Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Devon Jungle Garden - Part 2!

The litter of fallen maple leaves that are currently covering my small area of lawn serve to remind me that the main season for exotic style gardening is coming to an end. It won't be long now before Jack Frost makes his first visit of the season and I'll need to get busy bringing in the tender plants before he appears.

At this time of the year, I like to look back at the past season's growth and evaluate what has been a success and what has been disappointing. With that in mind, here is a quick run down of a garden I've been working on now for a few years. I featured it way back in September 2010 here. It's nice to see how it has developed since then.

In their own words, my clients wanted a 'Jungle Garden' and asked me to help. No problem! Such a request is pretty much the dream brief for a gardener like me! Since then, the site has been gradually changed from a pleasant but rather un-jungly plot into an unusual and quirky jungle garden, bursting with large leaved plants and interesting flowers.

This year, not all has been plain sailing in this garden. 2012 has brought more than its fair share of wind, rain and cool temperatures. Earlier in the year, a strong gale brought down a beautiful Laburnum anagyroides in full bloom. This was one of the oldest trees on the site and it was a great shame to lose it.

Laburnum anagyroides - felled by a freak gale in full flower. A great shame!

A few weeks later, a day of unbelievable rain caused the stream at the bottom of the garden to burst it's banks (the first time water has ever actually flowed into the garden, as far as I'm aware) and washed away a few tubs and large quantities of mulched woodchip from the borders. Sometimes, gardening can be hugely frustrating!

One or two plants have noticeably struggled this year. In particular, the Ricinus have never really got going and are much smaller in stature than in previous years. This is normally a useful plant for a jungle style garden. Grown from seed each spring, it is cheap and can potentially reach impressive proportions over the course of a season.

Conversely, other plants have obviously enjoyed the rain. The large Trachycarpus fortunei, planted from a 90L tub back in 2010 has really taken off this year, producing many new leaves. This palm is really starting to have impact in this area of the garden and I have been especially pleased with it's progress. The shot below was taken in early summer this year. 

The main exotic border. Trachycarpus, ensete, zantedeschia and various hostas. A large Ceonothus in flower behind.
A series of large Ensete maurelii have also done well. These have been absolutely reliable each year and never fail to put on a good foliage display. The largest are into their third year and have simply become more and more impressive over time. They get overwintered totally dry in a cold conservatory for the winter at temperatures low enough to slow growth to a virtual standstill, but not so cold as to cause damage. This is another low cost plant that does very well in this type of planting.
Ensete maurelii. Liriodendron tulipifera, The Tulip Tree is planted behind. I plan to pollard this in the future to obtain maximum leaf size.
Ensete maurelii and the variegated bamboo Hibanobambusa tranquillans "Shiroshima"
Another Ensete maurelii along with Dicksonia antarctica and Crocosmia 'Golden Fleece'
Unsurprisingly, Bamboos and Ferns have also thrived in the damp. As have the Zantedeschia and Colocasia. I would not be without either of these two aroids in any garden! Colocasia esculenta 'illustris' has reached four feet in height and is starting to produce offsets, helping to make a clumping effect. This is especially welcome as it only seems to carry around four leaves at any one time. Colocasia 'Jacks Giant' has not done so well, my guess is that it has been too cool for any decent growth. 

Colocasia esculenta 'illustris''

Another gratuitous shot of Colocasia esculenta 'illustris'
Zantedeschia aethiopica
Dahlia imperialis, the aptly named Tree Dahlia, flowered last year, but not until December. This is an impressive plant that wilts at the first hint of frost. Such late flowering means that we rarely see them bloom in the UK. Will we be so lucky again this year?! I'd always been under the impression that the large, woody tubers were tender, so some were lifted for the winter whilst others were left in the ground as an experiment. I was pleasantly surprised when they sprouted back into life in the spring, from under their warm layer of insulating mulch. Flowers or not, such a large and rapidly growing plant is a useful addition to the garden.

Looking up at Dahlia imperialis December 2011
Dahlia imperialis. Will we see flowers again this year?
Dracunculus vulgaris flowered spectacularly back in late June / July, and the smell was rather overpowering for a day or two, with five inflorescences opening in succession! The largest reached nearly a metre in length. These plants have long since retreated back to their underground tuber, but have been replaced by some curiously coloured toadstools! If anyone can enlighten me on the species I'd be grateful!

Emerging spathes on Dracunculus vulgaris

Spathe detail on Dracuculus vulgaris
Dracunculus vulgaris in all its smelly glory! The largerst 'flower' that can be grown outside in the UK!
I just love these glossy blue toadstools that have appeared! I have no idea what they are, but they fit in well with the exotic theme!
One of the main tasks for this year was converting an old, leaky pond into something a little more functional and attractive. The mass of duck weed covered black slime has been replaced by a sunken seating area, surrounded by tall bamboos and a couple of Fatsia japonica. One half of the hole has been converted into a bog garden, planted with Gunnera manicata, Rodgersia pinnata and Rheum palmatum. Given all the rain, this has done rather well! The planting will need time to mature and settle in, but I've been pleased with how this area of the garden has done in the space of just a few months.

New sunken seating area on the site of an old pond
The new sunken seating area with bog garden beyond.

I hope you enjoyed the brief tour! There are various other new plantings planned for this garden for next spring, and for me, this is an exciting garden to work in. If anyone has any comments or criticisms, then please let feel free to post. It is always helpful to have feedback on planting combinations!
A final shot, looking past a large urn towards the mock ruin at the bottom of the garden. The Paulownia tormentosa has done well this year!


  1. You've done a fantastic job there Ben, it looks great and is definitely an exotic jungle!

  2. Great blog Ben and very exotic - well done :-)