||Subtropical and sheltered gardens
When we looked at the island of Tresco (pages 40-43), we discovered how exotic-looking subtropical plants were able to be grown in the UK, even though they were fully exposed to wind and salt spray. This was thanks entirely to the warm currents of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Islands, especially small ones out in the open ocean, have very little – or nothing – to prevent them from being blasted by gale-force winds on a regular basis. So the plants growing on Tresco, and the other Scillies, have to be tough against everything except the severe cold. They are certainly wind-tolerant and notably salt-tolerant.
But just think about the far greater diversity of plants available to you if your garden enjoys the warm Gulf waters, yet is also protected from those devastating winds. This is the Utopian environment enjoyed by the plants – and the gardeners – at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, on England’s south coast.
Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Dorset, UK
These gardens were established in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester, as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle. They have since developed into magnificent 20-acre (8ha) gardens filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Many of these plants were first introductions to the UK, discovered by the plant-hunting descendants of the Countess. Abbotsbury has been claimed to have some of the best gardens of their type in the world.
The gardens are a mixture of formal and informal. There is a magnificent Victorian walled garden set in a woodland valley. And it is this valley that is the key to the success of the garden, for the stiff Atlantic gales, which whip straight off the adjoining Chesil Beach, sweep right over the top of the garden. The unique micro-climate, comprising warm maritime air with a low wind count, means that rare and exotic plant species from all over the world thrive here. Sunken gardens, a colonial style teahouse with veranda and scenic views of the golden World Heritage Coast, complete the scene at Abbotsbury (see page 188 for details).
Plan: A sheltered coastal Garden
The natural – and fortunate – phenomenon that protects Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens from the elements is the high ridge between them and the beach. In a small garden, the protection is provided by surrounding walls and buildings. This plan is one way to capitalize on this protection. A contemporary circular sunken patio is accompanied by circular or arced pond, beds and steps. Combined strategic planting and uplighting will give the area the appearance of the subtropical.
A Sunken patio
B Pond wih uplighters
E Stone Ridge
G Access steps
J Scented planting
K Ground cover planting
N Seasonal colour
Walk through the valley garden and you will see tender woodland camellia groves and magnolias that you will not see anywhere
else in the UK. Multicoloured Asiatic primroses border the banks of a stream in springtime, and there are many fine specimen trees and shrubs – particularly hydrangeas and rhododendrons. In the past decade many new exotic and unusual plants have been introduced.
Visitors can also take time to visit nearby Chesil Beach – which is 18 miles (30km) long and is said to contain 180 billion pebbles – with its display of wild coastal plants, especially good in June and July.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) in Sydney, Australia, provide an oasis of 74 acres (30ha) in the heart of the city (see page 188 for details). Wrapped around Farm Cove at the edge of Sydney Harbour (the world’s largest natural harbour), the gardens occupy a spectacular position. They are just a short walk around the water’s edge from the Sydney Opera House and fill an area of land between the salt-water harbour and the eastern part of the central business district. The undulating piece of land on which the gardens sit offers both sheltered planting space in the dips and exposed planting space on the heights (from where the harbour views are superb).
Established in 1816, the Botanic Gardens Trust is the oldest scientific institution in Australia and home to an outstanding collection of plants. There are large trees with a wonderful shade canvas against the intense Australian summer sun, and there are a staggering one million cultivated plants to see.
Plants featured at RBG Sydney
Begonias: These magnificent plants are grown worldwide in the tropics and sub tropics for both flowers and foliage. A large garden devoted to them (sponsored by the Begonia Society of New South Wales) has been created at the gardens, where visitors can learn about the origins of these diverse plants – and how to grow them.
Herbs: Plants from around the world are on display in the gardens in a special herb garden. There is also a sensory fountain and sundial modelled on the celestial sphere.
Palms: A Palm Grove, established in 1862, is a cool summer haven and one of the world’s finest collections of palms. Several of the Royal Botanic Gardens’ oldest trees, grown from wild plants collected in the 1820s and 1850s, grow here.
Roses: The new Palace Rose Garden opened in 2006.
Succulents: Desert landscapes are a mosaic of colours, shapes and textures. The Succulent Garden provides a rare opportunity to experience and closely examine the bizarre shapes of arid-adapted plants.
The Wollemi Pine (pictured above): This ancient tree is one of the world’s rarest plants, with only three stands of adult trees growing in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. The first specimen ever planted out is growing here, in the sheltered, salty air of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.