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It’s almost 15 months since the Gin & Tonic Garden first came into being. My compact, 20ft x 20ft courtyard is still occasionally referred to as ‘the other garden’, ‘the new garden’ or ‘the back garden’, even though my house has no definitive front or back. When visitors come to The Watch House, the Gin & Tonic Garden receives barely half the attention that the Jungle Garden attracts. Whilst the setting isn’t as appealing and the plants are less mature, the Gin & Tonic Garden is rapidly growing on me. Part of the appeal is that it’s sunny in the late afternoon, which The Jungle Garden is not, and also that it has a completely different vibe – more like a cottage garden where everything has been flung together in a cheerful mix. It’s a collector’s garden in the truest sense – all about the plants rather than the composition. In a year the Gin & Tonic Garden has developed and flourished beyond all my hopes and expectations, especially given that this space was originally envisioned as a glorified ‘bringing-on’ space for the Jungle Garden. There is still a greenhouse for nurturing tender plants, cuttings and seedlings, but the rest of the garden has developed a personality of its own. Any bringing-on or dying-down happens in the narrow passageway that leads to the street, invisible from the house. Not an inch of space is wasted.

Almost everything in the Gin & Tonic Garden is grown in pots. This is because I still have a lot of concrete and rubble to dig out and a raised bed to build. I arrange my containers in such away that it becomes very difficult to see them, creating the illusion that plants are growing from the ground. The soil here is about 6″ deep before pure-white chalk rock is reached. The garden’s boundary, a weather-worn fence, is an eyesore. It pains me to look at its patched and dreary facade each time I look out of the library window. The fence will be replaced with smart slatted panels as soon as I can afford it. I expect this to be transformative for the Gin & Tonic Garden, providing a more effective wind break and a link back to the colours and finishes used in the Jungle Garden.

Sun-loving plants come into their own in the Gin & Tonic Garden, especially during the summer. Bronze-leaved fennel, marjoram, rosemary and chives have grown well, as have echiums, osteospermums, salvias, polygala and olives. None of these would prosper in the cooler, shadier Jungle Garden. The sun doesn’t get far above the surrounding terraces in winter, but there’s shelter enough from the north and east to protect tender plants such as Geranium maderense, which were not harmed by the Beast from the East here, but which perished in the Jungle Garden. The Gin & Tonic Garden is a much better spot for growing dahlias and plants with silver foliage. I am willing Buddleja speciosissima to bloom this year; Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ has prospered and Echium candicans (below) is looking fit as a fiddle despite being grown in a terracotta pot. I’ve also found space for my first grasses, including the beautiful purple sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum var. violaceum) and crimson fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’).

Neither of my gardens has what I’d call a proper water feature, however I have secreted a black plastic barrel in the Gin & Tonic Garden in order to cultivate Thalia dealbata (powdery alligator flag – such an absurd common name) and Cyperus papyrus (Egyptian papyrus). My friends’ two boys were so appalled that I had installed a ‘pond’ without fish that I was compelled to purchase two goldfish, which they named Kyon and Mr Bean. Both appear exceptionally happy in their Lilliputian home.

My first year of growing tomatoes in the greenhouse has been a great success. Since I only have myself to feed I decided to grow a single plant of five different varieties, including ‘Black Opal’ and ‘Orange Paruche’. I removed a fair amount of the dusty, spent earth that was already in the greenhouse border and worked in lots of fresh compost before planting. Apart from a negligible amount of leaf-miner activity the tomatoes have experienced no other ills. I only wish the greenhouse roof were a little higher as my tomato plants were desperate to grow taller.

The Gin & Tonic Garden has provided space for me to trial several new shrubs and small trees, including Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ (golden Indian bean tree) and Catalpa x erubescens ‘Purpurea’ (purple Indian bean tree). Both will be coppiced annually to keep the trees small and the leaves large. Alongside them Sparmannia africana ‘Flore Pleno’ (African hemp), Tetrapanaz papyrifer ‘Rex’ (Chinese rice paper plant) and Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Spotted Giant’ (giant spotted arum lily) are keeping the foliage stakes high. Gingers old and new, including red-flowered Hedychium greenii, heavenly-scented Hedychium gardnerianum and spectacular Hedychium maximum will give me flowers well into the autumn. Keep it quiet, but I have three more arriving tomorrow. I’ll squeeze them in somehow!

For a year’s work the Gin & Tonic Garden has brought me ample reward. Following the trials of a harsh, late winter, we’ve been blessed with a terrific growing season, helping plants to establish themselves fast. As an addition to the Jungle Garden this new courtyard space has kept me busy and offered fantastic opportunities to experiment. Although I could count the number of gin and tonics I’ve enjoyed on one hand, that’s not really the point. The idea that I could, if I wished to, is enough for me. TFG.

Read Tales from The Gin & Tonic Garden Part I here, and see how much has changed in the course of fifteen months. Looking back at this post I’m surprised myself …. although not by how quickly I’ve managed to fill the space with plants! I hope what these two posts demonstrate is that attractive gardens can be created quickly if there is already some structure to work with, and that it doesn’t take long to start reaping the benefits of your hard work.

Categories: Container gardening, Dahlias, Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Our Coastal Garden, Perennials, Photography, Planting Design, Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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  1. Looking magnificent! Wouldn’t have known that there were workmen still there 15 months ago. So impressed with the tomatoes. Well done. xxx

  2. Looks amazing & difficult to believe nearly all in pots. I am in a similar position & wondered do you have a certain type/size of pot you prefer or would recommend ?

    1. The bigger the better Corrine. That has to be the best general advice with pots. I use plain terracotta where possible and large black plastic tubs with handles for plants that need to be moved in and out of the garden between summer and winter. These are lighter and easier to handle.

  3. Your G&T area is amazing. Are the catalpas in pots? I think you will have your hands full keeping them small enough for this space. It will be fun to watch. Well done.

  4. I just went to look at the first part of G&T. I wasn’t reading your blog then. WOW what a transformation. I am impressed. I also agree with your young friend that you needed goldfish for your water feature. Creatures in the garden are really the icing on the cake so to speak. They make the garden lively.

    1. The local moggies certainly think so Lisa. I catch them pretending to drink from my pond daily, but really they are fishing. Fortunately the fish can swim deeper than their paws can reach.

      At some stage I’ll have to share what the garden looked like prior to starting. Then you really would see a transformation.

  5. the Gin and Tonic Garden has been my favorite for quite some time. I hope it is not just because of the cocktialian name.I am often swayed by that sort of thing. And how did you manage to design it so it looked so fabulous from above ?

    1. It designed itself. I just plonked pots around the edges and they merged together to create swathes of foliage and flower. Underneath that it’s just paving slabs and old shed bases. A grander plan exists, but the money to complete it does not!! I do however look at the garden from above often, so make small adjustments to make sure it looks pleasing from different bedroom windows.

  6. If even part of my garden looked as wonderful as your G&T garden I would be thrilled beyond measure.
    Any (unseen by me) problem surely arises due to one being so much longer established with many changes and chances of design. Love them both.

  7. I love it, my style of gardening, though always trying to be more disciplined! Much as I love tropicals, the thought of growing them scares me, not just a little. The ravages of a hard winter would break my heart. Your G&T mix is so flamboyant and eclectic. A collectors garden. Positively blowsy. As you know, they grow lots of things in pots at G.Dixter, as a process of trials but also fun for making arrangements of plants that might not naturally co- habitate. Each plant can have specific needs met, and it is a great arrangement of loved plants.

    1. I totally agree and have been more than a little inspired and encouraged by Great Dixter. In my opinion there’s nothing at all wrong with growing in pots so long as you’re aware of the limitations and the work involved. I never have to untangle plants that have intermingled; I can grow lime haters next to lime lovers; I can move a plant that doesn’t ‘go’ and play around endlessly with different combinations.

      I like the epithet ‘collector’s garden’ which would be a fair description of what I’ve created.

      Don’t be scared of tropicals though. So long as you have a shed or greenhouse or garage or porch you can grow them, and they’re so rewarding. Dan

  8. It looks absolutely lovely but I hate to think how long it takes to water!
    About tomatoes – I had the same problem with them growing too tall until I threw out the accepted wisdom and allowed the first two side shoots to grow along with the main shoot. Now I have large crops on plants only 5 feet tall. I’ve grown many varieties over the years but the one I keep coming back to is Sungold – just the most amazingly sweet flavour and quite different from any other tomato. Worth a try!
    Good luck,

    1. Thanks David. ‘Sungold’ is one of the quintet! Lovely tomato. I shall try letting some side shoots grow next year but this first year I was reticent as I have a lot of foliage around the greenhouse. I wanted to be sure there was sufficient sunlight to ripen the fruit. Now I know there’s ample!

      Watering takes me a lot of time in the evening and it’s getting more difficult now the nights are drawing in. It’s a race against time!! Dan

  9. Lee Reich just blogged about growing papyrus in his garden in New Paltz, New York. Seems like a fun plant you would enjoy growing in your plant menagerie.😊

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