TALES OF THE TROPICS

 

This sheltered south facing back garden was an ongoing project that I have been involved with for twelve years between 2000 and 2012. The brief was to design a space that would allow a wide scope for change in the planting over a number of years, so that as finance allowed and new species became available, exotics could be incorporated seamlessly into the garden.

 

The garden was also to serve as home to two large dogs, as well as a small collection of koi carp.

 

Compound first.

 

Fish pond and wildlife pond fed by a cascade rill. Fish caves in mian pond kept crystal clear by a filtration system. Wildlife pond home built to protect frogsporn from hungry kio. Also home to a family of newts who moved in three years after the creation of the wildlife pond, the there presence meant a sympathetic and carefully excicuted redesign when stepping stones and a a raised planting area was added to increase planting diversity.

 

Timelapse: Towards the south-east corner of the garden

Timelapse: Towards the rear of the garden

2001: This was taken one year after planting, in the late spring. The cherry tree in the background has recovered from having its canopy reduced and shaped.
2002: By the following year, the cherry tree's canopy has regrown into a more compact and aesthetically pleasing shape.
2003: Three years after planting, the formiums are maturing and the black bamboo in the background has filled out. This was the first year the black bamboo sent out the thicker and more mature growth, reaching 15 ft in height.
2005: This shows a seated view from the lower deck. The water in both ponds was kept clear, allowing closer inspection of both the fish in the main pond and the wildlife in the natural pond.
2007: This was taken in late spring during the seventh year. The tracycarpus produces its first flowers—well worth the wait!
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TALES OF THE TROPICS

 

Blurm for tropics Butia capitata Native of southern Brazil this palm is a striking individualist with its blue/grey almost silver leaves arching 10 feet from its bulbous crown. This specimen was a late addition to the garden and proved a real challenge to get into place on the end of the atoll between the two ponds, I was able to get a close relative butia odorata native to northern uraguay, a more compact almost miniature version of butia capitata on both the leaf boots had been chopped to give a more pronounced trunk. During the warmer months epiphytes such as vriesea splendens and cryptanthus fosters favourite, are planted in moss in the gaps between leaf boots on butia capitata and washingtonia robusta.Tracycarpus fortunei thought to be indigenous to central and eastern china with its distinct dark brown fibre covering its trunk and deep green leaves spanning three feet, create a spherical density with a unique clacking to the leaves when disturbed by the wind. The addition of tracycarpus wagnerianus cultivated in japan with its much smaller and stiffer leaves but mirroring the spherical density invites closer inspection.Chamaerops humilis occurs naturally on the Atlantic coast of Spain, Portugal and extreme north western Africa as well as many islands including Malta and Sicily. It grows mostly in coastal areas as well as extending up into the atlas mountains of morocco. Its tightly packed light green leaves with flashes of silver from the leaves underside giving the appearance of scales.Sable minor from tropical to subtropical America, with its deep green leaves with spreads of 3 to 4 foot appearing to grow directly from the ground with no visible trunk really takes the iconic palm form from the ground to the tips of the canopy.Musa basjoo or Japanese fibre banana is a fast and clump forming banana with very large, paddle shaped leaves whose stalk bases form a false stem. The leaves are a bright green and can reach lengths of 3 meters when mature. Given the right conditions will flower and fruit in this country, lovely to see but tempered by the fact once over the entire stem dies off.Ensete ventricosum ‘MAURELII’ or red banana is of the family Musaceae but not a true banana its truly massive paddle leaves with the really striking rich red colouring on both the underside and the top of the leaves makes it a standout scream of tropical opulence. Musella lasiocarpa is a more compact and dense growing banana with more rigid and upright leaves, the leaves have a less shiny appearance, light shining through the leaf details the capillaries and inner structure beautifully. Growing in the ground and protected each winter after 8 years I had stems that were total of four and a half feet max. A sharp contrast to musa basjoo which in the same time period reached 12 ft.Colocasia esculenta, or elephant ears. Native to malasia and india, The most common of the family but a magnificent example of lusciousness reaching a size of 4ft with a width of around 2-3ft I prefer to plant these in groups of 3 as each plant only has 3 maybe four leaves at a time. Watching these leaves as it rains is mesmarizing as each drop is formed by surface tension into a perfect sphere as it rolls down and off the leaf leaving no residue. On closer inspection you see the leaves are covered in very fine hairlike coating, this effectively repels outside moisture and gives the leaves a silky sheen.Calocasia black magic a perfect burgundy stemed and leaved plant with the added bonus of a very vigorouse colonization habit. In one season I had 8 runners two muesuring over a meter in length with a growing tip that burrows down and then shoots up a new plant, the leaves tend to be smaller than C. esculenta and winter care is trickier but its inclusion was essential to provide a colour contrast to the abundance of greens.From New Zealand Phormium tenax is a common plant of the coast and road side. Its long erect strap or sword like leaves that can reach three meters. Its flowers are considerably taller with orange/red flowers that develop into erect seed pods. I used two other verieties in this garden, phormium tenax ‘purpureum’ , and ‘bronze baby’. The stiff erect swords and the upright twists of the seed pods after flowering separate it from the other species Phormium cookianum that has the flowers stalks that are less erect and become pendula’s as the seedpods form. I used phormium cookianum ‘ cream delight’, for its graceful arching leaves that have a wonderful cream stripe effect of varying thicknesses shooting the entire length of the leaf bringing a brightness to the garden even on the dullest of winter days. I also used phormium cookianum ‘Maori Sunrise’ for the same effect.Clematis armandii an evergreen from china and northern Burma provides long dark, glossy leafs and a magnificent show of white flowers in early spring. Chosen for its similarity to a number of tropical climbers.The climber hydrangea petiolaris native to the woodlands of japan, the Korean peninsula and on Sakhalin island of easternmost Siberia was chosen for its interesting flower heads as well as its cracked and twisted bark revealed in the winter months.The inclusion of an abutilon ‘voronica tennant’ originating from islands in west Mediterranean, was mainly chosen for its furry leafs with silvering on the underside, the whole shrub comes alive on windy days when the leafs are whipped around, flashes of silver ripple across the foliage reminiscent of a tight ball of seabass with flashes of their underbelly as the group churn. The pale purple flowers in summer come in such profusion the entire surface becomes one huge flower.Phyllostachys nigra native to hunan province of china. This stately bamboo formed a tight clump of slender arching canes with abundant lance-shaped leaves of up to 12cm long. By removing all offshoots 5 foot up the canes, they went darker within two seasons and the plant appears to float on slender stalks.Arundo donax is native to most of southern Europe used in this garden to provide background height. I also used Arundo donax verigata it is slower growing and slightly smaller than its full green cousin adding this to the assembly provided a breath taking pace of growth from late spring through to early winter. In the space of a 2 weeks I have seen shoots emerge from the ground and reach heights of 8ft. the pure white stripes dominating the leafs draws your eye and the long arching nature lends the plant a graceful elegance.

 

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1 (2001) shows this area one year after planting, in the late spring: the cherry tree in the background has recovered from having its canopy reduced and shaped.

2 (2002): By the following year, the cherry tree's canopy has regrown into a more compact and aesthetically pleasing shape. 

3 (2003): Three years after planting, the formiums are maturing and the black bamboo in the background has filled out. This was the first hear the black bamboo sent out the thicker and more mature growth, reaching 15 ft in height.

4 (????) shows a seated view from the lower deck. The water in both ponds was kept clear, allowing closer inspection of both the fish in the main pond and the wildlife in the natural pond.

5 (2007) was taken in late spring during the seventh year. The tracycarpus produces its first flowers—well worth the wait!

© 2018 by Ian Bilson

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