Tag Archives: Exotic Plants

Caring for Bromeliads

It has become a tradition at the Exotic Garden that the first plants to be moved to their winter quarters are the Bromeliads on the evening of the last garden open day. This is not to say that they are particularly delicate or tender as in fact they are remarkably durable plants. You can never be sure when the weather will take a turn for the worse and as there are so many tender plants here we have to be prepared. If you only have a few tender plants, keep a close eye on the forecast and if it remains mild leave them be. Its always sad to have to dismantle the garden in its prime but there are too many cherished plants to take any chances. The hundred strong collection of Bromeliads take centre stage adorning the steps to the front door of the house to be admired at every pass. When the time comes for winter preparations to begin this seems as good a place as any to begin.

A selection of the Bromeliads displayed on the steps to the house. Deep purple leaves of Neoregelia sp., pink star shaped inflorescence of a Nidularium sp., spotted maroon and cream Bilbergia cultivar, bright red Neoregelia tricolour, bronze, narrow leaved Cryrtbergia rubra and the gold and green striped Bilbergia ‘Melon’.

Bromeliads are a diverse group of plants originating from tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas. The most common and ornamental Bromeliads are the rosette forming species capable of holding a reservoir of water in the vase formed by the tightly overlapping leaf bases. In their natural habitat they would be found growing as epiphytes high in the canopy of equatorial tropical forests. Here the roots serve primarily as anchorage, known as hold fast roots, and all the nutrients required by the plant are absorbed from plant and animal detritus which fall into the vase. It doesn’t rain continuously in the rain forests and their lofty location puts them in the searing equatorial sun. As a consequence they are remarkably drought tolerant and its important to bare this in mind when overwintering them in cool temperate gardens.

The deep purple almost black fluted vases of Bilgergia ‘Darth Vader’. These cylindrical species are from much more arid habitats, their shape serving to conserve water. Known as geophytes, unlike their arboreal cousins the can be found clinging to rocks and forming large terrestrial mounds.
Neoregelia ‘Tossed Salad’, one of the larger tank forming Bromeliads. These bruits form treetop reservoirs in the forests canopy harbouring arboreal crabs and tree frogs. Over time the can grow so large that the bring crashing down entire bows.

From May to October the collection of vase or tank forming Bromeliads are displayed outside in full sun. There are many cultivated varieties with striking colour variations and patterns which are intensified by placing in direct sunlight. The collection here are grown in terracotta pots in 100% bark chippings and throughout the summer months they’re watered regularly. Free drainage is important as the rosettes, although filled with water, can easily rot from the base if kept soggy. As low maintenance plants go they rank pretty high though when it comes to winter they certainly aren’t frost hardy. They will however tolerate much lower temperatures than their equatorial origins would suggest. The killer combination when overwintering most tender exotics is the combination of cold and wet together. As each plant is moved to the poly tunnel for the winter its vase is emptied out, any detritus is removed and any brown lower leaves and spent rosettes are cut off. They are placed on the bright side of the poly tunnel and left dry all winter, it couldn’t be easier. The tunnel here is heated to around 7C minimum, however on the coldest nights the temperature has dipped close to zero without incident. During the lengthening days of spring while there’s still a risk of frost but the strengthening sun is heating up the tunnel by day pay close attention to signs of drought stress. The leaves will begin to curl up along their length, loose their glossiness and begin to go brown at the tips. Little by little start refilling their vases until all risk of frost has passed and they can be returned to the garden.

Aechmea blanchetiana. This is one of the most stunning Bromeliads to grow and an perfect example of the importance of sunlight in developing the pigments in the leaves and thus their full character. A. blanchetiana, as below, has stunning gold to dark orange foliage. This specimen grown from a pup this spring has spent the summer in the filtered light of the poly tunnel shaded by other plants.
Noosa Head 121
Aechmea blanchetiana. The more sunlight this plant receives the richer the colour. In tropical locations the foliage becomes almost red. This is an adaptation to prevent damage from solar radiation, akin to getting a tan. Over winter when light is at a premium there is no reason for the plant to invest in the pigmentation and so they revert to green.

The rosettes of Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning they only flower once and then die. Often the spent rosettes persist for some time but eventually senesce as nutrients and vigour are diverted to new pups that form at their bases. The fading rosettes can be cut out taking care not to damage the newly emerging pups. Alternatively the new pups can be removed once they are one third the the size of the parent rosette. A sharp knife should should be used to get as close to the stem as possible. Plant these firmly in bark chippings, keep their vases full and place them somewhere bright and warm to establish.

The largest of the Bromeliads in the collection, this Aechmea is now at least four feet across. Bedded out in a jangly corner for the summer it will be dug up and re-potted in the autumn. Before lifting it is bound up by duck-tape to protect from the saw-toothed leaf margins and so it will fit through the door to the greenhouse. Despite its size the root system is comparatively insignificant and despite the annual it continues to thrive.

How to Build Your Own Living Wall or Vertical Garden

Liz, myself and the newly planted vertical garden.
A few years ago now, on a trip to Paris, quite by chance I came a cross a vertical garden or living wall created and installed by the French gardener and designer ‘Patrick Blanc‘. The plants are rooted into a thick hydroponics membrane through which a nutrient enriched solution trickles, pumped up from a reservoir at the base of the wall which keeps the plants fed and watered.
The vertical garden on the wall of the Musée des Arts Premiers Quai Branly in Paris.
I had often spoke with a friend of mine ‘Will Giles’ about how we could create a DIY version, looking at all the possible ways of supporting it, what to use as the membrane, how to hold it up, what to use as the reservoir and how to feed the plants among many other things. After a while we came up with a much simpler solution, as the best ideas always are. Do away with the expensive and intricate hydroponics and build a structure that is essentially a series of hammocks, a bit like a multi story window box. It may take a little bit of daily care to keep the plants watered and looking good but is much easier and cheaper to build.
It was while I was working at Urban Jungle hardy and exotic plants nursery that I had the opportunity to put the idea to the test. I had a rough idea of how the structure might work but no set figures to work from. I could see ‘Liz’ my boss and one of the owners of Urban Jungle looked a little apprehensive as I was attaching 12ft high pieces of timber to the edge of one of the pergolas in the middle of the nursery. Once the wall had taken shape and looked as if the monstrosity was going to work, apprehension quickly turned to plants. Once the wall was up and the pockets filled with compost we set about rounding up plants from the nursery and setting the out on the floor in front of the wall for planting, and then planted well into the night. The wall turned out to look not too bad and after a week or so, when the leaves had turned themselves up to the light, it looked pretty damn good. Many visitors to the nursery asked how it was built so here, at last, are the designs for the vertical garden. Sorry about the wait.
Planting the wall by headlight.
The wall is now coming up to its second season and has endured one of the coldest winters for years, where I’m shore the entire thing would have been frozen solid for several days if not weeks at a time. I’m no longer at Urban Jungle but have heard from Liz that some of the plants are now on the move and in a short time she will be able to see what had pulled through and what needs tweaking. Some plants were not hardy so there will inevitably be some gaps to plug. Liz is going to put up a post on Jungle Drums, the Urban Jungle blog,  in the coming weeks on the progress of the wall, what has worked, what hasn’t and the new plants that will fill the gaps. As soon as it’s up I’ll post a link.
1) CHOOSE A LOCATION- Once the wall is planted and watered it will be very heavy so a suitable structure is needed to support the wall. If the base of the wall is resting on the ground and this is not a solid surface, place slabs under each of the uprights to spread the weight and prevent it from sinking into the ground. If the wall is not resting on the ground make shore the brackets used to hold the living wall to the supporting structure are strong to take the weight of the wall when saturated. If the supporting is a house or shed wall the structure should be mounted away from the supporting wall to leave a cavity and avoid causing damp problems.
2) ORIENTATION- The place we chose for the wall at Urban Jungle by chance faces east. This in my opinion is the best direction for it to face as it gets direct light up until noon in the coolest half of the day. If the wall was south or west facing more particular attention would have to be paid to watering and plants would have to be selected to tolerate direct light. Regarding watering, it is important to be diligent as anyone who has let a hanging basket dry out knows it takes a while to re-wet, and you cant dunk the wall in a bucket. North facing walls would require less attention but the constant shade will limit the choice of plants.
3) CONSTRUCTION- The wall at Urban Jungle was 12ft high, 7ft wide and build against a large pergola for support. I used three uprights made from 12ft lengths of 2×4 tantalised timber. The two uprights on the edge of the wall were attached to the uprights of the pergola with brackets and the middle upright stabilised by a post in the ground and two cross members. Each of the uprights was rested on a paving slabs to help spread the weight. The horizontal spars that support the planting hammocks were made from tile baton. Each spar was screwed in place with a little wood glue for extra support. The spars were placed 10cm apart. This made the pockets closemouthed together so that when planted not too much gaps are left but there is enough room to squeeze the root balls in.
How to build the timber structure that supports the wall.
4) POCKETS- Because the wall had three uprights there had to be two series of pockets as they cant cross the uprights. The pockets were made from heavy duty landscape fabric which needs to be about two and a half times longer than the height of the wall and about 20cm wider than the width between the uprights. Start by folding about 10cm in each side so the fold is facing the front and attach to the back of the top spar with staples or by screwing a second spar over it. Push the fabric in between the top and second down spar so it forms a pocket about 15-20cm deep. Place a few staples in the second down spar so the fabric doesn’t slip. This will not need to be as secure as on the top spar as the weight of the compost will hold each pocket in place. Repeat the process down to the bottom of the wall and securely attach the end of the fabric to the bottom spar.
How to attach the landscape fabric to create the pockets.
5) FILLING- We decided not to add any ingredients to the compost like pumice or perlite to reduce the weight as we were happy that the structure would support the weight. We mixed plenty of slow release fertiliser granules into the mix as there will be a large amount of plants in a relatively small volume of compost. We also added a quantity of swell gel to aid water retention. Fill the wall from the bottom pocket up so that each filled pocket rests on the one previous. Fold up the excess landscape fabric that was folded in on either side to prevent the compost from spilling out the end of the pockets. Each pocket should only be filled three quarters as the root balls from the plants will take up a proportion of the space and the soil level in the pocket  must be just below the spar so water can soak in and not poor off the wall.
The newly planted wall before the leaves have turned up to the light.
6) PLANTING- We set the plants out on the floor in front of the wall to create a design before we started to plant. Spacing will depend on the plants you use and the size of the plant used. Start planting from the top down. If you plant from the bottom up the lower plants will be covered with compost. Lay a sheet down bellow the wall as a lot of compost will be spilt. Make shore the plants are well watered before planting as many of the root balls will have to be teased apart and squeezed into pockets. Despite our planning we changed the design considerably while planting as it looked so different when vertical. Liz more so than other gardeners is a very impatient gardener so we planted a little closer than was probably necessary and plugged the gaps with Tradescantia cuttings, Spider plants and Begonia sutherlandii. These quickly grew and filled the gaps. We debated weather to use only evergreens but decided this would be too limiting on the design possibilities and would make the wall predominantly green. The down side to using deciduous or herbaceous plants was that the wall will look a little sparse over winter. We put a few dwarf Daffodils in the wall to see how they would fair. These wouldn’t hide the landscape fabric, but would add a splash of colour before the new shoots emerge.
7) WATERING- The wall will have to be completely manually watered. Rain will have little if any benefit to the wall other than slowing the rate at which the wall dries out, plus the leaves will arrange themselves like roof tiles shedding all the rain water. We didn’t get around to installing a trickle irrigation system and hand water the wall daily, sometimes twice if it is really hot and or windy. From autumn to early spring watering will be much less but still important. To install a trickle system there would need to be one trickle pipe along each pocket with dripper every 30cm or so. The dripper pipe would need to be the sort that delivers a specific flow of water rather than a simple leaky pipe as the bottom of the wall would receive more water than the top. The watering regime would have to be little and often to prevent the nutrients from being leached from the compost.
8) FEEDING- The slow release fertiliser we put in the wall was more than enough to see the plants through the first season with no signs of stress. The second and subsequent years are where attention is needed. Each perennial plant should have a hanging basket pellet pushed into the compost near the root ball. Any annual or replanted patches should have the old compost removed and replaced with fresh compost and slow release fertiliser. The old compost will be matted with the roots of perennial plants which should be carefully cut without cutting the landscape fabric. If a trickle system is installed a liquid drip feeder could be attached or if hand watered use an occasional folia feed.

The Lost Garden of Belli Park

The Lost Garden of Belli Park is not so much ‘lost’ but well tucked away, nestled in the rain forest on the wetter eastern side of the dividing ranges an hour north of Brisbane. The verdant green backdrop of the rain forest sets the tone of the plantings throughout the property. This is with out a doubt a tropical garden. The house is surrounded by mature palms planted over the last 18 years, the most prominent of which is a mature Raphia Palm (Raphia vinifera) in full flower. These palms with several mature ornamental trees provide the shelter and shade for the colourful and bold tropical under story. The trunks of some of the larger trees were cloaked with Philodendrons and Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Brugmansia and Tibouchina trees were in full bloom, Cordyline cultivars add splashes of colour, mature clumps of Heliconias and Gingers fill the damp air with scent and the ground beneath all these plants were swathed with Bromeliads and Tradescantias. In the deepest shade the bizarre flowers of the Bat plant Tacca hovered over glossy rain soaked leaves.
The meandering paths lead from the bright busy boarders around the house into the surrounding rainforest that makes up the most of the 55 acre property. Entering the forest the canopy closes in around you and riotous colours are replaced with green. Stags horn and birds nest ferns grow from the crux of bows and Alocasias hold their leaves up to the light. The atmosphere enhanced by the sound of the heavy rain dripping from leaf to leaf and the mist drifting through the trees further adding to the sense of envelopment. Despite the rainfall the previous week had been dry and one of the most prominent features of the garden, a 12 meter high waterfall, was sporting only a coating of moss and algae and no cascading water. Perhaps the day after I visited the rainfall would have made its way into the creaks and the falls would be in their full splendour. From the rainforest paths you emerge onto a grand sweeping lawn sweeping down away from the house to a large lily pond and out to views out over distant hills.
The one thing that struck me most about the garden is how similar it is to the Exotic Garden I worked in back in England, both in terms of plants and style. The one difference being the distinctly different climate. The frost free climate enables a whole wealth of plants to be grown that simply couldn’t be protected back in England. As for those plants that both gardens have in common, in The Lost Garden they do seem to have the edge. The Brugmansia trees aren’t limited to the size of your biggest plant pot and the height of the greenhouse roof. The Cannas and Gingers form massive evergreen clumps only needing the old flowering stems removing every now and then. Bromeliada are free to pup and form thick carpets, even working their way up tree trunks pup by pup rather than being restricted to pots. Here in tropical Queensland the plants have the conditions to reach their prime and the garden looks luxuriant year round. In contrast, back in chilly England, time after time visitors arrive in the garden and their jaws drop in amazement at the unexpected. Defiant of the winter the draw back is the massive extra work load of the spring plant out and the autumn dig-up, not to mention the heating bill. This work load does however afford the opportunity to change the planting plans year on year and enjoy the seasonal variations however dreary the winters may be while the boarders are bare. There seems to be benefits to creating tropical gardens in both locations and at the end of the day I guess it all depends on where you are.
It was great at last to go and explore an Australian garden at last. The garden was open for the Australian Open Gardens Scheme. Here are some more pictures for your delectation.

A Solitary Xanthorrhoea

A crooked solitary Xanthorrhoea species standing in open grazing land.
Thatch from the old leaves below the crown, the texture of the trunk cleared of thatch by past bush fires
Xanthorrhoea or ‘Blackboys’ are one of the most distinctive plants of Australia’s outback. The common name is said to have originated from the similarity in appearance to the trunked species bearing a flower spike to an Aboriginal boy holding an upright spear. This may be so particular after bush fires when the crown of leaves would be lost to the flames. The common name ‘blackboy’ is now seen as an offensive term by some and they are now more often than not referred to as ‘Grass Trees’. Allthough the plants leaves are distinctively grass like, it is however not a member of the grass family being a nectar producing flowering plant classified in its own family XANTHORRHOEACEAE. Some species can attain respectable tree proportions with a height of around ten metres.
Aboriginals in areas where grass trees are common value the plant for several reasons. Fishing spears are made from the long, strait dried flower spikes. The flowering spike can also be soaked in water, the nectar from the flowers making a sweet drink. The flower spike can also aid navigation in the bush as the flowers often open on the sunny, warmer, northern side of the spike first  The trunk of mature specimens can also yield a resin used in spear making, fixing leaky coolamons (water carriers) and as a useful glue.
This grass tree (top) stood alone on open grassland cleared for grazing land. It was not the most perfect specimen but certainly had character with its multiple heads, crooked trunk and missing limb. Standing around eight feet high it is possibly well over a hundred years old. Young plants are slow to develop but once establishes some species attain height relatively fast. A five metre tall grass tree of a fast growing species could be as young as 200 years or in the case of slower growing species it could be as old as 600.
Looking into the crown of the grass tree, a valuable refuge.
The grassy heads of the plants are an valuable refuge for insects during fast moving bush fires. Insects crawl as far down into the crown as possible. Although the majority of the head of the plant will be lost to the flames the tightly packed growing point offers insulation from the heat. The large amount of thatch around this grass tree sujests that it has been quite a few years since it was last exposed to a bush fire, perhaps as long ago as when the bush may have been cleared away from around it.
Specimens of wild harvested Xanthorrhoea are often sold in nurseries throughout Europe and America for significant prices due to the age and availability of mature plants. The success rate or transplanting is low and customers who have parted with large amounts of cash are left disappointed as their healthy purchase dies slowly over several years.  The species is however easily grown from seed and can produce a respectable plant with a head of leaves of more than a metre within ten years (below). You may have to wait thirty or more years for a seed raised plant to produce an appreciable trunk.
A young grass tree, yet to form a trunk growing in the Blue Mountains near Katoomba in New South Wales.
Emerging flower spike.
The grass tree stands just off a single track outback gravel road we were following to find Nudubbermere Falls at the northern tip of Sundown National Park. The road snakes through the bush out across rolling grazing land then into Eucalyptus forest (below) as the road gets ever narrower, rougher and steeper. Eventually, we to park my car up in the bush, being more of a city run-around car and not a 4×4, and walk the rest of the way. It was not too far until the roar of the falls could be heard over the cicadas. This was back on Australia day when my house mates, Alex, Ale, Mark and Aymeric and I spent the day at a swimming hole beneath the falls, jumping off the rocks, laying in a hot waterfalls heated as small stream flowed over exposed slabs of rock heated by the sun and drank a few beers. Perfect!
Celebrating Australia day at Nundubbermere Falls.
I recently went back to the falls to hike up the valley and explore a little further into the park. From the end of the road the well used path drops steeply down to the falls then you make your own way. Climbing up and over the rocks alongside the water falls through the gorge created by the river Severn the going is rough but fun. Further up streem the valley opens out into open woodland and bush mostly comprised of Callistemon. Like everywhere in the region the flood that roared through in the new year have left their mark, laying the trees and scrub flat in a tangled mass and erasing any path that may have existed before. Being an uninspiring weather day, chilly and grey, I gave up trying to scramble through the scrub, got fed up being covered with spider webs and turned back. The drive in and out was by far more enjoyable.
The aptly named Falls road winding its way through the bush to Nundubbermere Falls.
The bush on the valley floor laid flat by the recent floods.
Callistemon species in the river valley and a lone red flower among the rocks of the path down to the falls.
Crossing sheep country there are many grids and opening and closing of gates. I found this old rusted beer cap resting in the deep grain of a silver, weathered gate post.

The Botanical Gardens of the Western Woodlands

There was no apple picking to be done the other day due to the rain so I took a 400km round road trip (not far in Aussie terms) to the inland boarder town of Goondiwindi (pronounced gunned-a-windy) to take a look at the Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands. On first appearance they were sparse, dry and not particularly colourful. Unlike the majority of Australia’s botanic gardens located on the coastal fringes and displaying a wide variety of species and cultivated plants from around the world, Goondiwindi Botanic Garden features only native plants from the local regions of southern outback Queensland and northern outback New South Wales. The plantings in the garden represent 27 defined botanical habitats from ranging from the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range across the dry planes to deserts of the interior. All of the plants from these regions have adapted to endure prolonged periods of drought and on rare occasions may be submerged of weeks or months at a time when deluges from the tropics slowly make their way down the dry inland creek systems flooding their way slowly south to Lake Eyre and some years all the way to the Southern Ocean, as has happened this year. The town of Goondiwindi received very little rain from the skies though the Macintyre river rose to 10.63 meters above normal levels coming within a few inches of the top of the towns levies.
Goondiwindi Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands
The grass in the garden was golden, crisp and fissured with cracks as the soil dries and contracts. The plantings are more like that of an arboretum, as the spacing of the plants is critical for the survival of the collection. This is how they would occur in habitat as there wouldn’t be enough moisture in the ground in dry times to maintain a continuous canopy. The garden was conceived in 1986 and it was envisaged right from the very start that it would be a showcase for native floras. The first plants went in the ground in 1988 and several thousand trees and shrubs have been planted since that time. A large percentage of plants have been lost to drought and replaced. Drought cycles may be ten years or more and young plants don’t make it through these times. Young plants are mulched and are helped with trickle irrigation but the loss of some plants, it seems, is the reality of gardening in this region. The original time scale for the evolution of the garden was planned in decades as apposed to years as many under story shrubs and delicate ephemeral plants will only be able to survive once a mature over story has been established.
The drought in Goondiwindi persists in any regions beyond the towns flood levies.
The main canopy colour is silver to glaucus green although some trees like the Queensland Lacebark Brachychiton discolor with its swollen bottle shaped trunk to act as a reservoir looked distinctly glossy, lush and green among it’s counterparts. Being high summer now there were no trees or shrubs putting on grand floral displays as blousy water hungry petals would get burned to a crisp in no time. On closer inspection there were plenty of species in flower, filling a niche, the majority of which are comprised of  only the bare essentials.
Callostemma purpureum (Garland Lilly) and (Bauhinia) Latin name unknown
Eremorphila neglecta ‘Olive’ and Callistemon ‘Injume Pink’
Acacia salicina (Doolan) and Acacia species
Eremorphila polyclada and Eucalyptus species
The main foliage type is schlerophyll (tough leaved) like those of Eucalyptus species and often their colour is glaucus or silver. Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’ has small hairy leaves held close to the stems. Others like Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) have reduced their leaves to needles and Hakea purpurea has done away with leaves all together photosynthesising through the green stems.
Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) and Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’
Hakea purpurea and silver foliage, plant unknown
Many of the more showy early flowering trees are now shedding their seeds. The flowering of Brachychiton species are supposed to be spectacular and it is often used as an ornamental in parks and gardens. I’ve yet to see one in full bloom.
Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) and Senna circinnata (Spring Pod Cassia)
Pittosporum phylliraeoides (Native Apricot) and black seeds, unknown plant
Another adaptation to cope with the harsh environment is to develop symbiotic relationships like the ants living inside the galls on the Acacia pendula which help defend the tree against browsing and aid pollination. Unfortunately not all the ants live in the trees and I seem to have developed the knack stopping to take photos right on top of their nests.
Acacia pendula (Myall) with ant gall and Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) leaf and Shield Bug
Brachychiton rupestris (Bottle Tree) leaves made into spider nests and a row of eggs on a leaf
Here is a bit about Lake Eyre.
There is still a few months of apple picking to be done, then my plan was to travel inland to the Simpson Desert for a week or so then double back and head north to the tropics of northern Queensland. These plans may change and I may now turn south and follow the inland creeks down to Lake Eyre to see the transformation of the floods, the greening of the desert and the accompanying boom in wildlife. Not having a four wheel drive I’m not yet shore how feasible this plan would be, but there is still plenty of time to research and make a decision.

Sydney Botanic Gardens

After a long flight to Sydney and the chores of sorting visas, bank accounts and accommodation I made a bee line for the botanic gardens. Not having adjusted to the time difference I was wide awake at 3am, tossing and turning restlessly for a while I decided it was best to get up, head out and walk down to the Sydney Opera House to watch the sun come up over the harbour. The gardens are next to the Opera House and I snuck early enjoying the parkland and plantings, lit by warm hazy early morning sun all to my self, bar a few eager joggers. Its immediately clear that Sydney rarely if ever gets a frost as everything that I’ve spent the last few weeks digging up and lugging under cover is beaded out on mass.
Wandering around with my little compact camera it was frustrating looking up into sprawling fig trees with broad buttresses and branches propped up bur aerial roots, with shafts of light beaming through and not being to cram the image into my tiny lens. I wished I could zoom in on the fruit bats, wondered what a picture staring straight up into a grove of massive Washingtonia robustas would look like through a fish eye lens and the details I could pick up if only I had a macro. Well I have done the best I can for now and better find some fruit to pick soon so I can afford a camera that will do the job. You can’t have a good blog without good pics!
Ficus species.
There were several large plantings of Bromeliads, which once established with pups on pups make a fantastic ground cover, not bad considering their loft origins. Bearing their origin in mind they would take perfectly to vertical gardening and were displayed as such on a wall entering into the pyramidal tropical glasshouse. The planting had become a bit sparse in places and unfortunately it had been planted using aluminium mesh to retain the plants, had this have been sprayed green or black the wall would have looked more complete. At the very top the wall was toped with large yellow bromeliads which created a stark contrast with the sky. ‘The Rainforest Garden’ has recently posted an article on planting a vertical picture garden and Urban Jungles blog ‘Jungle Drums’ shows how I built a 12 foot high DIY herbaceous wall emulating the rather expensive hydroponics techniques pioneered by Patric Blanc.
The garden is inhabited by some rather noisy fruit bats hanging from bare branches like withered leaves. They are recognised for their role in pollinating and seed dispersal but do in great numbers cause considerable damage to the trees. Several trees had been completely killed. As a result a sign informed that the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has granted a licence for non-harmful relocation of the bats, but didn’t specify how.
Whilst travelling through the suburbs of Sydney are great views across endless rooftops splotched with the canopies of Jacaranda in full bloom. Here is a Jacaranda in bloom with bright yellow Furcaria.
Frustratingly it always seems to be the most interesting plants that are lacking their labels. Here’s a few natives that caught my eye, labels intact. Alloxylon flammeum ‘Red Silk Oak’ from the Atherton tablelands in Queensland. Ephedra tweediana, forming a tangled ball of lime green twining stems. It belongs to a genus that is said to share characteristic with both that of modern flowering plants and more ancient carboniferous species.  Whatever its makeup it’s got great character. The sparsely Podocarpus smithii, from North East Queensland, which looked wilted from a distance but on closer inspection produces silvery pink soft new foliage among clusters of pale yellow catkins. Nearly opened Banksia serrata found all up the east coast far as South Queensland. Acacia calimifolia from the South East with small sulphur yellow pompoms amid silvery, fine, flowing foliage.
Alloxylon flammeum
Ephedra tweediana
Podocarpus smithii
Banksia serrata
Acacia calimifolia
Here’s one last picture of he flower of Neomarica caerulea against the foliage of Canna ‘Durban‘, the outer petals contrasting spectacularly with the orange/russets of the Canna leaves which match beautifully with the markings of the centre of the flower.
Neomarica caerulea and Canna ‘Durban’

Now and Then

Every garden blogger right now is blogging about the autumn colour, and why wouldn’t they when it looks this good. Above is the drive into Urban Jungle plant nursery where I have worked since the spring. The large bunches of bright white berries on the Cordyline australis, Silver Birch bark (Betula pendula) and autumn leaves illuminated by low evening sun. I noticed through the season that red leaved Acers seem by far the most popular choice. Those with innocuous, plane green leaves sit almost unnoticed. It’s only with the cooling, shortening days that these plane green cultivars, like Acer palmatum ‘Japanese Sunrise’ (bellow) come into their own, putting on a brief but spectacular display. And spectacular it is!
This time of year the nursery seems quite bare. Being a specialist in exotics, only the most robust specimens, clipped, top-dressed and stood in ranks, remain outside for the winter’s onslaught. In the bubble-wrapped greenhouses it couldn’t be more different. When customers say they haven’t got room for another plant they should take a look in any exotic plant enthusiast’s greenhouse in the winter. Bellow is one of the heated greenhouses stuffed to the gunnels, Liz, one of the nurseries owners, fighting her way through the foliage and me inspecting an angles trumpet (Brugmansia ‘Aurea’) oblivious to what’s going on around it and flowering its heart out regardless.
The jewel in the crown of the nursery is the show garden, where we went all out this spring to show just how exuberant exotic plantings can be. The growth and atmosphere surpassed all our expectations. If you were to visit the garden today in mid November you’d be confronted by something that resembles the surface of the moon spliced with the aftermath of a category five hurricane. We obsess over weather forecasts trying to guess when the first frosts will come. A call has to be made and the plants must be cut down in their prime. Today we lifted the last tender plants to Liz’s great relief as I leave in only a few days. Now we can rest assure knowing we beat Jack Frost this year.
The following pictures are a look back throughout the summer capturing the garden at its peak. This is what makes all the digging, potting and hauling worth it.
Top left: Hedychium ‘Tara’
Top right: Ornamental gourd
Middle left: Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’
Middle right: Brugmansia ‘Aurea’ and Canna ‘Wyoming’
Bottom left: Dahlia, Nasturtium leaves and Canna ‘Durban’
Bottom right: Dalia ‘Chimborhiza’

Volcanos and Giant Cordylines

As I’m still very much in the UK, and busy helping to prepare my friend Will’s garden for winter, I thought I’d take a look back at a past adventure.

A stalwart of all temperate exotic gardens, and vital for winter structure, is the good old Cordyline. These robust Palm like plants are used so much so, especially in the south west of the UK, that they have acquired the common names of Cornish and Torquay palm or less elegantly the Cabbage Palm. While travelling a year or so ago around New Zealand, during the southern summer I came across a couple of fine specimens in habitat.

 One of the defining features of the north island of New Zealand is Mt Taranaki (above) soaring 2518 metres above the flat pastoral land. The mountain known commonly as Egmont is in fact of volcanic origin, being thrust up through the landscape by immense forces below the crust. Craig Knight, who I was travelling with, and I set out for the summit on an unremarkable grey and drizzly day. Zig-zaging our way through the lush forests that ring the lower slopes, marvelling at the trees laden with Mosses, Ferns, Astellias, Orchids and where the mosses and leaf litter had settled in the crux of swollen bows, small trees and Cordylines that would otherwise reside on the ground. These dripping forests of moss laden and tangled branches became the setting for the Goblin Forest in the Lord of the Rings. As we hiked further up the volcano, the steeper the path rose and the lower and thinner the forest canopy became. Here, where there is much les competition for light and an abundance of water peculating down from the ice cap on the summit and regular rain fall, grows the imposing Mountain Cabbage Palm, Cordyline indivisa.
These distinctive plants with their lush heads of broad leaves (10-30 cm wide and 1-2 m long) seem almost alien among the surrounding bush. This is a striking plant and could create an air of exoticism in any garden. Cordyline indivisa is however notoriously difficult to cultivate. Growing primarily in elevated areas it needs a constant supply of water and a cool position free from all but the lightest of frosts. Below are some young plants in Tresco Abbey Garden in the Isles of Scilly.
Leaving the tree line behind and climbing beyond the grey cloud, the path became steeper still and we emerged into warm sunlight catching our first glimpse of the summit, the looming grey snider cone piercing the sky above. There was no more zigzagging from there on, those ahead of us making a bee-line strait to the top. We were now on all fours, calves burning, scrambling at no great speed up a steep loose pumice slope. Pausing for a breath at a jaunty angle we remained alert as we dodged rocks hurtling by at great speed, dislodged by those higher up.
The cone of Mt Taranaki remains plugged with ice throughout the summer months and is pockmarked with holes made by fallen rocks that heat up in the sun and slowly sink out of sight. The summit provided views out across a cloudscape in every direction. The only landmark visible was the broad bulk of Mt Ruapehu and the perfect flat toped cone of Mt Ngauruhoe out to the east in the Central Volcanic Plato. (Below Craig at the summit.)
Driving east through mile after mile of  irrigated, fertilized intensely green pastoral land, Mt Taranaki still a good size in the rear view mirror, we came across a loan Cordyline australis standing just off the road. This had to be the biggest by many times and certainly the finest of all the Cordylines we saw across both islands. This chap would rival an oak. Rather irritatingly, good old Wikipedia informs me that the biggest Cordyline in fact stands at the northern tip of the South Island in Golden Bay. It is said to have a circumference at the base of 9m and a height 17m and is estimated to be 400 to 500 years old. If this one isn’t the biggest it must be the most perfectly formed.
On my next venture to New Zealand I’ll have to visit Golden bay to see if it really does harbor the biggest Cordyline.