Jo & Gary report on 'Open Day' at a
certain palm journal editor's garden, hidden away in sarf London.
Jo & Gary Parker, Surrey, UK
Chamaerops No. 19, published online 23-07-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
The cloud forests of the Hawaiian mountain peaks.
The mist-shrouded valleys of the Himalayas. The primeval tree-fern
forests of Tasmania. Perhaps the effect was enhanced by the damp
weather, but these were the images that sprang to mind when we first
saw Martin Gibbons' South London garden. On 2 September Martin opened
his garden to the EPS, and during the course of the day over 40
members came along to experience the garden's exotic delights, and
chat with Martin and Jason de Grellier Payne, the garden's designer.
Seen from the raised oriental-style entrance deck,
the garden appeared to be an impenetrable sub-tropical forest. Our
view of palm crowns, cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana) and mimosa
(Acacia dealbata) was framed by lush stands of bamboo such as Phyllostachys
bambusoides 'holochrysa' and Thamnocalamus 'Kew Beauty'. Descending
to ground level, we wouldn't have been surprised had we glimpsed
a kiwi scuttling beneath the tree ferns
Thriving in the shade beneath the entrance deck
we spotted Chamaedorea palms (C. radicalis and C. microspadix).
Amazingly, these survive the winters and looked superb. Passing
a group of grinning EPS members (snatches of conversation such as
"mine went to minus eight!" were overheard), a meandering
path drew us into the undergrowth. Beyond a grove of unusual palms,
yuccas and ferns, the spiky form of a large Trithrinax acanthocoma
attracted our attention. Over the winter, it had been cosseted with
a plastic tent and fan heater, but Martin has decided this was probably
erring on the side of caution and intends to give the palm less
protection in future. Behind the Trithrinax stood a small specimen
of the striking blue form of the European fan palm, Chamaerops humilis
'Cerifera. The colour difference from the type was noticeable -
and it keeps its blue coloration despite being partly shaded by
an impressive grove of tall-trunked Yucca aloifolia.
Nearby, a wonderful whorl of 15 new cycad leaves
glowed bright green in a shaft of sunlight. We've never seen a healthier-looking
specimen of Cycas revoluta - proof that it can be grown outdoors.
With a bit of luck, the new leaves will manage to harden before
the frosts hit. Unfortunately, as the garden grows shadier, Jason
expects that the cycad will have to go. The garden used to contain
many sun-loving Mediterranean plants, but the emphasis is now more
towards shade-loving ferns, bamboos and rare palms. Although just
17 feet (5 metres) wide, the garden offers a sense of mystery because
the end is not visible from the entrance and the sides are cleverly
screened with bamboo.
Taking pride of place near the entrance deck we
couldn't miss one of the most unusual plants in the garden: the
South American high-altitude palm Parajubaea coccoides. About four
feet across and as much high, this graceful palm has large juvenile
leaves which looked perfect. The palm obviously takes the winters
in its stride.
Across the path we saw a small, recently planted
specimen of Guihaia argyrata; another unusual palm even by Martin's
standards. In maturity its leaves develop striking white undersides.
Also in this area of the garden we were able to compare rare members
of the Trachycarpus genus - T. martianus and T. 'doi chiang dao'
with the more usual T. fortunei. Following the path further we admired
two impressive Trachycarpus wagnerianus specimens. Growing in the
shade, the compact 'waggy' character of these specimens has softened
due to the formation of longer leaf stalks, but the distinctive
white leaf edging and small, stiff leaves have been retained.
At the bottom of the garden, we reached an octagonal
deck extending over a large pond. Overhung by Dicksonia antarctica
tree ferns and mature Trachycarpus fortunei palms, the pond is beautifully
integrated into the surroundings, curving like a natural waterway
around the palm trunks. When forming the pond Jason took the brave
step of cutting deeply into the Trachycarpus roots to achieve the
desired effect (luckily, the palms were unfazed by the root damage).
On the opposite bank we spotted a tiny Rhopalostylis sapida 'Oceana',
a relatively hardy variety of the New Zealand shaving brush palm.
Returning along the path to the front of the garden
we reflected on the rarity of the plants and the success of the
overall effect. The garden forms a marked contrast to the surrounding
backyards, which are little more than grass and dirt. Yet somehow
they are the odd ones out: this garden seems as though it is the
last surviving pocket of a subtropical forest which once covered
the area. We almost felt resentful that foolish neighbours had slash-and-burned
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24-03-17 - 12:10GMT
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