Monday, November 15, 2010

A History of Alternative Eden

This blog is the story of our exotic garden, located in Luton, United Kingdom it has been our home for nearly 6 years. The intention from the start was to create an urban oasis, a secret and hidden place that felt like it should not belong in the UK. A garden created with towering bamboos, palms, and many unusual and exotic plants to give the illusion of being somewhere many thousands of miles away.

The garden is still relatively young, it has been in existence for only six summers, and as we pack away and tidy up in the Autumn of 2010, we felt this was a good time to reflect upon what we have created so far.

The beginning
Prior to 2005 we had a very small garden, 30 feet long by 12 feet wide, despite its small nature this was home to a number of exotic plants even then, bamboos, palms, cordylines, acers and grasses. We had outgrown the house and outgrown the garden, so over the winter of 2004-05 we set about looking for a new place to call home.

One of the key requests to the Estate Agents was to find a property with a large urban garden. Perhaps really we were looking for the right garden that had an acceptable house! By the spring of 2005 we had found our new home and having moved in we were able to begin the transformation from overgrown and unloved outdoor space to our tropical paradise.

View of the bottom section of the Garden in March 2005
When we moved in the garden had been neglected for a number of years, there were numerous self sown sycamore saplings, brambles and budleja shrubs growing throughout the garden. The old shrubs and trees had been left to grown unchecked and had more than outgrown the space available to them. We began with a significant amount of clearance, removing conifers, and chopping back trees to more sensible sizes. The intention was always to keep anything garden worthy, especially some of the slightly larger plants. From that initial garden several older specimens still exist, a large Yew tree, and Phormium tenax help define the first part of the garden.

First plantings
Like many people new into the hobby of exotic gardening we had to learn as we went along, we had to find our own style and learn which groups of plants we were particularly keen to grow, as well as which plants would thrive in our location. Some garden centres and nurseries make very confident statements about hardiness that do not take into account all of the conditions a plant will have to endure in a British winter.

The area near to the Yew with some of the first few plants in
Summer 2005

Initial plantings were mostly centred on structure, some of the first bamboos went into the garden to break the garden up into the garden rooms that visitors enjoy today, others to help hide existing garden outbuildings and sheds - a useful and necessary part of a garden but not something one would want as a key focal point. Some of the first palms (Trachycarpus fortuneii and Chamaerops humilis) were planted, and now established are starting to take off.

Hard Landscaping
We were fortunate that despite the garden having been neglected for a number of years prior to our ownership it had been a loved family garden in the past. A significant amount of interesting hard landscaping had already been undertaken, walls, embankments, pergolas, and even a church style gateway had all been erected. Some of these have needed minor repairs but fortunately were in generally good order and of good quality. We have added features such as the Koi pond and associated patio area - which when we moved in was an old pig sty, a new middle patio area has been added to create a enclosed courtyard style garden, and a covered colonial style veranda was added to the front of a large existing outbuilding. Many of these features will be covered in more detail in future blog postings.

The Garden in 2010
The Jungle hut - Summer 2010.
We are now at a stage in the gardens life that it is starting to look how we envisaged it six summers ago, the story of this exotic garden is in reality only just beginning, we hope you will enjoy this journey with us as we continue to develop and enhance our tropical oasis.

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