Monday, 22 June 2009

Important - Will's Exotic Garden blog is moving to new site...

To all followers of my blog:

Please read!

I have just moved my blog from blogger and onto wordpress, so that it can be integrated better into my new website (Which can be found at All shiny and new, check it out!)

So there will be no more blogs here on blogger domain, they will all be coming from . As I will be blogging over at wordpress you need to stay up to date so all you need to do is add this URL ( to your blog reader as it is not automatic.

For those of you reading this on Blogger – please can you update your feed URL, it’s really easy, just Go to your dashboard reading list and click ‘add’ new blog – and paste in this URL: it’s that easy!!

If you don’t update your feed you won’t see my new blogs – so please update!
Don’t forget to have a look at the new website, it’s totally new and up to date – let me know what you think of it.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The joy of late spring and long evenings...

I adore this time of year, with such long evenings and (occasional) warm nights – well, this is Britain after all! A slow walk around the garden at about 9pm when the garden is lit by the light of the clouds which give off an eerie pinkish glow, that can only be enjoyed at this time of year - it often seems to become lighter for a while before the light eventually fades away by about 10.30pm. The scents in the garden also seem at their strongest, especially at the moment with the many Cordylines in full bloom. During the day they are equally alluring with their billowing heads of tiny creamy white flowers with the sound of countless bees pervading the air.

Towards the back of the house is a vertical waterfall some 3m high by 2m wide that spills down a flint wall into a dark pool below where a few ghost koi can be seen in the shadows. In the picture below you can see the corner of the waterfall with a Dicksonia antarctica to the right. Above is a clump of Polygonum sachalinense or Giant knotweed. This is a massive plant nearly 4m tall. The roots are contained by a very solid flint wall so it cannot escape...

There are so many things coming into flower at the moment that a veritable explosion is taking place in the garden. One in particular I want to show you is Hymenocalis littoralis from Mexico and Guatemala. This delicate beauty is in full flower in a terracotta pot on my doorstep where I can enjoy its delicateness every time I walk past. What a lovely time of year this is...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Flaming or soggy wet June- take your choice...

It has been a mad rush here at the Exotic Garden ( over the last few weeks getting the garden ready for its official opening on June 21st, though due to popular demand I have opened the garden to a few Private groups already. Last week, we had a group of twenty seven keen gardeners from Switzerland and another group from Birmingham. Today, Norwich Cathedral School is holding an art class in the garden – ducking in and out of the showers. The busy season has now begun with a vengeance!

The thing about this style of gardening is that although it has a back bone of hardy exotics (Palms/bamboos/Hostas etc) to carry it all the way through the winter, the more tender planting cannot be planted out until I am pretty sure the cold knights have finished, around late May to early June here in Norwich, Norfolk.

Much to most visitors’ surprise – I also consider the common house plant Tradescantia fluminensis hardy, surviving the vagaries of an East Anglian winter. In the garden it dies to the ground reappearing in Early April. Tradescantia x andersoniana is very hardy plant now in full bloom with glorious rich-purple flower. Though considered a fairly common plant, it never-the-less gives a good splash of intense colour at this time of year.

Most traditional gardens with herbaceous borders and roses usually reach a peek from May through to early July, and then sadly go over. Tropicals on the other hand, power up to a crescendo from late July, all the way through to October, when most traditional planting has well and truly finished. Although many of the plants are comparatively small when planted out such as Strobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield) with its silvery-metallic purplish-pink leaves and Solenostemon (Coleus those who aren’t aware of its name change). With a good dose of blood fish and bone, they soon grow into very bushy plants all joining together by early July.

Another tender perennial I grow in pots during the summer months is Thunbergia gregorii with its intense, day glow orange flowers. Unlike the annual Thunbergia alata, this beauty can be kept from year to year, overwintered at about 5C (40F)

A plant that self-seeded in the garden some years ago is the American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, with its deliciously pink flowers followed in late summer by almost black fruit.

For about five years I have been growing Lomatia ferruginea, a fabulous plant indigenous to Chile. It is a beautiful shrub or small tree with stiff, fern-like foliage, now in bloom for the first time in the garden and a beautiful sight to behold, with its almost waxy flowers about 1ins across, which look as though they are going to last for many weeks.

I hope you all enjoyed a good rainstorm in the last few days – we certainly needed it. Have a great gardening week ahead and enjoy the long summer evenings. Light until gone 10pm – fabulous!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Planting time for tropical’s...

The third week of May is the time of year I plant up all the non-hardy tropical’s thus turning the garden into a veritable paradise for the rest of the summer. I like to get them all planted up about a month before the official garden opening on June 21st the longest day of the year. Although the garden has a good backbone of hardy planting, it is the more tender planting that brings the garden to life. I have been inundated with people wanting to the visit the garden earlier in the year as many gardens are at their peak from May through June, but this garden is very much geared up to perform when most other gardens are going over. If this summer is a hot one as predicted by the Met Office, everything should get absolutely enormous!
Unfortunately I had to miss the press day at the Chelsea Flower Show this year (I have been going for the last 30 years) as there is so much to do here. I didn’t miss it though as the Bb is so good at covering the venerable show.
I’m having a day out of the garden today as it’s my Birthday and a good excuse to stay clean and write my sadly neglected blog. It is really difficult to keep up with at this time of year, as I usually come into the house in the late evening covered in dirt and I’m just too plain tired to write, but today is different. I’m really pleased that it rained here in Norfolk all morning, which is absolutely wonderful as it has been so dry of late.

All the plants over-wintered in two Polly tunnels and a conservatory are now making their way into the garden and are covering all the paths. I like to walk around the garden mentally arranging them in their new summer positions.
Unfortunately like many gardeners, I lost most of my Cannas that were left in the ground, due to that unexpected permafrost a few months ago. Most of my local suppliers also lost theirs, hence good, virus free plants of a decent size are rather difficult to get hold of. Unfortunately many of the Cannas I’ve seen for sale in Norfolk look decidedly dodgy!

One tall unnamed green one (it gets to about eight feet tall with small orange flowers) has come through in the ground, and is already a foot or more high, whereas my Durban’s and Black Magic completely rotted. Two Cannas that I have in short supply – C. Australia (pictured below) and Mystique have over-wintered well under glass. Unfortunately I lost one of my favourites ‘Cleopatra’ – does anyone know where I could obtain some?

One of the backbones of the summer garden here are the banana Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’. I overwintered seventeen of these enormous beast (four of them pictured below) about half of them are now planted and the rest will go in over the next few days.

My collection of Bromeliads won’t stop growing; in fact a wonderful new Neoregelia should be arriving in the next few days from Florida. Some of them like the one pictured below, was a single shoot about four years ago, and as you can see, this 3ft high and wide plant is in a 3lt pot, desperate for reporting.

Below is a small selection of the Bromeliads in their summer home.

I really do hope this is going to be a spanking hot summer – bring on the heat. We deserve one!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

I’m back, and full of the joys of spring...

Greetings to all - Isn’t this spring wonderful. It is the best in years and we are at least 2 weeks ahead of the norm. Everything is happening a once here. Outside of my studio window I have a patch of Japanese knotweed (don’t worry – it is contained) that has grown from tiny shoots to seven feet tall in just two weeks! Although the weather has been mild I won’t be planting out the more tender exotics until about the third week of May as the nights are still relatively cool and I don’t want them to catch a dose of swine flu. In saying that though, I have been replacing some of the cacti and succulents that turned to mush during our rather horrid winter. It is certainly not the cold that saw their demise, but rather the moisture that killed them off. The year before a poly tunnel was loosely erected over the main bed. I say loosely as it blew off twice during the winter! This winter it will be erected again! Unfortunately I lost my whole Aonium collection, but luckily there is a wholesale nursery not far from here that has some wonderful specimens which have now been planted out in a south facing position in the xerophytic garden.

After the loss of my second cat, I treated myself to a rather large, pink, Cymbidium with 12 flower stalks, all for thirty quid from a local Dutch importer. I must admit I’m not overly fond of orchids, but this one was so big I just had to buy one.

I am so pleased that all the Musa basjoo (hardy banana) survived such a prolonged cold winter, where they took a sustained -5C (23F) for many days with permafrost setting in – something I haven’t seen in years. The picture was taken about a week ago and now many of the leaves are 6 feet long and growing. These stalwarts of the garden are now 23 years old. Unfortunately the nine year old (from seed) large group of Musa sikkimensis was cut to the ground, though they are now re-growing from the base which is a relief as I thought I had lost them.

My two poll tunnels are now bursting at the seams with plants for the garden which are all being fattened up for the grand planting out ceremony in a few weeks time.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the great American plant hunter, Dan Hinkley, was coming to the UK. On Monday I had the privilege of meeting him again at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, where he gave a superb lecture on his amazing garden, Windcliff, in the Pacific North-West, which I had the privilege of seeing in April 2008. In September of this year, the venerable Roy Lancaster will be giving guided tours of Dan’s garden for those that are lucky enough to be there in early autumn.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The loss of yet another cat...

Spring might have sprung but I am feeling rather low after the loss of yet another cat – Lawrence – one of my two Devon Rex boys. It was only the week before when I found that Epen another of my six cats had died in the garden. I am finding it very difficult to do anything at the moment as he used to follow me wherever I went in the garden. For the first few days I tried not to think about him but yesterday the realisation set in. I have had many cats over the years, but he was rather special. I will post about the garden in a day or so when my brain has calmed down.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

At last - the long evenings have returned...

A good friend of mine living in Menlo Park California is now an avid follower of my blog and made the comment - how will you ever keep up your blog when spring arrives let alone summer? On those cold days in winter when you have hours to write, with those long dark evenings it seems easy. Now that spring has arrived, all my time has now been taken up with events, friends, the garden, one of my cats dying, visiting my father in his home, selling half his garden to keep him in the home... the list goes on! My determination was to write at least once and hopefully twice a week – I see I haven’t added a new blog since March 20th, hmmmm!

I must mention my cat. I was walking around the garden yesterday enjoying the hot rays of the sun and noticed Epen, one of my six cats, lying across the path, looking as though he was enjoying the sun as well. My first stroke told me otherwise. I couldn’t find a mark on him. My suspicions are that he might have eaten something poisonous as he was about 10 years old and up until the day before was in rude health. I buried him along with about eight other deceased cats at the top of the garden. A sad event indeed...

Last week I was inaugurated as the 180th president of the Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society, the second oldest horticultural society after the RHS. I now have a nice shiny chain of office to wear at all events for the next year. Today - Sunday 5th was my first official engagement of my one year stint. The spring show was in the Presidents pavilion at the Royal Norfolk showground, where I was handing out certificates for an awful lot of daffodils! Some of the old boys take the whole thing very seriously indeed as they explained to me how much work goes into raising new hybrids from seed and fighting against the vagaries of a British spring. Of course one chap said that a week later would have been perfect for the best show!

I did manage to get a few hours in the garden this morning on this wonderful spring day. I seem to be permanently clearing the garden of – stuff. A few days ago some of my tallest hedges were lowered by about 8ft to a more comfortable 15ft. This was all cleared up by a friend of mine whilst I did some essential watering in the Polly tuneless. I also managed to pull out of hibernation about 30 Brugmansias for their summer sojourn in the garden.

The Podophyllum delavayi I showed on my last blog are growing fast, so I have included another picture of these marvellous plants for your delectation. Although my garden is geared up for a grand show later in the year, many things are now showing early signs of life. The Tetrapanax papyrifera, (Rice paper plant) is very handsome as its new growth starts to unfurl. In high season the leavers will be up to one meter wide – a stunning plant indeed.

Of course a spectacular show is given at this time of year by Clematis armandii, with its seductive, highly scented flowers. This rampant sprawler is growing over a 30 foot long Victorian iron pergola, and is a gorgeous sight to behold, and walking through is so intoxicating.

In the garden nursery there are many gems starting to appear and one that is just breaking the ground is the variegated knotweed Fallopia japonica Tri-color, a handsome plant that never seems to grow more than a couple of feet tall with me and is certainly not invasive like some of its bigger relatives. In saying that though, I do grow some very large leaved forms surrounded by very thick flint walls, where they have been happily not invading the garden for about 20 years, to about 12ft tall.

Finally I am going to leave you with picture of a rather attractive Heuchera hybrid. Unfortunately the writing on the label has completely faded; hence I have gone over to using a pencil instead!