The garden of Richard Darlow

Richard Darlow has kindly provided this article on his garden in the north. The garden was first featured in 'The Cornish garden' 20 years or so ago. The item was entitled 'A Cornish garden with a difference' - the difference namely being that the garden is in Yorkshire rather than Cornwall, and is devoted entirely to the 'Mediterranean' style but, being in the UK, the range of plants is more along the lines of those Cornish gardens in which tender / exotic / Mediterranean subjects thrive.

The garden was designed to faithfully reflect the true Mediterranean / exotic style by planting ONLY plants and trees which would normally be found in gardens around both the Mediterranean and those areas in the world which have similar climates. Of course, in the UK, this means growing the hardier plants seen in those areas but some of the more tender species have provided surprising results. Temperatures in the garden rarely fall below -5 C but in Dec 2010, -7 C was experienced.

Palms and spiky plants are key features - 3 specimens of Trachycarpus fortunei which 20 years ago were trunkless and 2- 3 feet in height are now 12 - 15 feet tall with canopies that can be walked under. All 3 are different in appearance and flower annually - the one female tree producing abundant dark blue berries. There is also a Trachycarpus wagnerianus  with smaller, stiffer leaves - much tougher in strong winds. These palms of course are fully hardy whereas some of my numerous variations of the European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) experienced damage during 2010 / 11 winter but subsequently recovered. The evidence of numerous self sown seedlings is testament to their hardiness. Cordyline australis is not as hardy and these were cut to the ground during that same winter but are re-growing.

Yuccas tend to be very hardy - with one or two exceptions - and I have grown cultivars & varieties of several species such as Y. filamentosa, flaccida, recurvifolia, gloriosa and gloriosa 'variegata' since the garden was created in 1990. Additional Yuccas obtained in the mid '90s and which are also thriving are Y. aloifolia, aloifolia variegata and rostrata.  The latter is now a huge ball of narrow  blue - grey leaves (in fibre - optic lamp fashion - remember those?) on a very attractive trunk.

I used to grow the hardiest cacti such as Lobivia  and  Opuntia  but since the millenium, these have all rotted away due to the increasingly wetter climate we all have experienced. Notable succulent plants which have coped with everything nature has thrown at them are Fascicularia bicolor (planted all around the garden and looking stunning in the Winter months with their scarlet leaves), Aloe striatula and Beschorneria yuccoides (both recovered after damage following the 2010 / 11 winter). Those that did not make it included a large Puya, a blue leaved Dasylirion and a small Agave parryi.

Quick growing trees used in the initial planting, namely several species of Eucalyptus and the Monterey Pine - Pinus radiata quickly created a closed - in, shadier garden so I took the step a few years ago to have them removed. As parts of the garden are now sunnier as a result, I decided to plant additional drifts of Lavandula  -  to provide masses of deep purple flowers, wonderful fragrance and a haven for bees. Coupled with established specimens of Italian Cypress -Cupressus sempervirens & Olives - Olea europaea, the garden has taken on a distinct 'Provencal' feel.

The winters of 2009 / 10 & 2010 / 11 took their toll on the garden. As already mentioned, some plants were damaged and have recovered but the losses included several Passiflora varieties, Clianthus puniceus, Nerium oleander (which never flowered) and Magnolia delavayi. The latter had grown vigorously for 20 years or so producing it's incredibly large evergreen leaves & exotic (though short - lived) flowers. A 4m tall Banksia marginata was in full flower during both winters then in April 2011, in the space of a week, the whole tree shrivelled and died. The same happened the previous year with a potted Canary Island Date Palm - Phoenix canariensis which had grown slowly in a sheltered position for 10 or 11 years. A smallCitrus X 'Meyeri' (Meyer's Lemon) also succumbed after a similar length of time unprotected outdoors.

On the plus side, trees and shrubs which have grown successfully for many years include Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica, Fatsia japonica, Euphorbia mellifera,  Bottlebrush - Callistemon rigidus, Grevillea X 'Canberra Gem', Telopea oreades, Abutilon  megapotamicum, A. X ''Millieri', Fremontodendron X 'California Glory', Myrtus communis, Romneya californica, Pseudopanax ferox, Crinodendron hookerianum, Laurus nobilis and Magnolia grandiflora 'Goliath'. These have not only survived the Yorkshire climate but have positively thrived. Of particular note is Richea dracophylla, a rarely seen Tasmanian shrub of spiky appearance. It is totally hardy, produces flowers resembling bunches of rice grain and has to be pruned hard from time to time in order to keep it in check.

Quick growing trees used in the initial planting, namely several species of Eucalyptus and the Monterey Pine - Pinus radiata quickly created a closed - in, shadier garden so I took the step a few years ago to have them removed. As parts of the garden are now sunnier as a result, I decided to plant additional drifts of Lavandula  -  to provide masses of deep purple flowers, wonderful fragrance and a haven for bees. Coupled with established specimens of Italian Cypress -Cupressus sempervirens & Olives -Olea europaea, the garden has taken on a distinct 'Provencal' feel.

On the plus side, trees and shrubs which have grown successfully for many years include Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica, Fatsia japonica, Euphorbia mellifera,  Bottlebrush - Callistemon rigidus, Grevillea X 'Canberra Gem', Telopea oreades, Abutilon  megapotamicum, A. X ''Millieri', Fremontodendron X 'California Glory', Myrtus communis, Romneya californica, Pseudopanax ferox, Crinodendron hookerianum, Laurus nobilis and Magnolia grandiflora 'Goliath'. These have not only survived the Yorkshire climate but have positively thrived. Of particular note is Richea dracophylla, a rarely seen Tasmanian shrub of spiky appearance. It is totally hardy, produces flowers resembling bunches of rice grain and has to be pruned hard from time to time in order to keep it in check.

Hardier still and of course thriving equally well are several Camellia cultivars, Tree heather - Erica arborea, black bamboo -Fargesia nitida, a Ceanothus sp., Oak leaved hydrangea - H. quercifolia, Wisteria sinensis, Clematis armandii 'Apple blossom' and Campsis 'Madame Galen'. Underplanting consists of Agapanthus hybrids, Fascicularia bicolor (as already stated) plus hardy Mediterranean Acanthus, Lavandula, Santolina and shrubby evergreen Euphorbia wulfenii varieties.

Potentially, there are several fruit bearing subjects; The Loquat and the largest Olive have produced occasional fruits - in penny numbers - while Punica granatum ''nana' (dwarf pomegranite) flowers sparsely but never fruits. Yorkshire summers are never long and hot enough for effective fruiting. By contrast, Ficus carica  'Brown Turkey' frequently produces good quantities of sweet red / purple fleshed fruits - far superior in flavour to shop bought more exotic varieties. In 2013, my grapevine - Vitis vinifera (unknown variety) responded to the hotter summer by developing a few 'bunches' of grapes which unfortunately did not fully ripen and were inedible. Looked impressive though!

A number of tender plants are grown in pots which are placed outdoors from April until late October - December and spend the worst of the winter weather in the conservatory. Plants include Aeonium sp., Stretitzia, Agave sp., Nerium oleander to name a few. I also purchase several 'Bromeliads' each Spring, remove their pots and wedge them into the old leaf bases on the Trachycarpus palms - in epiphytic fashion. These look spectacular (I usually buy flowering ones) throughout the Summer & Autumn. I usually treat them as expendable & leave them in-situ through the Winter. It is surprising how long they continue to look decorative - quite often until January! Some slightly tender plants such as evergreen Agapanthus, Dasylirion & Pittosporum tobira are grown in pots but are left outdoors all year - just spending the occasionally week or so indoors if the weather turns especially severe.

2013 saw several new additions to the garden - the most noteworthy being two large Agave specimens - Agave montana, Agave neomexicana (both are reputedly very hardy and so far are looking pristine) and a 50+  year old potted Olive - with a short very thick trunk. This is standing at the centre of a circular gravelled area and  I now plan to plant Lavender around the pot. Olive trees incidentally are extremely hardy in the UK and are I feel very underused. Testament to this is that a small potted specimen standing outside the conservatory became totally encased in ice from melting snow dripping onto it and re-freezing (in icicle fashion) during the 2009 /10 winter without the slightest ill effect. None of my Olive trees were affected in any way during these recent bad winters. After all, Olives grow throughout inland Spain & Italy where winter temperatures are lower than in the UK.

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