The Yorkshire Riviera?
Richard's wonderful garden has been featured
in gardening magazines and on television. Now it's our turn for
a guided tour.
Richard Darlow, 106 Vaughan Road, Vernon Way, Gawber, Barnsley,
S75 2NJ, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 13, published online 23-08-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Above: Trachycapus fortunei and Yucca Floribunda.
Below: A general view of this wonderful Yorkshire Riviera
As an exotic plant fanatic (particularly palms,
yuccas & other spiky plants, bananas, cacti etc.), I am never
happier than when visiting the gardens and landscapes of the Mediterranean
- such as on the Cote d 'Azur. Having said that, visits to Tresco
are equally thrilling and many of the wonderful gardens of Devon
and Cornwall are almost as exciting. Of course, some Cornish gardens
are noted for their collections of Rhododendrons, Magnolias and
Camellias rather than for exotic, 'sub-tropical' plants but it is
southwest England or western Scotland that one usually associates
with 'Mediterranean-style' planting in Britain.
My passion for plants seen in gardens of Mediterranean
countries, Devon and Cornwall, rather conflicted with my thoughts
of the average British garden in winter and led me to make a decision
to create such a garden here in Yorkshire. But you can't grow exotic
or tender plants in Yorkshire, can you? Or so all the books and
experts implied. I researched the types of plants that are grown
in Mediterranean and West Country gardens, their possible hardiness
and the availability of such plants in the U.K. A look through a
copy of the Hilliers catalogue revealed that there are many plants
that can be grown in Britain with some protection i.e. a warm sunny
location or against a wall for example. Clearly, there were going
to be some plants that would be too tender for Cornwall, let alone
Yorkshire, but these could be overwintered indoors.
The decision to create a Mediterranean garden was
taken some nine years ago but several years were to elapse before
the dream could become reality. This was mainly because at the time
my garden was too small, and unsuitable for a number of other reasons.
However, as the opportunity arose to purchase plants on my 'wanted'
list, I decided to acquire and 'store' them as container plants
on my small patio area. The search was on for a suitable garden,
which, of course, would mean having to move house. Meanwhile, the
situation with the patio became increasingly desperate - i.e. I
ran out of space several times! I was raring to go and I wanted
to prove the books wrong.
To cut a long story short, a house with a seemingly
ideal garden was eventually acquired - in I 989. The rear garden
was of reasonable size (for an urban one), some 60 feet X 30 feet
but the most important quality was that it faced due south. The
garden was in need of total renovation however, which included the
removal of a number of unattractive trees and shrubs. A 40ft ash
tree and two gnarled old apple trees were initially removed, just
before Bonfire night! The local pub made good use of the timber
on the 5th.
The entire perimeter demanded new, high fencing
in order to provide shelter and protection for the plants as well
as offering privacy and security. This was before any designing
and planting could be attempted. Firstly, a conservatory was erected
for the winter housing of my already large collection of tender
tub plants. A patio area also had to be dug out and laid.
Renovation proper commenced in the spring of 1990.
Fine weather enabled full use to be made of most weekends and the
gradual lengthening of the days meant that the work could continue
during the evenings, as well. Much hard work and determination saw
the removal of uneven, coarse grass, followed by double-digging
of the entire plot. With the exception of buried treasure, you name
it - found it! - bricks, stones, old clothing, corrugated iron sheets,
parts of bathroom suites etc. Five or six midi-skips later (I began
to lose count), the fencing was erected and the garden design marked
out, so that soil preparation and improvement could be undertaken.
It was July before planting began. Since then, the
garden has developed with the continual addition of plants, some
of which have been re-sited (3 times in some cases!) in order to
create the best effects. The garden consists entirely of Mediterranean
and warm climate plants - crammed with trees, shrubs and perennials
originating from all five continents some rare or common, tender
or hardy, desert or jungle, many exotic!
From a patio/terrace of 'Roman' style paving, two
or three steps lead up to the main part of the garden. A winding
path of stone and pea gravel loops around a central circular area
of limestone chippings and two island planting beds. In the centre
of the gravel is a young Monkey Puzzle, Araucaria araucana. There
is no lawn, the areas between the path and the boundary fencing
consisting of dense planting.
The north facing upper end of the garden is shadier
and damp and has taken on a jungley appearance. Pinus radiata stands
in one corner and Cedrus atlantica glauca in the other. These have
provided impact quickly but due to their potential size, their growth
will have to be checked and their removal will eventually follow.
The area between is planted with Fuchsia, Hydrangeas, several Camelhas,
Garrya elfptica, Crinodendron hookerianum and Eucalyptus gunnii
- which has produced more than 15 feet of growth since being pruned
to soil level when planted three years ago. The Ginger family is
also represented in this border in the form of Roscoea cautleloides,
R. humeana and Cautleya spicata robusta - the shade suiting their
In front of the Cedar are a small Rhododendron sino-grande,
Gunnera manicata and Zantedeschia aethiopica. The Gunnera is very
compact as the ground is simply not boggy enough for the plant to
be able to produce those huge 'walk-through' leaves. Just as well
really! Large leaved Ivies variegated Hedera canariensis and H.
colchica (dentata variegata & "Sulphur heart") clothe
In the 'island' bed opposite, a very lush Bamboo
- Arundinaria murielae or nitida - arches over the path and contributes
to a jungly feel to this part of the garden. Also in this bed grow
Fatsia japonica variegata, a very bushy chinese Fir - Cunninghammia
lanceolata, golden leaved Arundinaria viridistriatus and the cristate
form of Cryptomeria japonica with wonderful foliage resembling antlers
and sea horses!
The western border (facing east) contains three
species of Eucalyptus - dalrympleana, glaucescens and niphophylla
which, with the exception of the latter, will periodically be cut
down to maintain their growth as shrubs. Surrounding the Eucalypts
are numerous shrubs of contrasting foliage and flower. Species included
here are:- Choisya, Calycanthus floridus, Cistus, Hibiscus syriacus
and several Hebes. Against the fencing are Teucrium fruticans and
a very floriferous Ceanthus - The blue flowers contrasting effectively
with the Hebe "Purple Queen", Cupressus macrocarpa "Goldcrest"
and silver leaved Brachyglottis (Senecio "Sunshine", Lavender
and Santolina. Other herbs included are Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and
Towards the house at the side of the steps leading
from the patio is Genista aetnensis providing a golden cascade in
July or August.
The warmer west-facing border contains a number
of less hardy subjects, which include several tender 'wall' shrubs.
Lapageria rosea grows behind the Monterey Pine but never flowers;
possibly it is too shaded by the pine. A rampant clematis armandii
"Apple Blossom" produces a welcome display of pink tinged
flowers over a long period (from February to May during 1993), covering
a large area of fence behind a Phygelius and a Loquat - Eriobotrya.
Small specimens of Telopea oreades and Acca (Feijoa) sellowiana
provide a support for a scrambling Eccremocarpus scaber, which regenerates
Further along, Magnolia delivery with its large
attractive leaves contrasts well beside the silver needle-like foliage
of Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius "Silver Jubilee" with its
attractive pink budded creamy flowers. This has self-seeded into
the gravel path. A small Carpenters californica is sheltered by
Magnolia grandiflora "Goliath" with its exotic, glossy
bright green, russet backed leaves. Moving closer to the house,
Abutilon X "Suntense" provides colour in spring and the
silver leaved Cytissus battandieri continues the colourful display
with its fruity scented yellow flowers. Between these, Euphorbia
mellifera from Madeira is establishing itself. The remainder if
the fence is covered by Passiflora caerulea "Constance Elliot"
and, Abutilon megapotamicum which flowers from May to Christmas.
A number of further shrubs and various perennials
grow in front of the 'wall' shrubs. Overhanging the patio, a very
vigorous Grevillea X "Canberra Gem" freely produces its
exotic red flowers over a long period from late winter until early
summer. Other shrubs include Callistemon rigidus, Fabiana imbricata,
Myrtus communis lavandula stoechas, Phlomis, Ballota and Pittosporum.
Eucalyptus perriniana with its grey willow-like leaves rises above
a group of mainly South African perennials. Crinum powellii album,
Agapanthus, Crocosmia and several varieties of Kniphofia grow with
Acanthus, Asphodelus, Cynara and Hedychiums - orange flowered H
densiflorum and a shy to flower H. gardnerianum.
The sunny, south facing wall of the house provides
an ideal spot for more exotica: Fremontodendron X "California
Glory" has proved to be the fastest growing plant in the garden
and has to be pruned after flowering to keep it in check. Next to
this, Passiflora caerulea twines through Abutilon X "Millieri"
and the 'Lobster claw' - Clianthus puniceus - which was heavily
laden with flowers during April and May of 1993. Sheltering beneath
these shrubs is a dwarf pomegranite - Punica granatum nana - which
never flowers but is attractive in leaf. A spiky contrast is provided
by Beschorneria tubiflora, Agave americana marginata, Aloe aristata
and Yucca elephantipes (yes, Y. elephantipes!).
A narrow raised border at the side of the house
is even more exotic. Below a fan trained Fig, the Japanese Banana
- Musa basjoo - grows with several cacti, succulents and other 'spikies'.
Agave americana, Aloe striatula, Yucca aloifolia and Sedum praeltum
share a small "rockery" with some Opuntia species and
several Chamaelobivia hybrids. Also in this border are specimens
of Cordyline, Beschorneria and Astelia. A specimen of Cycas revoluta
has recently been planted.
The remaining, central part of the garden along
with the other 'island' bed, features a desert theme and the soil
here is covered with pea gravel. Apart from a pencil-like Italian
Cypress - Cupressus sempervirens - and some Euphorbias, all other
plants have spiky or "Architectural" outline.
There are several young palms: Trachycarpus fortunei
I 'wagnerianus Chamaerops humus, Butia capitata and Phoenix canariensis
and a dozen or so different types of yucca. Huge rosettes of Y.
gloriosa variegata and Y. recurvifolia dominate this area while
several Phormiums, Cordylines (including C. indivisa), species of
Fasicularia, Epiphyll and Eryngium complete the spiky format. Underplanted
are more Opuntias, Lobivia sylvestri - the peanut cactus, many varieties
of Sedum, Sempervivum, and, Delosperma nubigenum which forms bright
green mats studded with gold stars in the summer months.
The patio itself is the most exotic part of the
garden, at least in the summer months. From May to October or November,
approximately 100 tender plants in terracotta pots complete the
'Riviera effect'. Specimens of agave, aloe, palm, yucca, strelitzia
and citrus predominate. In the winter months, an unheated conservatory
protects them from the elements. Two potted palms - Brahea armata
(Mexican Blue) and Trithrinax acanthocoma (Brazilian Needle Palm)
- will hopefully remain on the patio all year round however.
This 'piece of Mediterranean' on the eastern fringe
of the Pennines is 500 feet above sea level. I'm often asked the
secret of growing palms here. The short answer is that there is
no secret - the garden faces south, the individual siting of each
plant has been given importance and some gravel has been incorporated
into the fairly heavy soil.
Otherwise, little additional protection is given
to any plants.The winter climate is typically English i.e. appalling,
and frost is common from November to March but generally not too
severe. During the past three winters, I have recorded occasional
temperatures down to -5°C or -6°C on the patio which is
the warmest part of the garden. Snow is received most winters (sometimes
heavy), rainfall is high and strong winds are frequent. Destructive
westerly gales tear off leaves or even branches, although the garden
is sheltered by surrounding houses and trees. The effects of cold,
drying north or east winds are minimal however - protection being
afforded by the house and the fencing.
The garden is very much experimental and many plants
are 'on trial'. With the knowledge that coastal Cornish gardens
and the Mediterranean itself are not immune from frost, yet many
tender plants still survive, I'll try any plant that I know to have
some frost tolerance. There have been losses each winter though
in the main not unexpected. I cannot grow Oleander, Furcraea longaeva,
Gazanias, most perennial "mesembryanthemums" and most
Osteospermums, but surprises have included Beschorneria, Yucca elephantipes
(survived 3 winters), Clianthus, Euphorbia mellifera, Echeverias,
cacti and other succulents.
I am particularly excited about a specimen of Echium
pininana. During 1992, a number of self-sown seedlings appeared
and some were quite large by the winter. Two of the largest were
left in situ and a sheet of bubble plastic was thrown over them
during the Christmas frosty spell. Defoliation was the result but
the tiny new leaves in the centre of one of the plants survived
and growth resumed in spring. I now have a multi-branched 'tree'
some 5 or 6 feet high and as much across despite several branches
being severed by the wind during the summer. I shall aim to protect
the main growing point during the current winter in the hope of
continuing its survival. It probably will never produce its wonderful
12-15 feet flower spike but may instead remain as a perennial foliage
In conclusion, my garden is living proof that tender
or exotic plants can be grown inland well away from southern and
coastal locations. It shows that many plants are tougher than we
think and could perhaps be grown far more widely than they are.
I like to prove books and experts wrong; so often one reads statements
such as 'can only be grown in the south west', 'Hardy in the south',
'Cannot be grown North of Watford' etc. I suspect that all too often,
these statements arise from assumption rather than from experience
I don't consider that the Yorkshire climate is unique
in view of the fact that my garden has been able to flourish. I
feel that a similar garden could survive in most parts of the country
particularly if the hardier subjects were used.
Indeed, I see examples of slightly tender plants
wherever I travel in Britain - some of which appear to be growing
in the most unlikely places; e.g. A Cordyline just outside Stockton-on-Tees
in the cold northeast, some 12-15 feet in height with substantial
trunk! I do believe though that as a collection of plants, my garden
is unique, especially so in view of its geographical location.
The garden has been featured on BBC 'Gardeners World'
and in 'Amateur Gardening' magazine. From 1994, it will be open
by appointment under the National Gardens Scheme. EPS members welcome!
In the meantime, I hope that the winter will not be too severe and
that this article will perhaps serve to inspire other would-be exotic
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