Planting Scheme: Jurassic Plants
A trip to the Natural History Museum, London, with a gang of under-fives naturally culminated in a visit to the Dinosaur exhibition. But rather than revelling in the life-size moving, roaring plastic T-Rex (ever wondered what you might feel like just before you’re eaten alive?), what fascinated me were the descriptions of plants from the Jurassic era, the ‘Age of the Reptiles’, when dinosaurs roamed.
With tree ferns, cycads, Ginkos, monkey puzzle trees and horsetails it was a spiky, green and tough environment to exist in. But these architectural plants could form the bones of a very interesting garden today. The monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) is a beautiful tree, but today relegated to grand country estates or depressing suburban front gardens. And they are usually planted alone as a sole feature. How about a drift of monkey puzzle trees in a very large garden? You do need space though, as they can grow to 40 metres high.
Cycads (I use Cycas revoluta) and tree ferns (try Dicksonia antarctica) are a garden designer’s saving grace for shady corners which need architectural evergreens. The arched fronds – spiky for the Cycads, soft for the tree ferns – often fill a space over a metre wide. And both look excellent in large pots.
I’m longing to plant horsetails. (Equisetum) You see them growing wild by streams and in boggy patches in England and France, with their pine-like spiky shoots. Hellishly vigorous if they invade your space, you could try transplanting wild ones in a controlled space – however plant at your peril as they are described by the RHS as “an invasive, deep-rooted weed”. Use purpose-made plastic strips as a root barrier, to stop the plants from spreading, as you would when planting bamboo.
The Ginko biloba, or maidenhair tree, is an exquisitely elegant tree, and comes from China. For years it was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered growing wild in China’s Tian Mu Shan Reserve. Its charm is its exotic leaves which unfurl to form scrolled fan shapes. But beware they can reach up to 35 metres. Go for a male tree, as female plants produce mucky falling seeds.
Once you’ve got your spiky structure, send through some dinosaur-like perennials in dark reds, oranges and bright greens and some modern shrubs. Try the towering Gunnera manticata with its giant rhubarb-like leaves – it needs boggy ground - and bright green versions of red-hot pokers with their spears of fringed flowers - Kniphofia 'Green Jade’. And for a dynamic flash of colour, use foxtail lilies in orange, Eremerus ‘Cleopatra’.
This won’t be a soft and friendly garden for children, but you can just take them to the Natural History Museum for their Jurassic experience instead.