English homes hiding a tropical paradise outside the back door

It’s a suburban jungle out there! Take a look at the quintessentially English homes hiding a tropical paradise outside the back door

  • Jayne and Eddie, 73 and 77, from Fareham, Hampshire, have crafted an Australia and Maori themed garden 
  • Liz and Cris Reid from Gateshead have tried to bring their cherished Caribbean holidays in their back garden
  • Neil Ziemski, 48, a maths teacher, and his wife Caroline have gone for a rainforest garden environment

PACKED WITH MY FERN FAVOURITES 

Jayne, 73, and Eddie, 77, are both retired. They live in a 1930s semi in Fareham, Hampshire. 

She says: ‘Our garden is small but densely planted to get a jungle effect. I divided it into four climate zones, all themed around plants from Australia and New Zealand, where we’ve visited family.  

‘Every time we visited I would come home with pictures of things I wanted to grow. The temperate bed colour scheme is hot pink, purple or blue. It also has a ‘Maori’ tribal pole we created.

‘Then there’s an arid zone, a lush border and my favourite spot, the fernery, which has big tree ferns underplanted with lots of shorter ferns.

‘Tree ferns might be over £100 and one of my yuccas cost £200. Tropical plants can be very expensive! Eddie built a jungle roundhouse here, which is decorated with geckos.’

Jayne, 73, and Eddie, 77, are both retired. They live in a 1930s semi in Fareham, Hampshire

WE’RE BRINGING OUR HOLIDAYS BACK HOME 

Liz Reid is in her 60s. She is retired and lives in Gateshead with her husband, Craig, who works for a council. They have two grown-up children. 

She says: ‘Twice a year Craig and I go on an exotic holiday. Visiting the Caribbean and the Florida Keys, we discovered a love of the humid climate — and the lush plants that go with it.

‘But I never mind when it’s time to come home. Because outside our back door are giant ferns, palms, yuccas, bamboos and lilies. 

‘And should you fancy a cocktail you can even walk to our little tiki bar, complete with an Easter Island head.

‘When we moved in 26 years ago, it was just grass at the back. But then in 1996, we got rid of a couple of conifers and put in a pond, and we were off.

‘We buy annual flowers in the summer to add a bit of colour, but most of the plants are evergreen.’

The stunning, luscious, tropical paradise style garden in Springwell Village, Tyne and Wear which belongs to Liz Reid

She says: ‘Twice a year Craig and I go on an exotic holiday. Visiting the Caribbean and the Florida Keys, we discovered a love of the humid climate — and the lush plants that go with it’

WE SPENT £4,000 BRINGING TROPICS TO THE MIDLANDS 

Janet and John Morgan, both 69, are retired and have three grown-up children. They live in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. 

She says: ‘We’ve always loved travelling and have been all over the world, from Barbados to South Africa. Travel is such an education that we have to bring it home with us.

‘We bought our house in 1984 and have spent more than £40,000 transforming it into our own little piece of paradise.

‘Now it includes a Japanese area with koi carp pond, a large weeping willow, Zimbabwean scrap metal art and exotic plants from as far away as Tasmania. We named the garden Saranacris after our three children Sarah, Anna and Chris.

‘It is an extension of our home and we spend as much time as possible in it, spending hours tending it each week.

‘It can be tricky looking after plants used to more tropical climates. Every year we have to dig up our red banana plant and rehouse it in the conservatory for the winter. 

‘But for other plants we wrap them in fleece — our Chusan palm has even survived temperatures as low as -12C. Growing tropical plants is hard work but very rewarding.’

Janet and John Morgan, both 69, are retired and have three grown-up children. They live in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

She says: ‘We’ve always loved travelling and have been all over the world, from Barbados to South Africa. Travel is such an education that we have to bring it home with us’

It includes a Japanese area with koi carp pond, a large weeping willow, Zimbabwean scrap metal art and exotic plants from as far away as Tasmania

BAMBOOS AND BANANA TREES IN YORKSHIRE

Neil Ziemski, 48, a maths teacher, lives with NHS worker Caroline, 44, in Withernsea, Yorkshire. They have two grown up children.

He says: ‘Walk past our modest three bedroomed house, and you’d never guess what lies behind it. The only clue is a couple of palm trees at the front.

‘But as you open the double patio doors you’ll be met by a veritable rainforest complete with banana trees, palms, bright orange canna flowers, bamboo, an authentic jungle hut and several statues.

‘When we moved here ten years ago we brought over 200 plants with us from our last garden. They’d taken us nine years to curate, and we must have added over a thousand since then. 

‘Before we’d moved in so much as a stitch of furniture, we’d had two vans of ferns and flowers delivered, so you can see how passionate we are! The initial outlay set us back over £10,000.

Neil Ziemski, 48, a maths teacher, lives with NHS worker Caroline, 44, in Withernsea, Yorkshire. They have two grown up children

‘We’ve always been keen gardeners – it’s one of the things which brought us together – and love travelling around the gardens of Europe, but funnily enough it was the subtropical gardens of Cornwall that really inspired us to create our own jungle.

‘However we’ve got a different climate here, with a brisk salt wind coming in from the sea, so it’s been a challenge to maintain the bamboo, bananas, ginger plants and cannas. But being by the coast is warmer than inland, and our densely planted trees shelter the more delicate plants.

‘Our garden measures 14 by 21 metres and we’re constantly discussing ideas on how we can develop it. Caroline does the planning and spends countless hours repotting and propagating succulents, and I do the DIY. 

‘Over the years we’ve added an authentic jungle hut and a small pond, as well as different seating areas.

‘In the winter we pack the greenhouse with plants which won’t survive the cold. This can be tricky because you have to allow some – such as bananas – to dry out completely so they become dormant. Like hedgehogs, you wake them up in the spring!

‘Because we open up for the NGS, the children I teach make regular trips with their families. And during lessons ‘Sir, I hear you’ve got a jungle’ is a classic – but pointless – way of trying to distract me from explaining algebra.’

As you open the double patio doors you’ll be met by a veritable rainforest complete with banana trees, palms, bright orange canna flowers, bamboo, an authentic jungle hut and several statues

OUR BUNGALOW COULD BE IN BORNEO

Adey and Linda Jennison are 62 and 63, with four children between them. They both work as managers at a local retailers and live in Thorngumbald, near Hull

He says: ‘My favourite time of day is just after supper. I go and sit in the wooden summer house and enjoy the late afternoon sun, listening to music, reading, and admiring my lush tropical garden. Looking around me, I could be anywhere in the world: the Amazon, the Caribbean or Borneo.

‘We created a tropical paradise in our 13 x 14 metre plot quite by accident 18 months ago. Behind the high hedge in front of our perfectly ordinary looking 1960s bungalow it might be the grounds of a five star hotel in Mexico. We spend so much time out here that it almost serves as an extension.

‘We had little interest in the garden until we had a window replaced with French doors, and realised that the view from the dining room was incredibly boring. 

Adey and Linda Jennison are 62 and 63, with four children between them. They both work as managers at a local retailers and live in Thorngumbald, near Hull

‘However, we weren’t sure how to improve it – maybe some roses, or hydrangeas? – until we went to the Eden project in Cornwall. 

‘The giant greenhouse stuffed to bursting with tropical plants were just incredible. Finally, we had our inspiration.

‘I had to take some time off work due to illness, and I spent every moment Googling tropical plants. My first purchase was a couple of banana plants and from there on there was no stopping me; we have bamboo, tree ferns and canna lilies, and there is foliage for most of the year.

‘I gave myself a budget of £3,000 and did all the decking and summer house myself. In the winter, when there’s a chance of frost, I put underlay at the top of the trunks of the ferns to protect them.

‘Next I want to incorporate a water feature. I’ve bought all the stone, so I’m going to create a wall where water trickles from layer to layer. 

‘And I’ve got some more bamboos with big red leaves which I’m going to put in as well as a castor bean plant, although this is where ricin comes from – so it’s not great with kids or animals!’

Adey said: ‘My first purchase was a couple of banana plants and from there on there was no stopping me; we have bamboo, tree ferns and canna lilies, and there is foliage for most of the year’

I LOVE MY EAST END JUNGLE

Interiors expert Abigail Ahern, 49, lives in Dalston with her husband, Graham, 53, with whom she works, and their two dogs.

She says: ‘When Gardeners World came to film my garden in 2017, they were a bit shocked at how many weeds there were. 

‘But I absolutely love them, and see no reason why I shouldn’t have – for example – the pretty white flowers of a Russian Vine flowing around my pergola.

‘My garden has been described as urban tropical, but I think it’s a little more magical than that. For a decade I hated it – I just had white pebbles, black bamboo and a water feature. Now, it’s 70 per cent evergreen, and like a fairy tale jungle. 

Interiors expert Abigail Ahern, 49, lives in Dalston with her husband, Graham, 53, with whom she works, and their two dogs

‘I have double height windows in the house and trees growing up to the third floor so the inside and outside flow into each other.

‘This transformation took place in 2015 when I bought a sweet little wooden cabin from Ebay. When I popped it at the bottom of the garden, I realised the eye was instantly drawn to it, and it needed jungle foliage and wood to make it intriguing.

‘Everyone thinks I’m a good gardener, but I know nothing about the subject. Rather, I applied my knowledge of interiors to the 90 foot long space.

‘I deliberately chose a reduced colour palette of purples, whites and greens. I love spending time out here, but I travel a lot, so it has to be low maintenance. And it needed to be edgy and cool.

‘What’s interesting is that it looks as though I’ve spent a fortune, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In total, it was probably around £5,000.

She said: ”I have double height windows in the house and trees growing up to the third floor so the inside and outside flow into each other’

Abigail said: ‘This transformation took place in 2015 when I bought a sweet little wooden cabin from Ebay. When I popped it at the bottom of the garden, I realised the eye was instantly drawn to it, and it needed jungle foliage and wood to make it intriguing’

‘The decking is from a company called Millboard, and it looks like 100 year old oak, but just needs the odd jet wash to keep it clean. 

‘I feed everything with seaweed so it grows very quickly; the bamboo shot up, and then I have jasmine, eucalyptus trees, a quince, a fig tree, olive trees, mimosa, hydrangeas and acer. It’s my haven in the middle of Hackney. 

‘Graham gets involved because he’s excellent at pruning, but I don’t like things to be too neat, so there’s the odd shouting match. But on the whole, it’s a lovely way to unwind together.’

IT’S LIKE BEING IN INDONESIA 

Sonja Gaffer, 53, works at a nursery. She lives in Norwich with her partner Alan, 56, a transport expert, and her grown-up daughter. 

She says: ‘When I was a girl, my grandparents were tenants in my house. When they moved out when I was 19, I bought it myself.

‘Twenty years ago I visited an exotic garden in Thorpe that belonged to the artist Will Giles. Everywhere I looked there were scores of gorgeous, richly-coloured plants and I was overwhelmed by what he had achieved. 

‘When I got home I read both his books on how to create your own garden, bought three banana plants from the local nursery and that was it. I was hooked.

‘I’ve propagated many plants myself, which range from tree ferns and bananas to palms and tetrapanax rex, a plant as old as the dinosaurs. I’ve even had a tiki hut built.

Funnily enough, I don’t like travelling as I dislike heat. But when an Indonesian friend came to stay with me recently they said it felt just like home! So I know I’m doing something right.’  

Sonja Gaffer, 53, works at a nursery. She lives in Norwich with her partner Alan, 56, a transport expert, and her grown-up daughter

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