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Desert to Jungle proprietor Rob GudgeProprietor Rob Gudge

Desert to Jungle

Desert to Jungle, Henlade Garden Nursery, Lower Henlade, Taunton, Somerset, TA3 5NB.

Tel: 01823 443701
Fax: 01458 250521
Open every day 10.00am - 5.00pm March to October, Thursday, Friday & Saturday November to February. Other days telephone appointments.
OS Grid Ref. ST273232

Rob Gudge's shrunken head - coconut carving

If you haven't visited this place you haven't lived. After my first visit I had the same feeling I get after having gone away for a month's holiday which was two months too short. At Desert to Jungle the selection of plants is excellent but I will come to that in a moment.

The quite extraordinary atmosphere of this establishment almost defies description. It is an accretion of various elements - not all horticultural. There is a feeling of ramshackle surfers' nostalgia (a suspended surfboard way past its 'use by' date), shrunken heads (carved coconuts, to be precise), a concert of (quite real) animal noises (ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs), jungle bums wondering though the undergrowth, a Land Rover decked out in camouflage, the almost impossible battle with the constant and irresistible force of vegetation pressing in on all sides. Why go to Bali? Go and see Rob Gudge's nursery in Somerset. In fact, the casual observer would be hard-pressed to find any difference between the two places. The pièce de résistance here is undoubtedly Rob Gudge himself. Rob is uncontrollable in his enthusiasm for exotic plants, clearly looks as though he is inseparable from the general paraphernalia and runs the nursery together with Dave Root (an appropriate surname for a proprietor of a nursery, some would say) whose favourite plants are the agaves. It is interesting to know that seven years earlier this nursery's main line was bedding plants.

Rob explains his assortment of plants. 'We do not have a particularly favourable climate here at Henlade. I am therefore confident that plants

The car will probably blend in better after a few years' wear and tear
which survive here will survive almost anywhere in the South-West. I do not consider it fair to talk customers into buying questionably hardy plants or 'bad growers'. Rob ought to know. He has witnessed the collapse of polythene plant tunnels under the weight of snow in recent years and yet the vast majority of his plants survived. Not so in many parts of the South-West where many Canary Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis), generally considered to be hardy, were terminally damaged. Rob prefers to encourage the planting of Trachycarpus and Chamaerops in gardens. I tend to agree. Although where I garden the winters are very mild and I have many species of palm growing I nevertheless use Trachycarpus fortunei (now increasingly also T. wagnerianus), of which I have over a dozen, as one of my my main atmosphere creators.

Winding my way through the nursery in the company of Elvis the part-border collie and two cats - Jungle and Desert - I am impressed by the 'foliage tunnel'. This contains an astonishing array of cannas and ginger lilies, a selection of bananas and other choice items thrown in such as Tetrapanax, Jacaranda, Colocasia and Cussonia. Of course, not all plants stocked are fully hardy. In the fern tunnel we can find around 12 species including tree ferns (Dicksonia and Cyathea) and further afield a vast selection of bamboos.

The succulent house has a very fine assortment of aloes, yuccas, agaves, cacti and other succulents. These are being constantly added to as Rob and Dave propagate from their stock and grow new plants from seed. The agave collection is particularly good with several species with which I was previously unacquainted. In particular there is a very striking hybrid of Agave victoriae-reginae and Agave asperrima.

Desert to Jungle is two minutes off the M5 (Taunton Junction) and therefore ideally placed for anybody going on a plant-finding trip to the West Country. The M5 will take the plant hunter from Pan-Global Plants in Gloucestershire (also a few minutes from the motorway), through Desert to Jungle then directly onto the A38 where, in turn, there is easy access to Hill House, Duchy Nurseries and finally to the nurseries in south-west Cornwall including Lower Keneggy. Nowadays, while passing this junction I am unable to resist the temptation of a quick visit to Desert to Jungle and to exchange a few words with Rob. I strongly urge you to do the same.

The Succulent House at Desert to Jungle
The elegant new succulent house with a wide selection of aloes, yuccas, agaves, cacti and other succulents, all enticingly displayed
The Succulent House at Desert to Jungle
From desert...

Agave montana in the Succulent House at Desert to JungleAgave montana in the succulent house

Desert to Jungle is selling this splendid olive tree for only £750
Olive tree at Desert to Jungle

The Fern Tunnel at Desert to Jungle jungle

November 2010

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