After three frustrating years in a flat, Tony
Smith moved to a house with a garden. He describes how he changed
it from a suburban 'bit of grass with flower beds' to an exotic
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Tony Smith, 11 Chipetead Way, Woodmansterne, Banstead, Surrey
Chamaerops No. 8, published online 23-10-2002
How wonderful at last to have a garden after three
years living in a flat! Three years of frustration with my plant
growing activities limited to a five-foot windowsill, luckily southwest
During this time I became interested in exotic plants,
which thrived in the flat. My Cocoa plant almost became a tree,
as did the avocado - both reaching over five feet tall. After discovering
palms at the Palm Centre, I soon added the following to my collection
- Trachycarpus. Brahea, Jubaea, Nannorrhops, Phoenix and Hyophorbe.
The flat began to resemble a tropical forest. This
lush green exuberance appealed to me and after visits to the newly
planted Palm House at Kew and the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Florida,
I was hooked on the atmosphere of such places. For me atmosphere
is the most wonderful thing a garden can possess.
It was natural then to use the opportunity of a
new garden to try and capture the lush and mystical atmosphere of
The first job tackled was the path which involved
much adjusting of hosepipe to get the curves right. Having decided
on the position, the next step was to remove the turf and lay a
foundation. It was at this stage I had my first surprise and worrying
moment too. The spade went in about two inches and stopped dead.
I soon discovered the whole lawn was laid on rubble six inches thick.
Luckily, the soil is deeper in most places, up to eight inches.
Still, not a lot of soil.
After an initial bout of depression I began to feel
a bit more positive. After all, the rubble will improve the drainage
and judging by how the front garden puddles I would have had to
improve the drainage anyway.
The next two weeks saw me digging, digging and digging.
The whole lawn was turned over and most of the existing plants removed
to friends and relatives.
At this stage, I began thinking about planting,
moving potted plants around the garden to check the effect. These
plants I had collected over several years, some grown from seed
and cuttings. The planting scheme that evolved was influenced by
several factors: the amount of sun or shade, soil type, and, of
course, personal taste. Three main areas have started to take shape.
The shady area, which should become very lush and green, the sun
trap (slightly Mediterranean) and the acid bed, hopefully Himalayan
with Rhododendrons and Trachycarpus.
The garden benefits from the shelter of woodland
to the east, which is also a wonderful backdrop. Shelter is provided
to the west by a house and to the north by a six-foot fence. With
all this shelter, cold winter winds should be kept to a minimum.
Back to the path for which my first idea was woodchip
or bark. This I felt would be the most appropriate material but
not practical as it would tread into the house. As a compromise
I settled on an idea borrowed from Myles Challis' book 'The Exotic
Garden' - concrete topped with pea shingle when still wet. This
has worked very well.
With the paths half-finished (ran out of shingle),
the acid bed dug out awaiting soil, and fences wired for climbers
I could resist no longer the desire to go plant collecting. Looking
for evergreen framework plants I picked up a few common things such
as Giselinia, Ceanothus and Magnolia grandiflora at local nurseries.
Then it got a bit more serious at Architectural Plants. Three bamboos;
Phyllostachys viridi-glaucescens, Sasa palmata nebulosa and Chusquea
culeou. An interesting climber Holboellia coracea, Pittosporum tobira,
Trochodendron aralloides, Yucca x floribunda and Hydrangea serratifolia
which I have since seen in all its glory at Nymans Gardens.
Inspired by hot humid weather, thunderstorms and
rapid growth I visited Martin Gibbons at the Palm Centre intent
on adding to my collection of garden palms. What better way to spend
an hour or two on a Sunday than looking at, talking about and buying
palms. I was more enthused than ever after comparing notes with
Martin and returned home to plant my newly acquired Chamaerops humilis.
I had a little difficulty in finding topsoil for
the acid bed. Local garden centres could only offer alkaline soil
of inferior quality. In the end I had to pay more than twice the
garden centre price at a turf specialist. They provided good quality
screened loam, which tested slightly acid, at about ph.8.5. It took
three hours of wheel barrowing to move the four cubic yards of soil
from the road to the bottom of the garden.
Having levelled the soil I could now start putting
up the greenhouse next to the acid bed. The greenhouse was given
by a friend of a friend on the grounds that if I removed it from
their garden I could have it free. I did and it has languished in
my parents' shed for three years. Some of the glass has broken in
this time but otherwise it is in good condition. If anything, I
am more excited now than ever about the new garden. I can hardly
wait for next spring and summer to see Mother Nature continue and
improve on all my hard work.
When he's not gardening, Tony Smith is a professional
tennis coach (in the tennis racket as you might say). He was married
last month and honeymooned in the Scilly Isles. Thanks to Jason
Payne for the plan above.
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