A dense canopy of tropical plants gives this stylish modern garden a lush and jungly feel. Owners Simon Bennett and Laura Holmes treat us to a tour
This bright, jungly garden has a secluded feel, with leafy palms and banana plants creating intimate spaces filled with exotic-looking flowers. “We’d just finished converting the barn on my parents’ farm when we started work on the garden about 10 years ago,” says owner Simon Bennett, who lives here with his partner Laura Holmes.
“We had no experience, but we knew that we wanted plants to tower overhead on different levels to create a lush planting scheme to look out on. Exotics seemed to be the answer and, after clearing the ground of grass and rubble, we started with trachycarpus, tree ferns and a couple of cordylines. Sadly we lost a lot of them that winter and became a bit disheartened…”
The couple really got into their stride in 2012, after spending time visiting exotic gardens such as Tresco Abbey and Lamorran House in Cornwall. “We were inspired by the dense plantings of palms there, and also by Will Giles’ exotic garden in Norfolk, which showed us what could be grown outdoors in the British climate.
“We started off in the walled area next to the kitchen, where we chose large-leaved and tall-growing plants for maximum impact, such as bananas Musa basjoo and Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, brugmansia (angel’s trumpets), butia palms and tetrapanax, all bought online from specialist nurseries.
“Many beds are raised to give the plants extra height,” says Simon. “We invested in more mature specimens to create the towering canopy we wanted more quickly.
“We then filled in the lower levels with plants that have exotic-looking flowers and leaves, such as Begonia rex and cane-stem begonias, anthuriums, echiums, hedychiums, eucomis and cannas.”
Potted houseplants are incorporated into the summer displays. “These include Swiss cheese plants, staghorn ferns, spider plants and tradescantias,” says Simon. “Bromeliads and air plants are attached to tree trunks.”
The couple soon extended their exotic planting beyond the kitchen garden. “As we grew in confidence and experience, we dug over more of the garden to create fresh planting areas,” says Simon. “These are connected by winding gravel paths and lead to a jungle hut – our covered outdoor seating and dining area – and also to a large greenhouse, predominantly used to overwinter our more tender plants. We got special planning permission for the greenhouse, because it had to be really tall (4m/13ft) to accommodate some of our larger specimens.”
Tender plants are moved under cover towards the end of October, with Simon keeping a careful eye on the weather forecast for frosts. “Our greenhouse is heated to 5C (41F) to ward off frost damage. The plants stay in there until May when we plant everything out again.
“Even so, I’ve often been surprised how many can survive outside. Our tree ferns have remained evergreen for the past four years and our Musa basjoo bananas are mainly unprotected, although I did wrap them up with fleece and straw when the ‘Beast from the East’ struck in 2017.”
Tetrapanax now tower overhead and the eucomis, hedychiums and tradescantia all survive winter outdoors, with echiums naturally seeding around.
“We spend most of our summers watering, feeding, deadheading, staking, tying in and moving the potted displays around as new plants come into flower,” says Simon. “We also do a lot of propagating for our plant sales bench on open days. It’s labour intensive, but we love it!”
IN THE GARDEN WITH… Laura Holmes & Simon Bennett
AT Oak Barn, Church Street, East Markham, Newark NG22 0SA
GARDEN SIZE 21x32m (70x105ft)
SOIL Improved heavy clay
FEATURES Dense canopy of greenery and tropical foliage; gravel paths; palms and bananas underplanted with cannas and gingers; houseplants bedded out; large greenhouse; jungle hut used for dining and socialising. See www.ngs.org.uk