A fantasy landscape in Norfolk - Will Giles' Exotic Garden - guaranteed to lift your spirits in the autumn
|Exciting tropical foliage abounds at Will Giles' Exotic Garden in Norwich|
When you visit the Exotic Garden at the heart of Norwich in Norfolk, you'd be forgiven for thinking you've accidentally wandered onto a movie set or through the back of the wardrobe in one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. It's an amazing and exhilarating surprise to find a subtropical landscape like this in the middle of an East Anglian city - all due to the efforts of creator, Will Giles, who has amassed a collection of plants that you'd normally expect to find in a completely different climate zone.
|At the highest part of the Exotic Garden, Will Giles has created a xerophytic landscape|
September and October are the ideal months to visit this magical one-acre garden hidden at the heart of one Britain's ancient cities because that's when the huge range of hardy exotics normally associated with the tropics reach their peak. Will Giles has been gardening here since 1982 and used his ever-growing knowledge of exotics to ensure that fast growing plants like cannas, colocasias and ginger will given an "impenetrable jungle of foliage and flower" by late summer.
|Hardy exotics grow alongside English favourites at the Exotic Garden|
Hidden behind high hedges and trees, this south-facing slope in the middle of the city was no more than a ground-elder choked wasteland when Will Giles acquired the site back in 1982. But thirty years of committed experimenting and planting have ensured that today's Exotic Garden is a mini tropical rain forest environment, where tree canopies provide protection from sunlight and carefully chosen leaf colour and texture - usually found only in warmer climes - ensures that any visitor is transported to far-off lands.
Once inside this garden, it's easy to be transported to the tropics. Everywhere you look there is colour, form and a sense of the unusual. Look up and you will notice many species of unusual palm, tree ferns and even banana plants from Abyssinia; gaze straight ahead and you will see brightly coloured cannas and tantalising angel's trumpets (Brugmansia); while downward glances will reveal a collection of exotic houseplants at ground level, planted out annually to ensure their survival in Britain's increasingly unpredictable climate.
|The Desert Garden, added in 1997 and flourishing today|
The latest addition to the Exotic Garden is the xerophotic landscape, added in 1997 at the highest part of the terrain when Will converted a wooded area into a well-drained desert garden for plants that require very little water (but which have successfully survived our recent wet summers!). Here you will find a large collection of cacti, succulents and agave, interspersed with sedum and other English plants to give colour and form. All set against the backdrop of an Italianate loggia and thick flint walls.
|The dramatic tree house at the Exotic Garden affords fine views over Norwich|
Be sure to visit the dramatic treehouse in this garden (above) - perched high up in the boughs of an old oak tree and affording views over the city rooftops - but also an important reminder that you are not in the heat of the tropics. It would be all too easy to forget your real location when you are wandering through this remarkable garden! The view from here will also allow you to see the scale of the planting in the landscape below.
|Inside the tree house at Will Giles' Exotic Garden|
Will Giles has travelled the world and has several books on exotic plants to his name. He's also an accomplished photographer - and certainly made me nervous when he said he looked forward to seeing my shots (but I plead appalling light conditions in defence of the pictures here and urge readers to see his blog for many astounding photographs of his garden). The Exotic Garden is open every Sunday until 20 October, from 13.00-17.00. Admission £4.50. Also open to parties by appointment. The one character missing from this plot is Aslan, but for those of you lucky enough to meet the owner, I'm sure you'll agree that his gentle bearded look is reminiscent of the mythical lion in the fantasy world of Narnia.