Aspleniums, bromeliads, Anthuriums, Spathyphyllum, Alocasias etc. Jamie created some wonderfully exuberant pot displays and we even managed to cram in a little garden table and chairs. It was incredibly hard work but such fun. We arranged, rearranged, tweaked and titivated; cleaned, fussed and polished late into the night, until we felt we couldn’t do any more to impress the judges and we got our reward with a Gold Medal.
Well done to Jamie, who although convinced we hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to pull it all together, and harped on about how proper nurseries plan their display a year in advance and not a few days before blah blah…., made a stupendous effort and worked like a Trojan to get the show garden completed in time, whilst coming up with some amazingly creative ideas.
After the show we’ll dismantle the wall and install it at the nursery. More on this later, but we’ve had such late nights and early mornings this week and are fit to drop, so we’ll just put some pictures on for now.
I won’t be able to blog for a couple of weeks but Jamie’s been threatening to blog for some time now about the construction of The Vertical Garden and also his trip to New Zealand – he has a photograph of what must be the world’s biggest Cordyline! Pull your finger out Jamie.
A few quick shots from the nursery
Pot displays around the pay hut
Spiky, grassy things
Sensational foliage colour
Inside the main greenhouse
Early morning. More coloured foliage
Saturday, June 26, 2010
We’ve started re-planting the woodland garden, as mentioned in a previous blog. All the previous planting was removed – Pip the dog had already made a start (we’ve had words about that), and several tonnes of topsoil were added.
The beds were then raked into nice curvaceous mounds and organic matter added, followed by a liberal sprinkling of blood, fish and bone. We didn’t try taking out the Tetrapanax papyrifer. It wouldn’t like it and its doing so well.
Hopefully with this addition of new soil the plants will feel much more at home.
We’ve placed Acers and Bamboo (Fargesias), which enjoy the shade, as do the various ferns, Heuchera, Brunnera and Bergenia that we’ll be re-planting. Three Pittosporum tobira standards take pride of place in a prominent position at the front of the border.
These are the magnificent, thick trunked standards we found in Spain in February – never seen anything like them before and unlikely to find them again. Pittosporum tobira is such a versatile shrub. It’s usually planted in a sunny position but looks much more exotic and succulent-like in shade. Another shrub that we’ve placed, which would normally be planted in full sun is Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat). Exciting things happen to Loquats in the shade. They become transformed from Mediterranean to Jungle plants, producing ridiculously large, dark green glossy leaves.
A couple of Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ really lifts the composition. We’ve never tried these in shade, although they’ll only be in part shade here. Its possible they might be a little thinner than if planted in full sun – we’ll try them and see how they cope. They may have a surprise for us like the Loquat.
Over the last couple of years we’ve been propagating Prunus laurocerasus ‘Magnolifolim’. As the name suggests it’s a laurel with huge, Magnolia-like leaves and it loves the shade.
Our large, sunny border took a big hit this winter. Dozens of red cordylines, Dodonea and Grevilleas – gone. Even the Phormiums looked sad but have made a full recovery now and just need a little manicuring. The Olives that lost nearly all their leaves are starting to look amazing and have put on a ridiculous amount of growth in the last few weeks. Its time to give them a trim and it’ll be fun shaping them.
Yucca ‘Colour Guard’ producing flowers.
Oxalis (supposedly a tender houseplant) wandering and weaving its pretty little dark purple leaves through everything.
Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. aureocaulis sending up a satisfying crop of fresh new culms.
And finally – In a nearby border Phyllostachys vivax aureocaulis, planted in 2005 is at last producing some meaty culms.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Another wet day (as predicted by weather forecaster extraordinaire Piers Corbyn of www.weatheraction.com) so I’ve just cheered myself up with a little retail therapy, buying some plants for our Exotic Garden. You would normally think of these particular acquisitions as houseplants but there’s no reason why they can’t be bedded out for the summer and brought in for the winter, just like the cannas. Will Giles (www.exoticgarden.com) has been doing it for years.
It was difficult at the wholesalers, not to get carried away, but fortunately, I was in my little car with dog and baby seat on board so space was limited.
Here’s what I got!
Asplenium nidus – such juicy looking leaves, they remind me of Kelp. These will need a shady position so I could be tempted to place these in the Tree Fern Garden, adjacent to the Exotic Garden, perhaps on the apple trees or maybe on the tree fern trunks themselves, attached with wires and sphagnum moss.
Begonia rex – beautiful black, red and purple variegation. We have hardy Begonias at Urban Jungle such as Begonia grandis evansiana, Metallic Mist and Argentina and half-hardy sutherlandii, but these Begonia rex look super exotic and colourful. Again, they’ll perform best in shade as the leaves would become scorched and discoloured in the sun. I’ll probably plant these near the entrance, where they’ll be in the shade of the Cupressus and Musa basjoo for most of the day.
Crotons (Codiaeum) – I tried to buy some really amazing red and black variegated Crotons but they were earmarked for another customer so I had to settle for these which are a handsome orange and green.
I was never a huge fan of crotons until I went to Jamaica and saw vast swathes of them at Hope Botanics. If only they would grow to such majestic proportions in the UK.
They won’t. Nevertheless, they’ll make gorgeous shrublets and add yet another texture to the garden. While we’re on the subject of Hope Botanics – I thought you might to gawp and drool over this photo of their amazing Royal Palms!
Bromeliads – I picked up some red, yellow and orange flowered Guzmania, in full flower but the flowers usually last for months anyway.
My favourite of all though is the bromeliad Aechmea fasciata: It’s a really popular house plant and very easy to grow and should be equally easy outdoors provided it gets a little shade and we keep the rosettes filled with rain water. The combination of silver/grey leaves and pink bracts with blue flowers is rather special.
Maranta – The Prayer Plant, so called because the leaves turn up as the light falls in the evening. I have three of these at home on various windowsills and know how easy they are to grow. They should make excellent ground cover in the shade. We’ll dig these up, along with the other tropical bedding plants in October, before the nights get too cold, and try to over-winter them in a heated greenhouse. We’ll probably not heat too much more than 5 or 6 degrees centigrade but most of the above plants have a reasonable chance of survival if kept dry. Or we could spoil them rotten at home and bring them back to the nursery next summer.
We got the rain we were praying for and with the warmth and humidity you can almost hear the plants growing. The Exotic Garden is almost planted – just a few finishing touches to the planting. The paths need re-barking and we haven’t decided yet on what to use to top the obelisks – perhaps England footballs! Oh yes – and a name for the garden.
Monday, May 31, 2010
We’ve been planting out our Exotic Garden – Cannas, Gingers, Bananas, Dahlias, Bananas and Colocasias have gone in so far and we’ve made tripods for Ipomoeas, Thumbergia elata (Black Eyed Susan), Lablab purpureus and Cobea scandens. We executed a frenzied planting session starting at 6am on Thursday morning and through Friday but Bank Holiday customers have put planting on hold for a couple of days.
PLANT POT CARNAGE
On Saturday morning we had the sprinkler on for 5 hours, as panic set in about the lack of moisture in the ground. This inevitably brought on the rain on Saturday afternoon and it’s hardly stopped since – such is life. We are of course itching to get the carpet bedding planted to complete the picture but this will have to wait till midweek. Every day I drool over the bedding plants - they look so stunning in their growing quarters. Look at this picture of Coleus ‘Pineapple Beauty’. What an amazing leaf. Can’t wait to plant some in the Exotic Garden.
COLEUS PINEAPPLE BEAUTY
After a period of dormancy over the winter our Koi are very active, jumping around in the pond and demanding food every time they hear foot steps trip trapping over their bridge. There have been some whopping splashes in the pond and they’re possibly getting ready to spawn soon.
HAPPY KOI SPLASHING AROUND
Unfortunately we lost a lovely large white Koi recently that we’d had for many years, the second fish this year. It’d been looking poorly for a few weeks and seemed to have trouble maintaining its balance – probably a swim bladder infection – something Koi rarely recover from. A vet friend once told us that vets are reluctant to treat fish and that in their opinion a sick fish is a dead fish. We’re cleaning out the filters (not a pleasant job) and changing a percentage of the water regularly so hopefully we won’t have any more problems.
Four years ago we planted a Phyllostachys irridescens, which has grown into a huge, wandering clump. A few weeks ago it shot out 3 enormous culms, an alarming 3 metres away from the main clump, thrusting skyward at an amazing pace. What a stonking bamboo!
GIANT THRUSTING CULMS OF PHYLLOSTACHYS IRIDESCENS
Our Arisaemas are coming into flower. My favourite of all is Arisaema fargesii with its huge, glossy, trifoliate leave and sinister-looking, cobra-like spathe. These used to be part of the Urban Jungle staples, but over the last couple of years our range has changed direction and we’ve stocked them less. Seeing these beautiful plants, looking so good at this time of year has made me think about re-visiting them.
SINISTER BUT BEAUTIFUL ARISAEMA FARGESII
Li’ll Pip, who spends every day at the nursery with us, is still happy and healthy at 14 years old, but she’s getting old and slowing down considerably. We love her to bits but she infuriates us when she stands in the driveway looking dippy, stopping cars from entering and leaving, and we constantly have to move her out of the way. She loves visitors though and here’s a picture of her absolutely worn out after having her tummy tickled all day. She’s made some amazing excavations at the nursery in what was our woodland garden.
IT’S A DOG’S LIFE
It’s not too serious a problem, as this area needs a complete over-haul. The conditions are shady and extremely dry at the best of times but the ground has been dust this year for several months and some of the plants aren’t thriving – it’s an extremely challenging area to plant. We’ll probably take everything out and add a huge depth of Council Compost before replanting. If Pip carries on digging after replanting – well then there will be trouble!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
On Thursday night, a magical, warm, tee shirt wearing evening, by the light of the headlamps of my car, we shoehorned the last plant into the Vertical Garden.
We’ve laboured so hard in the last few months, working long hours to produce and maintain our nursery stock, with endless potting, pricking out, watering, loading and unloading vans, that it was so rewarding to at last be creative with our plants. Inspired by the vertical gardens of Patrick Blanc, we wanted to make our own Urban Jungle Vertical Garden and we’d been scratching our heads for some time, pondering the various solutions to keeping plants healthy, good looking, and needless to say, secure on the vertical rather than the horizontal plane, when our very own Jamie Spooner hit upon this brilliant and incredibly simple and inexpensive solution. The more I look at the wall now, not only am I awe-struck by its beauty but dumbstruck as to why everybody isn’t already at it? It’s the obvious solution to anyone wanting a lush green garden but with limited space for plants, such as a courtyard or balcony, or to cover an ugly wall.
The Patrick Blanc method uses an ingenious and sophisticated hydroponics system. Ours is so simple it could easily be knocked up at home and planted in a weekend.
Customer reaction has been incredible. From complete oblivion – its amazing how many people have walked by and not even noticed it - to those who’ve been stopped in their tracks, taken photographs, and asked for precise instructions on its construction and aftercare, leaving with a promise to send us their photos once they’ve created their own.
The wall measures approximately 2.5m wide by 4m high and has 24 planting pockets. It faces east and is in sun until 1pm at this time of year, although the bottom half is shaded by mid-morning by surrounding plants. We’ve planted the top left hand corner with the most sun-loving plants, working down to the bottom right hand corner with the shade lovers. We’ve squeezed in about 200 hundred plants comprising about 70% evergreens such as Epimedium, Heuchera, Hellebore, Dryopteris erythrosora, Myosotidium hortensia, Artemesia, Asplenium scolopendrium and Fasicularia. We included big leafy stuff in the form of Hostas Sum and Substance and Blue Angel, Ligularia przwalskii and Bergenia ciliata and are hoping that when they die back in winter the evergreens will hide the gaps they leave. Considering its just a few days old, the plants are already doing the talking and the structure itself isn’t blindingly obvious at all. Were hoping that in a few weeks time all the gaps will have filled in and it’ll be a wall of verdant green foliage (and purple, orange and yellow). As for watering, at the moment we’re hand watering with a hosepipe, but we’ll no doubt install a simple, hanging basket-type system.
This is an all weather garden using mostly tough, hardy plants. After last winter we’ve cautiously included a few clump forming Cordyline ‘Purple Sensation’ and Bilbergia nutens and may consider making some kind of fleece Roman blind for the winter that can be rolled up on mild days.
We are of course already thinking of the next garden and can’t wait to make one with big, leafy tender exotics and another with succulents and another that’s edible and another…………
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Adventures in Mexico with Paul Spracklin
Exotic Floral Design with Libby Ferris
Monday, May 03, 2010
You’re showing your age when a great night consists of lazing around on the sofa with a seed catalogue and a bag of Doritos. Even more so if you think that the place to make friends and influence people is at the pub! That’s just so last year. No, according to Jamie, you have to join Facebook. Jamie’s been insisting for some time that a business like Urban Jungle needs a Facebook account and I now believe we are up and running. I say this because its Jamie’s day off and I have had emails from 4 very nice strangers this afternoon, saying they accept my invitation to be their friend. I’m needing an Idiots Guide to Facebook tomorrow morning.
Work continues on our Exotic Garden. We’ve prepared more of the ground but really, because it was a vegetable garden last year (veg are so last year too), and the soil has been covered with ground sheet all winter, there’s very little groundwork to do. But behind the scenes we’re growing on and nurturing a huge range of exotics to be planted out in a few weeks time. It’d be all too easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with this beautiful weather, but we refuse to be tempted into planting anything remotely tender outside yet. We’re planning to have every individual plant ready, waiting and hardened off and then we’ll work round the clock for a few days and get everything in the ground at once. And currently, when not propagating and cultivating we’re pondering the combinations of textures and form and especially colour. We want this garden to be a riotous celebration of outrageous summer colour and a showcase for tender exotics (and to cock a snook at last winter). We feel like painters, adjusting our easels and mixing our paints in preparation to apply to canvas. And no doubt, like artists, the first brush stroke will be nerve racking but hopefully, after that first plant is placed in the ground, the rest of the composition will flow - and we certainly won’t be following any colour wheel ‘rules’. Exciting times.
I am reminded of this quote by Roy Lichtenstein -
‘Colour is crucial in painting, but it is very hard to talk about. There is almost nothing you can say that holds up as a generalization, because it depends on too many factors: size, modulation, the rest of the field, a certain consistency that colour has with forms, and the statement you’re trying to make.’
Whaam! (1963) by Pop Art artist Roy Lichtenstein.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Second Spanish buying trip postponed due to volcano – oh how bothersome! Actually, it’s disappointing but not disastrous as we discovered so many good batches of stock during the February visit that we’re still able to place an order and be well stocked up for the next few weeks. And compared to the blow of a cancelled holiday, or worse, the interminable boredom of taking up residence in an airport departure lounge for days on end, well, it’s just a minor inconvenience really.
But every cloud has a silver lining and this one is the beautiful, clear blue sky, unsullied by nasty ‘vapour’ trails that linger for hours.
Daytime temperatures are slowly creeping up but we’re still suffering very cold nights with some plants remaining reluctant to awaken. When visitors tell us they’re concerned about, for example, their tree ferns producing new fronds, I point them to our beech trees that are still completely naked, for reassurance.
Met office 5 day forecast is saying 17 degrees for Norwich on Saturday 24th and the forecast we subscribe to, WeatherAction, has predicted, for some time, a heat wave for the last week of April – ARE YOU READY???!!!
The last few days we’ve been potting cannas and they’ll be available in approximately 2 weeks time. Our method is as follows - We keep cannas in their pots over winter in a frost-free green house. At the end of March we turn them out of their pots, cut away the roots and divide the rhizomes into manageable size pieces. We then pack them tightly into wooden trays and cover with compost, which is kept just moist.
The cannas seem to burst into life and a few weeks later (now), when they have developed a reasonable root system, but before their roots become a tangled mess,
they are turned out of their trays and potted into 2 or 3 litre pots and again kept just moist until a really good root system has developed.
All our stock is home grown and we’re very vigilant with virus. Nobody is able to say with 100% certainty that their stock is un-virused, (only laboratory tests can certify this), but our plants look very clean and anything that looks suspicious is immediately burnt. At last we’ve re-built our stock of Canna musafolia, after destroying the whole crop four years ago, and now have plenty available. We had a visit from Ian Cooke, the UK Canna authority last year and he was very complimentary about our cannas and said how disgusted he was with many other nurseries and garden centres that knowingly sold virused cannas to unwitting customers.
I can’t gush about Cannas enough. Fast growing, lush, jungle foliage, easy to grow, quick to make up, and what other plant provides such an amazing, flower display that lasts from July until the first frosts? They require minimal frost protection in the winter and reward us each year with such a flower and foliage spectacle. And for traditionalists-type gardeners, who claim they are not hardy enough and are too high maintenance for them to grow, they may care to consider the following-
1) They require far less maintenance over a season than a hanging basket.
2) They are probably hardier than most of the plants in a hanging basket and if you can’t be bothered to protect them at least they stand a pretty good chance of surviving outdoors in an average winter.
3) For the same price as you would pay for basket plants you can buy several good size cannas which will give equal flower power (and better foliage too).
Varieties available this year include
Saturday, April 10, 2010
It’s amazing and slightly daunting to think that we could be planting out the tenders in just over a month, weather permitting. Assessing our large stock plants we were disappointed to see that our Ensete maurelliis look a bit on the mushy side and smell like fermenting hops in a brewery. Funnily enough we were taking care of a few Ensetes for Will Giles of The Exotic Garden- they were down the far end of the heated greenhouse and were fine. Just goes to show that there are even microclimates in greenhouses – or is it provenance? The Colocasias and Alocasias don’t look too sharp either but on closer inspection they were salvageable and with a surgeons skill and precision, Jamie has been cutting away the rot from each tuber, giving them a puff of Flowers of Sulphite and placing them in intensive care on a covered heated bench. Cannas and Gingers and Brugmansias look very good.
We’ve been potting our bedding plants. Bedding I hear you say – surely Urban Jungle aren’t peddling Petunias now? No. We have far more interesting plants than your typical garden centre.
We have some gorgeous :
for foliage in our Tropical Garden.
For the Desert Bed we have :
Of course we will have these for sale in a few weeks time as well.
As if this time of year isn’t frantic enough in any nursery, coping with the massive increase in potting, watering, customer service, deliveries and mail order, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to re-commence our market stall in Norwich city centre, 3 days a week.
The Nursery, being situated on a small country lane that basically leads to nowhere, means we have to do everything we possibly can to draw attention to ourselves. Over the years we’ve built up a large customer base at the nursery, but one can never rest on ones laurels, and after a break of a couple of years it seems a good time to resume this outlet. If you are reading this (is there anyone out there?), and you are in Norwich on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, come over to the stall for some plant talk.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Having recently increased our range of Phormiums it got me thinking. I’ve often wondered what possesses some people to build up a National Collection of plants. I’ve watched Gardeners World visiting the gardens of the owners of the National Collections of Snow Drops, Narcissus and Geranium. The gardens were about as exciting as Monty Dons sock drawer. And that’s when they were at the pinnacle of their year, with a flowering display lasting, oh, all of one month (a bit more for the geraniums). I even thought the garden of the holder of the National Collection of Cannas was a bit monotonous, and I’m mad about cannas. But just recently I’ve really fallen for Phormiums and maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to empathize with this acquisitive compulsion. A Phormium collection would be one of year round interest, permanently evergreen and architectural. It would include plants from the diminutive Phormium Jack Sprat reaching only 45cm to the massive Phormium Williamsii towering up to 5m and every size in between. A garden with a Phormium collection would be spectacularly colourful – there are all shades of the colours of the rainbow. -even blue(ish), in the form of Phormium Sea Jade and there are the incredibly black Phormium Platt’s Black and Black Adder.
Courtesy of Mark Steven
Add to this a monumental flowering extravaganza and a bountiful supply of material for flower arranging. The leaves that is, not the flowers. Although they make a stupendous statement on the plant I can’t imagine Phormium flowers would have much vase appeal.
Courtesy of Dysartian
From New Zealand, there are two species of Phormium: tenax and cookianum. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is, it’s usually quite easy to tell. Tenax has more upright leaves than cookianum, whose leaves tend to have a graceful arching habit. The flowers, which are held on long stalks, also give a clue to the species. Tenax flowers are short tubes, held upright on the stem. Cookianum are longer, and pendulous and the seed pods are twisted. Dangling seed pods of cookianum below 1. Upright flowers of tenax below 2.
Courtesy of rosie.perera
Phormium, or to give it its more common name, New Zealand Flax, has played an incredibly important role in the economy of New Zealand. The Maoris used the leaves and fibres for baskets, roofing, cooking utensils, mats and, after washing and pounding, they could be used for clothing soft enough to be worn next to the skin. In the 1800s thousands of tonnes of flax fibre were exported to England for rope making. The last Flax processing plant closed in the 1980s but plans may be afoot to develop a paper industry from Phormium.
Phormiums are easy to grow requiring only a moderately fertile soil. They can tolerate some shade though not total shade and are very hardy, though after the 2009/10 winter we would advise to protect young plants with fleece in winter. The newest, central leaf can be damaged by severe frost but plants usually quickly recover in spring. They’re low maintenance, requiring little water and no staking, and just a quick tidy up of brown leaves once or twice a year improves the appearance of the plant considerably. What’s more they’re wind and salt resistant, so are ideal for exposed and coastal gardens.
We have a really good selection of Phormiums available at the nursery in a variety of sizes and plan to increase our range over the coming months. I think there are about 150 cultivars, so, we’re on our way to about 10% of National Collection!!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
After the worst winter for decades we have revised the hardiness guidelines for some of our plants based on our own experience at the nursery and those of our customers. In the winter our site is fairly exposed and lies in a frost pocket so plants are really put to the test.
All plants are now colour coded as below. We hope this helps you make informed decisions. The majority of the plants we stock are blue or green coded.
Every plant at the nursery (and soon on our website) has a coloured label for easy hardiness identification.
Please be assured we make no exaggerations regarding hardiness.
Friday, March 26, 2010
After a truly rotten winter, the yearned for milder weather finally seems to be here. At last its good to see familiar faces at the nursery again, and new customers alike, after what’s been a cold, and sometimes lonely couple of months. And the clocks go forward this Saturday. Always a cause for celebration.
We have a new website. Like clothes you can get bored of the same attire, day in day out, so we’ve had a spring re-fresh. We’re also trying to blog more regularly, which is quite a challenge at this, our busiest time of year, and we’re constantly updating and adding new stock to the site.
We’ve already had several deliveries from Spain and Portugal and have a good range of superb quality palms in lots of different sizes at unbeatable prices including Trachycarpus fortunei,
|Trachycarpus wagnerianus||Chamaerops humulis|
and Washingtonia robusta.
Our bamboo is also excellent quality and we have some new varieties this year such as Phyllostachys nigra 'Boryana'
with its camouflage-patterned culms, Fargesia ‘Vampire’ with culms that age to bright red and we’ll shortly be taking delivery of the highly desirable and illusive Chusquea culeo.
Our range of Phormiums is very exciting this year, and includes the rare Phormium ‘Firebird’ in good specimen sizes, as well as the most choice selection of the species.
We’ve enormous multi-headed Yucca aloifolia and some beautiful specimens of Puya coerulea with large trunks. If you’re worried about hardiness, we left our Puya outdoors for the second year running with no protection and it’s looking very healthy. Please don’t think Urban Jungle has a mild microclimate. We are in a dreadful frost pocket!
Our tree and shrub collection continues to expand and we have a lovely range of Pittosporums, including some exceptional and very unusual Pittosporum tobira standards.
We’re chomping at the bit to put our huge range of unusual homegrown ferns
and perennials on the website but everything this year is a little behind because of the weather. We imagine most will be available from mid-April.
And of course we’ll soon be adding the more exotic perennials to the site including cannas, gingers, bananas and colocasias. They’re just starting to wake up: potting begins in earnest next week in plenty of time for planting out in May (depending on weather).
We’ll be attending several plant fairs this year and have joined the Norfolk Nursery Network.
This is a marketing co-operative of high quality, independent, specialist nurseries. Details of other members' nurseries are on our site. Even more reason for those further a field to give us a visit, with so many other nurseries, and some pretty good gardens in the vicinity. Of course we’re always happy to continue sending out plants with our courier but we welcome your visit. (By the way - I'm not miserable in the photos - just cold!)
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Norwich city boasts some pretty impressive Date Palms. I’ve admired this one on the roundabout outside John Lewis for years.
Surrounded by Cordyline australis and under-planted with pansies (oh well), I’ll often go out of my way, when in town, just to admire it. At times this winter, I wondered if it would pull through unscathed, but it seems to have risen to the challenge admirably.
Another good example is on a roundabout at a busy junction, to the east of the city centre. Great looking palm but its a shame that the rest of the roundabout is so bare.
Phoenix canariensis seems to be a good choice of palm for roundabouts, able to shrug off, not only the cold but battering winds too. Much better than the Trachycarpus fortunei that were planted on a couple of roundabouts and a section of the inner ring road several years ago. The result wasn’t a happy one and within a season, the palms were looking brown and ragged. They were allowed to suffer a year or two more before being sent to goodness knows where. I’d like to think to good homes, a bit like rescue greyhounds but it was probably the city dump.
Norwich’s most embarrassing horticultural faux pas at present takes centre stage on the roundabout in front of the Puppet Theatre, in the form of a 10ft Dicksonia antartica. I shan’t post a photo. I’m sure you can imagine what it looks like. A woodland plant, subjected to relentless exposure to sun, wind and frost, with no protection or irrigation is doomed.
However, a good example of a roundabout planting is this one on the outer ring road, near Mousehold Heath.
It’s a really successful, adventurous composition, using Cordylines, phormiums and grasses. It looks good all year round, especially in summer and it’s a credit to the city. Why aren’t more roundabouts like this? Incidentally its good to see that the red Cordylines have pulled through. There are plenty up and down the country that haven’t!
I’ll take some photos of a few of the others later in the season. There are some excellent prairie-style planting schemes on several roundabouts, but at this time of year they look a little threadbare.
This leads me rather unsubtly on to the excellent Phoenix canariensis we have in stock at the moment. A must, if you’re thinking of planting up your very own roundabout, or just needing a quality, hardy palm for the garden. Excellent, stocky plants with nice thick bases.
At £15 for a plant 1.2m tall(left) and £45 for a plant 2m tall(below) they are incredible value.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
There cannot be an exotic gardener amongst us who hasn’t suffered some loss of plants this dreadful winter (-7 last night!!), but at least with the hardy bamboos I can sleep soundly; they are after all the great stalwarts of the exotic winter garden. Being so diverse and versatile, they lend themselves to use in a variety of ways - as an evergreen hedge, backdrop to a border, or as feature plants by themselves. And at this time of year, its a comfort to know that despite this cruel, never-ending winter, just below the surface, they’ll be preparing to send forth this seasons new culms.
Possibly the most admired of any plant at the nursery is our clump of Phyllostachys vivax f. aureocaulis. When the late afternoon sun illuminates it, it glows. The effect is simply breathtaking – even bored children, dragged in by their parents to yet another nursery are captivated by it. This particular clump was lifted from a collector’s garden in March 2007. It is planted in dry soil on the edge of a woodland bed. For the last three seasons it has sent up respectable-sized culms and formed a magnificent tight clump. We removed the top third of the canes, as one should when planting, to help it establish. The effect was so attractive, like a multi-branched tree (I think that’s what’s called an oxymoron, but hey), that we’ve continued this procedure each year. It really is the easiest plant to prune. No need for ladders – simply bend a cane, snip, release, job done. It’ll be interesting to see what it does this growing season. Will it start to wander, as the texts books tell us it will in dry soil? We have another Phyllostachys vivax aureocaulis planted at the nursery in more moist soil. Now this does wander. It’s growing next to a monster Gunnera manicata, and has pushed canes through its crown, like a form of Japanese torture. We may have to carry out a rescue operation this month.
Bamboo seekers often overlook Phyllostachys humilis. It has beautiful coloured canes, far subtler than the flashy P. vivax aureocaulis, and these are not always apparent in young plants. But it also has other wonderful attributes. If you have a small garden but must have a Phyllostachys (as everyone must) it is the shortest growing, reaching on average only 3m in the UK. It has quite small green leaves but they are produced in abundance and have a lovely blue under-side, which is very apparent in even the slightest breeze. The canes emerge olive/green and change over the season to green, aging to orange/brown. Mature clumps have canes in these three different colours.
Phyllostachys nigra is well known and justifiably popular.
Well-pruned specimens, with lower leaves removed, never fail to impress but they should always be planted in full sun for best cane colouration. In hot summers the canes become jet black with white bands of leaf scars below the nodes. We have a clump, maturing well, unfortunately at the back of the border so its canes are somewhat obscured. This has been planted for five years and has made a good tidy, well-behaved clump with nice thick canes. On a facing border, we had to remove a clump of Phyllostachys nigra after just two years to stop it rampaging through the whole bed at an alarming rate. When customers ask if Phyllostachys nigra runs I truthfully don’t know what to say.
Chusquea culeou is an attention grabber.
Ours seemed to sulk in the ground when planted, not doing very much, for two years. Suddenly, last summer, fat, pink shoots appeared around the perimeter of the weedy looking clump. These rapidly shot skyward, with branches emerging from the leaf sheaths on some of the culms to give the distinctive bottlebrush effect. Other culms have retained their leaf sheaths throughout the winter. It’s a striking and architectural plant and very much in demand but frustratingly, always in short supply and devilishly difficult to propagate. I’m really excited at the prospect of this years culms.
But for real culm drama, the rare and wonderful Phyllostachys iridescens deserves an Oscar.
Ours is planted in the poorest, driest, shadiest position at the back of the nursery. Each year the beast wanders yards and yards from its original position and we have to ruthlessly kick off any unwanted culms. Thick, purple-sheathed giant shoots emerge rapidly in to very deep green canes with a white bloom. Mature canes develop distinctive orange vertical stripes. How far it will try to run this year remains to be seen. Apparently 4m is not unusual. We wait in excitement and trepidation.
A short reprieve from this seemingly never-ending winter last week with a buying trip to southern Spain. Its been a cold winter there too, relatively speaking, but the weather changed the day after arrival and became warm and sunny with midday temps up to 27 degrees - wahoo!
We visited some interesting, out of the way nurseries in Valencia and were almost as impressed with the crumbly, derelict buildings on the site of one of them as we were with the plants themselves.
You see this a lot in Spain; buildings that would be treasured in the UK, completely abandoned. Although the trip involved lots of driving it really was worth getting off the beaten track, and we visited some tucked out of the way nurseries where we left no corner unexplored in the quest for the very best plants. At the end of the first day, as we were about to leave we pushed to the back of the nursery and found some amazing Yucca aloifolia – a discovery that rounded off the day nicely. They were piled together in an unruly heap but we stood them upright and could then see what amazing plants they were.
On the last day we headed south to Almeria, and here we found the best quality palms on a huge, industrial scale nursery by the sea, where the only way to get around is by car, not just outside but even in the glass houses too.
Following a15 hour (yes 15 hour) delay at the airport, due to industrial action in France, and a mini-earthquake a couple of hours before departure, the plane touched down to a cold, grey Stanstead, still very much in the grip of winter.
Thankfully the weather is slightly better for this week – could this be the start of Spring? Lets hope so.
New stock arriving over the next few weeks includes huge Cordyline australis, some with multi-trunks, chunky Yucca rosrata and Yucca glauca, a range of sizes of Phoenix canariensis, big-trunked, multi-headed Yucca aloifolia, Cycas revoluta in a range of sizes , Pittosporum tobira -some very classy and unusual standards, Olive trees, Fruit trees including lime, lemon, grapefruit and orange, Pinus pinea, Topiary – some stunning quality Bay balls with spirals, pyramids and columns to follow in a few weeks, two sizes of Trachelospermum jasminoides, some huge Phormium tenax variegata and Cupressus sempervirens (Italian pencil tree).
More stock arriving weekly now plus lots of our home-grown stock becoming available too.
We are delighted that Jamie Spooner has joined Urban Jungle as Senior Nurseryman. After graduating from Easton College with an HND in Horticulture, Jamie began his working career at Pensthorpe Gardens in Norfolk, and within a year was promoted to head gardener. This stimulated a passion for the new wave of naturalistic planting landscapes, for which Pensthorpe is famous, and so Jamie didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to work in Holland, with the world famous designer, plants man and pioneer of prairie-style planting, Piet Oudolf. Jamie garnered invaluable insights into the machinations of a highly efficient and innovative Dutch Nursery and honed his propagating skills.
Will Giles, the author and owner of The Exotic Garden in Norwich has been a mentor and highly influential figure to Jamie over the years and has greatly extended the breadth of Jamie’s plant knowledge and appreciation. When pressed, Jamie struggles to name a favourite plant but confesses a partiality to palms.
Jamie recently returned from two years travelling in New Zealand, followed by a whistle-stop, winter tour of the Scottish Highlands.