The Exotic Garden.

In March I started a new project which I had been mulling over for some time. When I created my secret garden three years ago I always planned accessing it through a jungle of lush foliage and vivid blooms so that it would indeed feel like a secret garden.

Secret Garden

Last year I created a Mediterranean garden beyond it and this has been a great success. But the exotic garden has quite a different feel.

Arundo donax‘ Variegata’ Dahlia ‘Cornel Bronze’

I learnt my lesson about removing turf to create a new garden when I dug up the lawns in the front garden and then three years later did the same to create the winter garden although I had help with that. First of all, I am getting too old for that sort of milarkey and secondly it is not a bright idea to remove your fertile top soil.

So no turf removal. I made the shape for the new area with the hosepipe and then covered the lawn with cardboard. When I couldn’t find any more cardboard I used a cheap weed membrane. Our bonfire area has clearly been used for this purpose for many years so when I excavated, I  found enormous quantities of ash which was light to wheelbarrow on to the new garden and quickly covered the cardboard and membrane.  The upside of using ash was the fact that after many bonfires it would be sterile and free from weed seeds, although bizarrely, several squashes have appeared growing in the ash and as I have never grown these, the seeds must have survived years of bonfires. Ash doesn’t look great but I planned on hiding it with plants quite quickly.  I then bought some  paving stones to create a path into one entrance of the secret garden and found a few slabs in the garden to make the other path.  So very quickly I was ready for planting.

Here it is in July when the pathway in to the secret garden was still accessible. You can’t even see it now.

Just as I was ready for planting, my lovely son decided to make some space and thin out the plants in pots on his wonderful jetty garden He appeared with, amongst other things, a black bamboo with a frilly skirt of the fabulous grass, Hakonechloa macra. There was a large olive tree, a Eucalyptus gunnii, a mimosa, Acacia pravissima and a huge variegated Arundo donax.  This was perfect timing and gave me some ready made dramatic foliage.  I added a couple of Tetrapanax papyrifer which has huge leaves, a variegated Castor Oil, Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ a golden bean tree and some grasses.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’


Tetrapanax papyrifer with poisonous Ricinus communis

I also bought a banana,  Musa basjoo which I hope will be hardy outside .

Musa basjoo

The red banana is not hardy, I had one before and eventually had to give it away when it grew too tall to fit inside the house.  I kept it for two years and used it for a rather recherché Christmas tree but then had to admit defeat when it reached the ceiling. In the following photo you can see the red banana with the Melia azedarach which I grew from seed collected in Greece four years ago. The silvery leaves of Eucalyptus gunnii are in the background.

Melia azedarach and Ensete venticosum ‘Maurelili’


Arundo donax ‘Variegata’


New to the garden is this unusual yucca, Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’. I have never seen it before.

Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’

In the shade along the paths I planted ferns.

Fern with Japanese grass, Hachenochloa macra

I planted several grasses but the one which has astonished me with its enormous size is this Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’.

Pennisetum rubrum


From seed, I grew climbing Mina lobata, (or  Ipomoea lobata as we have to call it now,) along with and Black-eyed Susie for height. For bright colours I grew orange Tithonia rotundifolia, lots of  colourful zinnias, Coreopsis tinctoria ‘Roulette’, tall Tagetes  linaeus and  sun-loving Gazania ‘Talent Red Shades’, bright orange Marvel of Peru, Mirabilis jalapa ‘Orange’.  Leonitus ‘Staircase’ grows ever taller with orange whirly bits at intervals on its long prickly stems. I love Ricinus communis for bold foliage but as I was worried that Hector might eat it I destroyed all but one plant which I hid away in the middle of everything. I grew various canna lilies but these will not germinate from seed unless you find some way of penetrating the hard skin of the seed. They are like ball bearings and trying to rub them with sand paper takes the skin off your finger tips but leaves the seeds intact. I only have a few plants. Next year I will put the seeds in the coffee grinder for a second.


This garden is going to be quite work intensive because I have planted so many tender plants here including house plants.

The real highlight of the exotic garden is the fact that I got quite carried away when ordering dahlias this year and they have all grown wonderfully big and lush on a diet of chicken pellets and constant watering. I have grown a few dahlias for years, starting with the respectable ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and several lovely seed grown ones from ‘The Bishop’. For years black-leaved dahlias were considered the only acceptable ones in sophisticated gardens, but now we are allowed to be as vulgar as we wish. I still love dark dahlias which are nearly black but I have plenty of big, blowsy ones in clashing colours too. Single ones are quietly pretty and bees love them. I love anemone -flowered ones like ‘Mambo’ and ‘Blue Bayou’ too. So here are a few of my favourites.

I could sit here all day talking about my exotic garden and if you were here I would take you down the garden for a close inspection of every plant. It is my favourite part of the garden at the moment.



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49 Responses to The Exotic Garden.

  1. Mz&Cho says:

    Wish had a garden like yours! A real labor of love. Thank you the post and thank you for sharing the photos.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    It looks splendid! The colors and textures feel jungly with all the large leaves and warm hues.

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    ‘Exotic Garden’ is a very appropriate name for that gorgeous tumble of flowers and leaves. I’m interested that you’ve added a eucalyptus gunnii which presumably will grow quite large. The dahlias have added luscious colours into the mix.

  4. Beautiful garden, beautiful photos. Thank you.

  5. Christina says:

    When you mentioned a new project I had an inkling that it might be an Exotic Garden. What surprises me must is how full grown it all looks already. It is a triumph, well done.

  6. Frog says:

    Wow, it is just wonderful ! I can only dream of it in my small garden. Thank you for writing down the plants’ names on the pictures !

  7. Ali says:

    It looks amazing, in such a short space of time! I love that method of covering the turf with cardboard (I have spent a lot of time cutting turf!).

  8. Splendid, and the Dahlias. So jealous.

  9. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. xx

  10. Beautiful! I can only imagine the work it took to plant it, but I’m sure it was worth it. Do you bring the tender plants in for the winter?

  11. Peter Herpst says:

    Your exotic garden is splendid! I love using the cardboard method rather than digging out sod. Amazing growth in a single year. What a wonderful surprise to discover the secret garden after passing through your exotic jungle.

  12. rusty duck says:

    Considering how dry it’s been this year I can imagine the amount of time spent watering. It looks marvellous. And so lush! It would be my favourite part of the garden too. Kudos!

    • Chloris says:

      Gosh yes, the watering has been an absolute pain this year, specially for the dahlias which are permanently thirsty. We still haven’t had much rain and they are drooping a bit. It seems unreasonable to have to water in late September.

  13. Kris P says:

    I love it! Have you purchased a machete yet? I expect your colder winters will do a lot to keep it under control without hacking at it. As I looked at all those luscious colors, I couldn’t help thinking that you need to grow Lotus bethelotii ‘Amazon Sunset’ too – it would nicely accent many of the plants you grew from seed. I adore all your big-leafed plants, most of which like our temperatures but hate the low-water diet they’re subjected to when I try to grow them here. I’ve been very tempted to grow Cannas anyway (although, if I do, you won’t find me trying to grow them from seed, not that I don’t admire the effort). Ricinus would probably grow here without copious irrigation (I’ve seen it growing in wild areas along the road) but I remain nervous about anything that poisonous. I wish I could grow the range of dahlias you’re growing too but, being heavy drinkers, I’ve got to confine them to the small area I’ve chosen to water lavishly, and yet I still live in apprehension over each monthly water bill.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes, unfortunately much of it will have to be brought inside for the winter. I have grown Lotus berthelotii in a pot, I agree, it would be great for my exotic garden. I would have grown more ricinus, if I didn’t have an omniverous granddog. It is so dramatic but such a noxious poison makes me nervous. You are right dahlias need so much water, they have been difficult to keep happy this hot, dry summer. Fortunately my water is not metered.

  14. How fabulous Chloris – you must be delighted! I had been wondering what your project was and now all is revealed. My next door but one allotment plot neighbour has an exotic plot which featured on ‘Gardener’s World’ a couple of years ago. I can’t see him at this time of year when he is working on the plot 🙂

  15. Oh my, that is delightful! Secret gardens and exotic gardens are so fascinating! I’m amazed at all your plants–particularly your Dahlia collection. Beautiful!

  16. tonytomeo says:

    I do not know what to think of the Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’. It looks odd to me, and does not look much like Yucca aloifolia. It probably works better for you lush garden, since it looks a bit softer than Yucca aloifolia, and the color will not be so lost in all that green.

    • Chloris says:

      The yucca js new to me, I don’t know what it will look like when it is mature, but now it is not as spiky as most yuccas and I like the colour.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Well, many are spiky. There are 50 specie and many hybrids and cultivars. They all have their own personalities. The giant yucca that is the most common here (and one of my favorites) has soft foliage, but also gets too big and trashy for most landscapes. Yucca filamentossa and its even prettier cultivars are increasingly popular in home gardens because they bloom so nicely, but their leaves are obnoxiously sharply pointed. (It is worth growing if you know to watch the tips.) Yucca gloriosa has even sharper leaf tips, but is very pretty.

  17. Cathy says:

    Oh my goodness, Chloris – such vision! To envisage the effect you want and then successfully create it in only 6 months says so much about you. I trust you are thrilled with the result? Seeing it in 2 dimensions is breathtaking but seeing it for real must be something different again (another visit will be necessary, methinks…). Combining perennials and dahlias and annuals works so well too. Your Secret Garden has matured beautifully too – hard to believe it’s been 3 years since its creation. Well done Chloris 😊

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  19. I’m glad to see you incorporate Tithonia and other orange annual flowers. And how wonderful to have a son who will share passalong plants. Perhaps some day.

  20. Denise Maher says:

    I love this type of garden, which can absorb so many cool plants. Bravo!

  21. bittster says:

    I can’t believe it. You said you had something up your sleeve this year but I never suspected it would be such a grandly amazing extravagance! Even if you are somehow managing to angle the camera in just the perfect direction I can’t see a single less than exciting spot. The colors and foliage are perfect. I wish I was able to put something together like that but as of yet it hasn’t come close.
    My favorite is the tetrapanax. I love those leaves. Rumor has it the hairs can be irritating, but I would just be a little careful, it would be worth it.
    I can’t believe you did this in just one season…

  22. Chloris says:

    Thank you Frank.I have always admired your late summer garden . You have exuberance and lots of colour too. I didn’t know that Tetrapanax can irritate, thanks for the warning.

  23. It’s both exotic AND very “rich” looking! It truly is a one-season wonder but meaning that as a very GOOD thing. 🙂 (not in the tv-ratings-flop sense, lol)

  24. Chloris says:

    Thank you. I suppose ut will be underwhelming in the spring. I shall have to plant plenty of tulip bulbs.

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