Saturday, June 11, 2011

A day out at Eden

Popped down to the Eden project yesterday.  It's fairly close - about an hour's trip - but I haven't been for a few years; September 2007 in fact.  Which I'll put down to pressure of work and some illness.  As always, it's an impressive implementation of a thoroughly innovative concept and design.  I've heard Tim Smit talk so I can understand how he was able to drive the whole project through.

What is most impressive is the way everything has matured and developed.  I visited in it's early stages when the planting was, to say the least, a little threadbare, especially in the Mediterranean biome.  It's now far, far fuller as plantings have knit together, tropical trees and palms reached early maturity and the cooler zones filled up with many a desirable plant.

I adopt a subtropical gardening style myself (well, warm temperate at least) so there are lessons to be learned in both covered biomes.  But it's the tropical biome that's the most impressive to my gardening eyes.  Yes, I'd love to grow some of the palms, bananas, gingers, heliconias and others in my own garden but I don't have the room, and I certainly don't have the climate - even in Plymouth.  Oh, to be able to grow some of these outside:

Heliconia psittacorum

Crinum asiaticum

Costus spiralis

Piper ornatum

Another Costus - not sure of the species

Johannesteijsmannia magnifica

There are dozens more that I could have added - and probably will in later blogs when I run out of ideas.  But it's ideas you come away with more than anything else.  I've grown the hardy(ish) Musa basjoo and had it survive through a good many winters (not alas, the last two).  I've grown the red leaved Ensete ventricosum 'Tandarra Red', though not it's plain leaved cousin.  But I've never been that happy with the way I've placed them.  I've always though of them as specimen plants, to be seen in isolation.  But they're not.  They are just one component of the jungle.  Take this planting:

A big Ensete is framed by smaller planting - in this case Monstera deliciosa, Sanchezia nobilis and other planting - so it emerges from a lower carpet of foliage.  This is the true jungle look - and I'm already thinking of ways to implement it in my own garden.  Ensete ventricosum and its red leaved cultivars 'Maurelii' and 'Tandarra Red' are all readily available.  They grow fast, and with a not unreasonable amount of care (lifting, drying and storing almost dry in cool but frost free conditions), can survive winters to produce very impressive plants in successive seasons.  I can easily arrange a couple of shrubs, one larger leaved, one smaller, that won't mind summer shade and, while the Monstera wouldn't be happy, plants like Colocasia could be added as summer visitors.  I just have to leave enough space for the Ensete to be planted.  In fact, with winter losses, I've got just the spot.  Watch this space.

Another thing that struck me was the extensive use of the trailing Tradescantia zebrina as under planting.  OK, in the warm, humid conditions of the tropical biome this is going to grow like a weed but, with so much going on above it's head this hardly matters.  It's a pretty plant, capable of surviving in light levels that only an Aspidistra would consider reasonable, and producing an exotic carpet of foliage.

Tradescantia zebrina
Of course, it's not hardy.  Or is it?  I've seen reports of it coming back from the roots after -7C freezes.  I'll take that with a pinch of salt - but it wouldn't be difficult to take cuttings from a house or greenhouse overwintered stock plant and grow them on for planting out in May each year. Given the growth rate I've seen on container grown plants they should certainly be capable of providing quite a dense cover under shrubs within a month or so of planting.   Failing that there is Tradescantia 'Maidens's Blush' which Will Giles reports as returning after the harsh winter in his famous exotic garden in Norwich.

Tradescantia 'Maiden's Blush'
I've not considered these as under planting in deep shade before, thinking instead in terms of invasive plants such as Vinca or Lamium galeobdolon. Got to be worth a try - and winter should cure any take over propensities.

Enough for tonight.  I'll return to Eden in the next posting.

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