A new Eden; One man's dream has brought a taste of Paradise to a corner of Ireland.
There's a new Eden just down the road from me - Jimi Blake's Hunting Brook in County Wicklow. The beauty of his hillside plot, his collection of plants, along with his fame as a passionate gardening communicator, meant Monty Don and the Gardeners' World crew visited recently. Rather embarrassingly Monty got there before me.
So last weekend I made the pilgrimage and while dodging a tropical-type downpour I drank in Jimi's magnificent creation. There's so much to talk about. But what really struck me was the number of tender specimens he's planted amongst 'normal' perennials to give a tropical and jungle feel.
In cold areas - and the Wicklow hills can pack a windy chill - these plants need to be moved indoors for winters, so that's most parts of the UK. But since we have the climate in summer, it's fun to mix up the usual with some striking species.
As well as using tender exotics, Jimi adds in some bright bursts of colour with neon pink and yellow Dahlia 'Bright Eyes', orange cosmos, rich scarlet Monarda and a sprinkling of red salvias to create a joyful tapestry of textures, shapes and colours.
He also uses tender exotics to great effect by planting table-height troughs on his veranda and cramming them with cacti and succulents - it's fun, different and because it doesn't need much watering, it is low maintenance as well.
Aeoniums are evergreen succulents that come from the Canary Islands and Madeira. They will only survive outdoors in very mild coastal areas in the UK - for example, they flourish in great numbers in Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Scilly Isles.
However, for most of us, they need to be brought indoors over winter.
That's not just because they are susceptible to frost - sitting outdoors in puddles of rain will rot them too.
The smaller ones look wonderful planted in pots but, for maximum drama, plant the larger ones amongst your borders.
Aeonium arboreum, the tree houseleek, forms a shrub two feet high. The most striking and best known is 'Zwartkop' which has large, glossy, purple to almost black leaves, clustered in big rosettes. They like to be planted in well drained soil, so add some grit if necessary - they would also be very happy placed in a gravel garden.
They're quite easy to propagate from cuttings. My top tip here is to let the bottom of the cutting form a callous overnight before potting into gritty compost - this will reduce the risk of rot.
The luscious leaves of the banana plant are superb as they set the scene for a tropical atmosphere as well as bringing height and freshness to exotic planting. No urban jungle is complete without them. Musa basjoo is the hardiest of the bananas but should still be considered as a tender perennial and moved to a frost-free area over winter and planted out when the frosts have passed. They can be kept outside and wrapped in horticultural fleece in milder areas. Musa sikkimensis has narrower leaves with tropical burgundy stripes and mottling on both leaf surfaces.
The fruits on these bananas don't taste good but they are worth growing for the architectural paddle-shaped leaves.
Ensete ventricosum 'Maurellii', the Abyssinian banana, has pleasing purple-tinged leaves. With all bananas, a little shelter from strong winds is advisable as the leaves can tear.
Cannas are another good option for mixing it up in the herbaceous border.
Grown for their large dramatic leaves, they also produce tropically bright flowers late in the summer.
'Durban' is a stunning variety with red and yellow-striped leaves; 'Wyoming' has deep crimson stems and orange flowers, and Canna x ehemanii has deep green leaves and red flower heads.
Cannas are originally from tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America and therefore you should treat them like a tender perennial.