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Colour in the Exotic Garden

Dyed-in-the-wool palm freaks will probably freak out at the very idea of flowers but don't throw up your hands in horror. A little colour goes a long way and can certainly add to the exotic effect we are all seeking.
Alan & Carol Hawes, 1 Napier Road, Hamworthy, Poole
Chamaerops No.21, Winter Edition 95/96
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Colour in 3 views. So Mediterranean!

Many articles in this journal have praised palms, bamboos and phormiums for the exotic effect that they impart to a garden, but illustrative photographs have been disappointingly green. I should like to describe our attempts to combine these beautiful plants with others that enhance their 'greeness' and create a truly 'tropical' effect.

We have a jungle in our garden - just a small one, but densely planted with Phyllostachys nigra and aurea, Trachycarpus, Gevuina, Eriobotrya, Azara, Crinodendron, Pseudopanax, Lomatia, Eucryphia, Acca, Luma and Cordyline australis surrounding a 20 foot Lyonothamnus floribundus with its elegant ferny leaves and red branches. These provide a rich green profusion of leaves of many sizes and shapes, with the bonus of a few flowers. Trained to the walls are more evergreens Dianthus, Camellia, Berberidopsis, Holboellia, Lapageria, Jasmine and Clematis armandii. These, and the deciduous but invaluable Eccremocarpus scaber (pink), Tropaeolum speciosum and Mandevilla laxa are encouraged to creep out along ropes and to climb the trees and shrubs, where they flower at different times of the year and add a further layer of growth and interest. A green understory of Astelia, Dianella, Libertia, Phormium cookianum, Zantedeschia aethiopica, triryrtis, Daphne, Geranium palmatum, Adiantum, Blechnum and Iris (confusa, with its amazing palmlike leaves, and japonica) covers a mat of Helxine, Pratia and Parochetus.

This cool, green paradise is the perfect setting for some sizzling Cannas! These muchmaligned plants, so often consigned to bedding schemes in dry soils, revel in the cool moistness of our jungle and shoot up to 6-8 feet during early summer and provide huge mounds of lush leaves and spikes of gorgeous flowers of pink, red and orange from July till October. One species, C. musaefolia, does not flower but waves huge red-edged leaves 8 feet above the ground in compensation. Slighter in growth but with long upright stems of leaves typical of the ginger family are the Hedychiums, some of whose flowers of cream, yellow, orange or red possess the most delicious scent. The combined effect of all these interesting, colourful, relatively-rarely seen plants is, surely, exotic - if this means, as it does to us, 'redolent of exciting, faraway places'.

We would also propose that it is possible to have an exotic garden, as defined above, with no palms, bamboos, ferns or cycads at all! Australia is both exciting and far-away and another part of our garden is planted mainly with Australasian plants. In December 1995, after the Christmas freeze, this area is gay with cream, pink and red-leaved Phormiums, pink and red Grevilleas and Correas, and flowering Acacias with grey and green leaves. Our eucalypts' leathery leaves in shades of silvery green look as immaculate as they did all summer, and foliage shrubs such as Pittosporum (plain and variegated), Lomatia and Corokia nestle amongst purple Dodonea and Hebes (still in flower). In summer Callistemons flaunt their red brushes and bulbs (mainly South African) such as Agapant hus, Watsonias and Gladioli increase the interest. Other 'foreigners' are also welcome as year-round contrast; yuccas various and plants of Echium pininana add to the 'spiky' feel.

In another sunny area with extensive paving we use large numbers of plants in pots to give a Mediterranean effect. Almond-scented oleanders in pink and yellow flower profusely, along with bougainvillea, lantanas and agapanthas, while symetrically-placed red-leaved cordylines and phormiums give an air of formality. Bulbs such as cyrtanthus, amaryllis and nerines add to the display in autumn, and palms like Washingtonia filifera and Phoenix canariensis look right.

Our main aim is to keep the garden looking un-English'. For inspiration, when we're not lucky enough to find ourselves in Australia or Singapore, we turn to the wonderful glasshouses at Kew - we're off again this week! Inspirational reading must include "The Subtropical Garden" by Gil Hanly and Jacqueline Walker and "Tropical Gardens" by William Warren and Luca Inverizzi Tettoni.

P.S. Cannas and Hedychiums increase fast, and we would be happy to pass on pieces to those interested, and show them the garden.

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