During my ponderings on the front garden I ended up having one of those late night online conversations with my friend, Rob Stacewicz (Twitter@robstacewicz)  which has led to Rob kindly writing a post for me on his suggestions for my front garden. Rob is as usual underplaying his horticultural credentials and the breadth of his knowledge.  He has a particular interest in the more exotic side of the plant world and has encouraged my growing interest in hardy exotics 

Geum Princess Juliana
Geum Princess Juliana
“With thanks to Helen for allowing me to make a few plant suggestions on this blog.

By way of introduction, I have worked in horticulture for many years, following my degree in the subject. I am a passionate plantsman and gardener at home, and have accompanied Helen to various gardens and nurseries on a number of occasions. One time in particular stands out. Having stopped for lunch at a country pub, we watched in amazement as a biker removed his leathers to reveal a full morris dancer outfit!

So to the front garden, and a few hardy exotic choices. I think the aim will be to create a grouping of shrubs which provide some structure and year-round interest, to be underplanted with a selection of bulbs and perennials.

Schefflera rhododendrifolia
Schefflera rhododendrifolia

Number one on the hit list, Schefflera rhododendrifolia. I have grown this for 10 years or so, and have never had any trouble with it over winter. I believe it will take a considerable amount of shade, and I know it grows well on clay, being tolerant of a wide range of soil types. The leaves are grey green I love the new indumentum-covered growth in spring, like little pale hands reaching skyward. Plants will grow very large over time, but can be pruned to reduce height, and thinned to keep the canopy light.

A new plant which every garden should have, is the delicate Mahonia eurybracteata, marketed as ‘Soft Caress’. The leaves are particularly fine, and resemble a dwarf parlour palm, to my eyes at least. Unlike most Mahonia, and as the name may suggest, there are no spiny leaves to contend with.

Magnolia grandiflora 'Kay Parris'
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’

I would not be without Magnolia grandiflora ‘Goliath’, another cultivar to watch out for is ‘Kay Parris’. This would probably require a slightly drier spot in Helen’s front garden plot, but worth the risk. Evergreen, glossy above and rust coloured underside to each leaf makes this evergreen Magnolia a class act. Lemony-scented blooms in summer are a bonus.

For sharp contrast, I enjoy growing a variety of palms here in London. For the palm novice, there is one type which outshines them all. Trachycarpus wagnerianus is a stubby-leaved version of Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan or Windmill Palm), which is the hardiest species in the UK climate. Trachycarpus wagnerianus has a lot of character, and provides real presence in a small space. The leaves remind me of crinkle-cut crisps somehow.

There is the evergreen framework, which will provide interest throughout the year. For colour, and in keeping with the red/orange theme, I would suggest also growing evergreen Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’. A dwarf version of Nandina domestica, ‘Firepower’ will grow to just over a metre (roughly) at maturity.

Link the colours of the Nandina through to Crocosmia, Geum, existing Grevillea and Libertia. Red and orange compliment green very well, so it should all sit well together. Tulips in spring, and Dahlias in the sunny areas will ensure a zap of colour through the seasons. Nasturtiums are great for late summer colour, and really easy just to poke the seeds into the front of a border. Hedychium ‘Assam Orange’ and Cautleya spicata are both super hardy gingers and will flower in semi shade.

I will be interested to see how the garden progresses, Good Luck Helen!”

Thank you Rob for your interesting suggestions which I will throw into the mixing pot to see what comes out the other end and I think its time we went on another of those plant buying trips.