Autumn in Subtropical England

Dahlias and Verbena bonariensis at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

The Exotic Garden at Great Dixter, England

It’s all a bit of a worry, but we Aussies have much to learn from the subtropical gardens of England.  Yes, really, we do.

They can’t touch us on our ability to do subtropical temperatures, but as far as subtropical gardens go, well, we have to concede that there are some pretty good examples over there.

Tetrapanax in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter

Large-leaved Tetrapanax adds wonderful texture in Great Dixter’s Exotic Garden

Last month I visited the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter.  Now ‘exotic’ to an English person doesn’t mean a plant from overseas.  In fact even ‘overseas’ is Australian terminology, but that’s another story. Exotic to the English means tropical; something from the Caribbean or Seychelles.  Think, bananas, coconuts and palm trees.  In other words, all the things that you would never in a million years associate with England.

So it’s pretty impressive when you see what has been created in the depths of East Sussex.

Dark leaved Canna offsets this Fuchsia beautifully at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Dark-leaved Canna offsets this Fuchsia beautifully at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Once a rose garden, designed by the world renown architect, Edwin Lutyens, Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett transformed this 80 year old space amidst much public outcry.  Today it is one of the garden’s most inspiring features.

Foliage textures at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Foliage textures at Great Dixter Exotic Garden – it’s hard to believe you are in England

At the time of replanting, a few roses were left in amongst the bananas and gingers and begonias although they have now mostly been swallowed up by the enormous growth of these tropical plants.  It genuinely feels like a jungle – tall, overspilling, lush growth surrounds you in all directions; it is quite perplexing to think that you are in the UK.

The formal structure of the rose garden remains, but it is impossible to make out as you weave your way left and right, over and under the dense growth along the very narrow pathways.

Straight pathways give hints of the old rose garden at Great Dixter

Straight pathways give hints of the old rose garden at Great Dixter

In typical Great Dixter style, it is all bright colours and jam packed planting.  Enthusiasts and experts of this style, an overflowing, radiant tropical garden was the perfect additional here.

Dahlias are key to the bright colour scheme and the garden is at its best in autumn.  Once the frosts arrive, some plants are safely moved under cover, but a surprising number of plants survive the chilly winter.

Rich colours at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Rich colours of Dahlia and Verbena bonariensis at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

We all tend to get in a rut with garden styles.  There are very definite trends in every country/city and on the whole we pretty much toe the line.  I am a strong believer in planting species that actually want to grow in your particular climate and soil conditions, but equally I love to explore new ideas.

It is exciting to find a new plant that loves growing in your area, it is fun to try something a bit different and it is refreshing not to follow everyone else.

Sugar cane and Pseudopanax find a place in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter

Sugar cane, Eucalyptus and Pseudopanax find a place in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter

We don’t have to be outlandish, but having a garden that is unique to us, reflects our personality and our likes and dislikes and is a little bit different to the norm is, to me, what it is all about.  That is what makes Great Dixter so special.  It retains the soul of the two gardeners who created it and you can tangibly feel it whilst you are there.

Tibouchina, Verbena and Ensete at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Tibouchina, Verbena and Ensete at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

I encourage you to use your garden as a fun and safe way of experimenting and letting your creative juices flow…….you just never know what weird and wonderful planting combinations you may stumble upon – the random ones are often the very best of all.  It’s good to have a strong structure up front, but once this is in place, go for your life with the intermediate plants!

Don’t be constrained; London or Sydney, subtropical or alpine, let your imagination run wild.  Gardens are supposed to be fun!

Vibrant Plectranthus and Dicksonia tree fern at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

Vibrant Plectranthus and Dicksonia tree fern amongst the plants at Great Dixter Exotic Garden

PS I have uploaded some photos of the first day of summer colour in my garden this morning.  Click here to see them.

2 thoughts on “Autumn in Subtropical England

  1. Adriana Fraser says:

    Very interesting Janna – I have seen this part of the garden on a TV show recently. I like the way they have mixed plants – colourful temperate plants with sub-tropical species. For a stunning Australian garden (cool rainforest) you should check Philip Johnston’s garden at Olinda (it is featured in the latest House and Garden Magazine). It was also open this year to the public hopefully it will be again next year too. I think his new book (Connected) may also be interesting to read. He would have to be producing some of our greatest ‘Australian gardens’ at present. Another designer worth having a look at in the Sydney area is Matt Leacy – he seems to be producing some great, modern, urban designs.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I like Matt Leacy’s gardens too, especially the ones with a wide plant palette. I have been to one of Phillip Johnson’s billabong gardens, although not at his home. He is extremely talented at creating a strong Australian feel with natural hard landscaping materials – a true pioneer in this field. Will see if I can get to Olinda next year – thanks for the tip.

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