Fanny Burney, English Novelist, once said after seeing buildings in Italy, ‘travel is the ruin of all happiness’, and the gardens at Mount Stewart have that effect on some gardeners. Several visitors have said after seeing our wonderful planting that they were quite dissatisfied with their own gardens and would have to start again! I remind them that we have a rather special micro-climate but suggest they take inspiration from Lady Edith’s try-anything philosophy – it doesn’t always work but it is fun trying! And it’s fairly certain that they won’t be presented with a flock of flamingos by an Egyptian monarch, and they don’t need to order tree frogs or lizards from Regent’s Park Zoo, but with all the wonderful catalogues of plants, not to mention our own plant shop, they could try introducing something exotic into their own patch. What they have to do is study their soil, garden aspect, weather patterns, and plant to suit.
What about this Congo Cockatoo? It likes a moist-ish and shady rather than sunny spot outdoors. Sort of like a Busy Lizzie, It makes a lovely indoor pot plant as well and is easily propagated. Just stick an offshoot in water and grow the roots. Needs regular watering so pick a reliable friend to look after it when you are on holiday. Mine at home started off as an offshoot taken from a friend’s equally aged plant about twenty years ago, and I have passed on rooted cuttings to others.
Salvias come in all shapes, sizes and colours and Hotlips is one of my favourites. The blossoms are a combination of white and lipstick red. Sometimes known as Blackcurrant Sage because when the leaves are crushed they smell like fruit. I’m looking forward to seeing it growing in the wild in south eastern Arizona later in the year. It loves sun and only needs a pruning in Spring, mine is in a pot but I’m going to find room for it in my patch. There’s a couple of nice bunches on the Dodo Terrace.
A Chinese proverb says, ‘When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other’. And when you see these Zantedeschia aethiopica or the cultivar Green Goddess why wouldn’t you want to buy one? Native to southern Africa, and a bit more exotic looking than the ordinary calla lily, Green Goddess has green edging on the spathes which allow the flower to last much longer. It also develops curvy fringes at the edge of the spathe than the original white form, and looks stupendous in large floral arrangements. It likes moist places, like swampy ground and the edges of riverbanks. Ours grow at the lake so Lisa needs her waders to collect them for the Saloon. It is the national flower of island nation St Helena but is considered a pest in Australia. See them while resting on the bench, just after the cork tree.
Or how about a really dramatic succulent like this Aeonium? Planted against a pale background our collection always draws admiring comments from visitors. However this is one plant you need to protect from frost, so bring it in during the winter. A cool place with not too much water will keep it happy.
Phygelius capensis or Cape Fuschia from South Africa is a very easy to grow plant with a long blooming season from May to November. It likes full sun and will be happy in any sort of soil. Some fertiliser would be welcome, and if your garden is particularly cold in winter then a little protection may be needed. It comes in this lovely shocking pink colour draping itself over the Dodo Terrace. There is an orangey-red one in the plant shop, and you can see the lovely white version in the Mairi garden just now. Semi-evergreen, it can grow to a shrubby 4 feet tall, so make sure you have room.
Pick up lots of horticultural information in our second hand bookshop. It offers entertaining reading, lovely photographs, good value and a reason not to go out and get wet on a rainy day. Better to put the kettle on and open that box of Maltesers.