An unusual tropical garden in the Kent countryside
Steven Edney and Louise Dowle’s middle-sized tropical garden, Sweetbriar, is open several times a year for the NGS.
Both Steven and Louise are professional gardeners. Steven runs the beautiful Salutation garden in Sandwich, and Louise gardens for private clients. Their own garden is very much a joint venture, they say, although both acknowledge that it’s a little more ‘Louise’s garden’ than it is Steven’s.
They decided to have an tropical garden because they wanted to try something different from their normal daily gardening.
And Steven adds that, although a tropical garden needs a lot of work in spring and autumn, it is very easy to look after in summer.
In a traditional English garden, summer means mowing lawns, dead-heading flowers, clipping hedges and weeding. None of which apply in a tropical garden, where every inch of soil is carpeted with lush vegetation. So as professional gardeners, they can (almost) relax when they get home to their own garden.
With a greenhouse at its heart
Many tropical plants need to over-winter, so you definitely need a greenhouse. Steven and Louise’s greenhouse is in the middle of their garden, just a few feet away from the back door and windows.
Once you’re in the greenhouse, though, you could be a world away from rural Kent. Steven and Louise use it to house tender plants in the winter. In the summer, it’s a pretty conservatory – the perfect place to sit and relax with a drink after work.
Add a winding mulch path…
A mulch path winds round the garden, starting with steps from a small terrace outside the back door. It meanders around trees and plants, ending up in an archway down to the terrace again.
Instead of a lawn, there are plants everywhere. Although the garden is probably no more than a quarter of an acre, Steven and Louise are potentially curating two National Collections – one of Pseudopanax, the other of Persicaria virginiana species and cultivars.
A tropical garden is foliage-based…
One of the things Steven most loves about their tropical garden is that it is centred around different foliage shapes, colours and textures. ‘I’ve always wanted to do a ‘green’ garden,’ he says. ‘There are flowers, but they’re a bonus – almost a surprise.’
Use commonly-found flowers for a tropical effect…
The explorers of the Georgian and Victorian times brought many exotic plants to Britain. Dahlias originally came from Mexico as a food like a potato. Since then, they’ve become a staple of a traditional British garden, and are now experiencing quite a revival.
Amaranthus, too, is largely seen as a traditional bedding plant in Britain, and now considered somewhat old-fashioned. But it ,too, originally came from Mexico. Its seeds can be used like quinoa and its leaves used in salads. And in the flower border, it strikes a flamboyant tropical note.
Cannas, on the other hand, have always been enjoyed as tropical plants, for their brilliant flowers and sculptural leaves. An increasing number of cultivars are now more hardy, so these stunning plants can generally be grown in Britain.
An tropical garden is very private…
Steven and Louise’s house is detached, but there are houses close by on either side. Towering foliage, bamboos and the sheer density of the planting means that the garden is very private. At the back, there is a deck, a ‘family room’ shed and a hot tub, all tucked away behind the lavish greenery.
There are more tips on how to create an exotic garden here.
You can visit Sweetbriar and Philip Oostenbrink’s garden at 12 Woods Ley nearby (Philip Oostenbrink is Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral Gardens), when they are both open for the NGS. And once you’ve got the bug for exotic gardens, Steven has also been extending the tropical garden at The Salutation (which is close by).
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