The Rhythm of the Jungle

Reading time 5 minutes


There were points during February and March when I thought my garden might never regain its former glory. The Beast from the East had ravaged every plant with any sensitivity to cold, wet or wind. In the ten years since my garden was built I had not experienced such degrees of damage or destruction. Like me, the garden had been knocked off course. Drowned out by howling gales and silenced by snow, the rhythm of my urban jungle seemed to have ceased. And yet, just over 100 days later I stand at the front door and can hear the drums beating louder and more vigorously than ever.

A rapid recovery has not been achieved without some effort. In my determination to get everything back to ‘normal’, I’ve been patient with plants that needed time to rehabilitate. A few, including Cobaea scandens and Agapanthus africanus, are only just out of intensive care. A handful have shuffled off this mortal coil, including my marguerites and a cherished tibouchina. Such is life. They can be replaced. I have been particularly careful to leave striken plants alone rather than smother them with love. Overwatering and zealous cutting-back can turn a minor calamity into a fatality. Vine weevils are also a problem for me, the tiny white grubs preying on the roots of already weakened plants. I go out daily at nightfall to pick the adults off and crush them.



Clearing the garden of blackened vegetation post the big freeze presented opportunities to repair the garden’s perimeter and install a soaker hose to irrigate the driest parts of my raised beds. This has already extended the range of plants I can grow, in what was becoming impossibly dry shade. Bananas, gingers and colocasias are already flourishing, and my clematis are the best they have ever been. The abundance of Clematis ‘Happy Anniversary’ (purchased because I liked it, rather than to celebrate an occasion), has inspired me to plant four more shade-loving, large-flowered clematis: ‘Wada’s Primrose’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Fujimusume’ and ‘Guernsey Cream’. Given a couple of years they will light up the darkest recesses of the garden just when it needs a colourful boost. The pastel colours I’ve chosen work much better than the plums, limes and oranges I favour for brighter spots.



What I find remarkable is plants’ capacity to pick up the beat as soon as weather improves. Where in April the flowering of narcissi was about a month behind, the time-lag in later developers has reduced to a week, if that. Over the last fortnight the pace of growth at The Watch House has been spectacular, with new plantings settling in and filling out in no time. Long, warm days and balmy nights certainly help, although rain has been scarce. Whilst watering I have started to administer a balanced fertiliser to plants in recovery and tomato food to those that are established which I want to flower their socks off. Tomato food works especially well for gingers, dahlias and agapanthus. Any remaining gaps are closing over before I can wedge in a trowel and plant something else. It’s all rather exhilarating, if at the same time exhausting. On Monday mornings I can barely shift my aching body out of bed.

The beat goes on, hopefully maintaining a steady rhythm between now and my open weekend on August 4th and 5th. By then there will be far more flowers: the slow, sultry rumba that’s just picking up tempo will have transformed into a vigorous, passionate, seductive Argentine tango. TFG


Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, open gardens, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants, Urban Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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25 comments On "The Rhythm of the Jungle"

  1. Your garden is looking very tropical Dan. Very lush! I see that it is also very sheltered, unlike mine where the wind rattles through almost constantly. I do rather like that exotic looking coleus (?) with the ragged leaves. What is that lovely plant to the right of it? The one with the almost fern-like blue-green leaves?

    1. The coleus is ‘Henna’. It’s a cracker. The plant to the right is Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’. In a brighter spot the foliage would be much darker. However it’s still very attractive in dappled shade for part of the day.

      My garden is very sheltered, but not from every direction unfortunately. It’s particularly vulnerable when the wind comes from the south, as the buildings create a wind tunnel. What I am trying to achieve in my garden is akin to one of those Cornish valley gardens where the air hardly moves and everything grows improbably huge!

      1. It really is a cracker. Do you keep it indoors then in winter? And does it need full sun? I bought some coleus this year for the north side of my house. Now wondering if they need sun to retain those colours.

      2. In my experience they don’t love full sun, especially if not acclimatised to it. The leaves can fade or scorch. However I am sure the Victorians used coleus in carpet bedding. I am no expert but I would say you’d get stronger colours out of the sun. Apparently over-feeding causes the colours to be weaker too. In deep shade you may experience the plants becoming leggy, and I’d be very vigilant when it comes to slugs and snails as they adore coleus.

        I don’t think any coleus is frost hardy so I take cuttings, root them in water, and keep them indoors over winter if I want to save them …. and I will certainly want to save these!

  2. Your garden looks lovely Dan! The mention of dry shade was very opportune for me as I am helping my son plan and plant a similarly challenging border at the front of his house in Nottinghamshire. It’s a police house, rather dull and square, rather forbidding. All our ideas were really boring until I saw those three gorgeous flamboyant clematis …

    1. Hi Julia. Manageable as dry shade is with the appropriate choice of plants, if you can get a soaker hose in there it will extend your options. I resisted irrigation for years and now wonder why I was so stubborn about it.

      There are lots of clematis suitable for shade, however they all need some moisture, particularly whilst they get their roots down into the ground. Digging in lots of organic matter will help to hold what little moisture there is. I feed mine with fish, blood and bone too.

    1. It is. My poor carpenter told me that he was asked every 5 minutes what was behind the doors when he was repairing them recently. People will find out if they come back on August 4th and 5th!

  3. That is a remarkably recovery. Even without harsh winter, the established portions of the landscape here are not so advanced for this time of year.

    1. That’s interesting Tony. I am not sure what it is that makes everything grow so fast in my garden. It’s probably the relative warmth, humidity and shelter. The trees create a microclimate that’s highly conducive to vigour!

    1. If only! I sat down for about 5 minutes on Sunday when I called my dad for Fathers’ Day, and then I was off again. I can’t be the only gardener that never manages to sit in the garden, surely?

  4. Hi- Looks great!-I had the same experience ,but,like you, everything now in full flush! Can you tell me the name of the plant in your first picture with orange foliage [lower centre] Many thanks Robin.

  5. So sorry about the tibouchina. If you are looking for an absolutely bullet-proof clematis and don’t mind masses of small blooms rather than a handful of big ones, try “Sweet Autumn.”

    1. Funnily enough I have just planted ‘Sweet Summer Love’ which I believe is another hybrid of Clematis ternifolia. It’s a slip of a thing at the moment, but I’m excited to see what it does next year. The flowers are small, violet / magenta and plentiful …. I hope!

  6. Hi Dan, only got around to reading this now but am very curious as to your experience with Clematis ‘Wada’s Primrose’ in time. It’s been one of the biggest disappointments at mine, flowering very poorly, not repeating and flowers seeming to last hours rather than weeks. ‘The President’ and another white one which I can’t remember the name of right now (too tired, I guess) do so much better only half a metre away from it, same aspect/ position. Would love to learn your verdict one day. Hope you have better luck with it.

    1. I hope so too Stefanie. It’s a very small plant at present and almost hidden by all the exotics that are going crazy for this warm weather. The white clematis I am most impressed with is ‘Forever Friends’. I planted one in April last year on a west facing wall. It is already 10ft tall and must have 100+ flowers coming on it. All in 12 months. I am very impressed. You can’t go wrong with the ‘The President’ or ‘Jackmanii’ though. Dan

  7. Lovely to see your garden in recovery. Do you have any other tricks for the vine weevil? I know they are there in my garden because I can see the leaf damage, but this year I haven’t been able to catch them at night. In previous years I’ve caught them easily as they are attracted to the light and gather on the white door frames. Perhaps this year they are hiding because of the heat.

    1. No non-chemical tricks other than to be vigilant and go out nightly with a torch. They do seem to be attracted to certain plants, such as lilies, which reduces the search area. I also sweep debris out from between pots as they seem to lurk there at ground level. I think the reality is to control rather than eradicate. I also find that stronger plants are barely troubled by the blighters.

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