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The Wind Cheaters

A husband and wife team of palm enthusiasts explain how palms have changed their lives, and their garden.
Robert & Krystyne Jennings , 46 St. Brides Avenue , Edgeware, Middlesex
Chamaerops No. 17, published online 23-07-2002

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Going to extremes: The Jennings garden from above and below; a wind-free oasis.

I was brought up in South America and my love for tropical and sub-tropical plants started at an early age. This was the inspiration to begin our own 'sub-tropical' garden here in Edgeware, Middlesex. It is not generally realized that there is such a large number of plants that can be grown here in the south of England provided they get good drainage and some winter protection when needed.

Another important factor is soil preparation: we started off by removing all the old soil, which was heavy clay - this is north London - and replacing it with deeply dug-in organic matter, ericaceous compost and, where necessary, lots of horticultural grit.

As our garden is only 70 x 40 feet, and half of this is patio, it is now starting to look like a miniature botanic garden; it is not so much landscaped as housing a collection of beautiful and exotic plants from all over the world.

Our first exciting introductions were three Trachycarpus fortunei. They were quite large to begin with but here, within 4 years, they have grown rapidly into tall beauties. Some of our other favourites include Weinmannia trichosperma, a wonderful evergreen tree from Chile which we planted 4 years ago as a 12" seedling and is now over 7 feet and growing into a tree, Lyonothamnus floribundus asplenifolius, the Santa Cruz Ironwood Tree with its fern-like foliage and cinnamon bark, 3 Cordyline australis which we brought back from holiday m Ireland last year and our now a focal point in our garden in an extremely hot spot where nothing else seemed to grow. The Tetrapanax papyrifera, the Rice paper plant from China and Taiwan, with its monster leaves, has already suckered in its first year; the Musa basjoo, the root-hardy Japanese banana, given proper winter protection, grows very happily in our garden and is certainly one of the most architectural and exotic-looking plants we've introduced to our collection.

Two Dicksonia antarctica, the giant Tree Ferns from Tasmania, with trunks 4 feet high and fronds 7 feet long, look quite spectacular with the summer sun shimmering through them. Clianthus puniceus from New Zealand (the Glory Pea) with silvery foliage and very exotic, red parrot-claw-like flowers dangling from its branches, is growing very happily against a warm garage wall. These are just some of the plants we grow and enjoy looking after.

When we first started our garden, we used to cover the borderline plants with white fleece every time frost threatened, and then remove it every morning. This is really a chore, especially when more and more plants are introduced and need to be covered. That's why, last year, we decided to cover a large area of the garden with green shade-netting, thus relieving us of the nightly burden of covering each plant.

The netting will remain in place until the beginning of April, then removed until mid October. Not only does it keep the frost off, it also shelters the plants from the wind, which is just as important.

As our garden is m its infancy we are still experimenting and learning about different plants and their needs. We find that in spring, apart from the usual tidying-up and pruning, a top-feed dressing of blood, fish & bone is essential for strong root growth and healthy-looking plants, especially the palms, as they are greedy feeders. This is followed at regular intervals by a liquid feed with Liquinure.

This spring we're looking forward to introducing two new palms to our collection: Phoenix canariensis and Washingtonia filifera. We have already prepared the new sites for these and look forward to them growing and enhancing the garden.

Finally, we would like to thank Angus White & the staff at Architectural Plants, Martin Gibbons of the Palm Centre, and Myles Challis, author, for all their help and advice to us in getting our garden established. Without them it would have been that much harder.

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