Maciej Pomian-Srzednicki's Garden Pages - Gardens open for charity in England and Wales

An English West-Country garden for exotic plant enthusiasts in a climate as close to Mediterranean as it gets in the UK. There are well-established palms, bromeliads, agaves, Aeonium, Aloe, bananas, tree ferns and other semi-tender plants flourishing in this sunny, south-facing and part-naturalistic Devon garden. There is also a spring-fed fountain, pond, rill and bog area.

Southern Comfort, Meadfoot Sea Road, Torquay, Devon, England
Garden open under the National Gardens Scheme
Mediterranean & subtropical plants: for the 'exotic gardener'

2015 Open Days: We regret that the garden will not be open during 2015.  However, we are happy to answer any enquiries either by e-mail or by telephone.

Update - 14 April 2015

Fascicularia bicolor
Fascicularia bicolor

The garden at Southern Comfort, Torquay, Devon - general view
Southern Comfort with tree ferns in foreground - photo © Peter Chatterton 2009



"Exotic-looking surroundings that few people would even attempt to mimic." Amateur Gardening (September 2009)

Tillandsia bergeri on Cordyline australis in Devon, UK
Tillandsia bergeri growing on a Coryline australis trunk by the wall of the house. The plant does not receive any winter protection and has not suffered any winter damage over the past few years. The other Tillandsia species which has been hardy over many recent winters at Southern Comfort is T. aeranthos. Both species are native to South America.


Like most gardens, the garden at Southern Comfort is in a state of constant change and evolution. This is in the nature of gardens. Consequently, the descriptions and the selection of photographs will be changed and added to sporadically. There is therefore no certainty that a particular plant, present today, will be present tomorrow; in addition, many photographs were taken during periods of the year when the garden is not open to the public.



The ¼ acre town plot with an art déco style house, Southern Comfort, sits on the south-facing slope of the Meadfoot Valley ½ mile from the centre of Torquay. The small, almost straight valley climbs in a westerly direction from Meadfoot Beach. It is sheltered from all but the fiercest easterlies which, mercifully, are relatively rare. The valley enjoys an exceptional microclimate. Within living memory at least, frosts have been very rare in the immediate vicinity of the coast in Torbay and, on the occasions when they did occur, were limited to car windscreens and the extreme tips of grasses. The climate is scaled down ‘Mediterranean’ in the sense that the bulk of the annual rainfall is limited to the colder 6 months of the year. Summer temperatures are regrettably not quite up to Mediterranean levels although winters are usually mild enough. Records show that annual sunshine levels are among the highest in the UK and that rainfall during the colder 6 months is twice that of the warmer period. Total annual rainfall is around 33” (840 mm) and the climatic zone is probably 9b.

View across gardens in the Meadfoot Valley, Torquay, U.K. Dicksonia antarctica and other large-leaved plants at Southern Comfort, Torquay, U.K.
View across gardens in Meadfoot Sea Road. This is possibly one of the most splendid views across gardens in Torquay. The tall thin plants are Echium pininana. Despite this being a conservation area, Torbay Council has recently granted planning permission for a block of six flats together with parking to replace one of the houses in the row. 'The rainforest' is an area of damp woodland dominated by Dicksonia, smaller ferns, Trachycarpus fortunei, Rheum palmatum, hostas and hellebores. The dampness is ensured by a permanent supply of spring water flowing through a fountain into the pond, overflowing into the rill and finally spilling out onto the planting area.
Torquay Weather today
Torquay Weather forecast ©

However, with a few exceptions there has been disconcerting downward trend in both summer and winter temperatures. This has been particularly noticeable since the winter of 2007-2008 which, taken in isolation, was not itself remarkably cold. It was merely the starting point of a run of exceptionally cold winters lasting, as I write, up to the winter of 2010-2011. More about this here.

The plot consists of a sloping 40 metre front garden and a steep terraced rear garden of about 20 metres all situated about 300 metres west from the nearest beach. The height above means sea level ranges from about 35 metres by the roadside to almost 50 metres at the top. The aspect ensures efficient use of natural light and heat. Windbreaks and south-facing walls give additional protection to tender plants both at the front and at the rear of the house.

The nature of the soil was not fully understood immediately and inevitably mistakes were made and losses were suffered. While the immediate impression is that of dryness there is much water not far below the surface. In the rear garden above the house there are two springs of which one feeds and pressurises the fountain and leads to the pond, the rill and, finally, to the bog garden. The second, which is more of an underground stream, is used to provide a normally plumbed supply of water in the greenhouse. In other areas, water seems to run down the slope over a layer of impermeable shaley clay situated below the bone-dry surface.

Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm)  at Southern Comfort, Devon, UK

Phoenix canariensis.The Canary Date Palm is fully hardy here in Torquay: a specimen several decades old can be seen growing in the Chelston area.

Sometimes it finds its way below the clay deposit into a layer of loose rocks lying over impermeable limestone and marble and creates underground streams in places several metres below ground level.

Although much soil has been imported by previous owners, especially to the front garden, the pH level is close to neutral but with a slight tendency to alkalinity. This tendency has been somewhat mitigated by a liberal use of garden compost with the result that camellias and the like do not require special feeding and do not suffer from chlorosis.

In its present form the garden was begun in 1997. At the time it consisted of what now seems to me a very peculiar combination of plants. Much of the front garden consisted of lawn, several lawns in fact – even in areas as little as 2½ metres wide. Initially, the rest was dominated by mophead hydrangeas, fuchsias, Coronilla, roses, assorted ‘lollypopped’ shrubs, cordylines, apple trees, gooseberry bushes, some standard holly trees and a couple of mature Trachycarpus. All the Trachycarpus were left together with the cordylines, a Lawson's Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodii'), an ailing magnolia and a few odds and ends. A few years later the magnolia finally succumbed and the Lawson's Cypress began to droop so badly that it was put out of its misery. The pond and the rill were rebuilt. A natural fountain was incorporated and a bog area (‘the rainforest’) was established by the side of the rill. The back garden at the time featured apple and pear trees, loganberries, blackberries, raspberries, a jungle of ivy and a tall bramble-laden leylandii hedge above a 3 metre weak retaining wall which soon collapsed burying a lean-to greenhouse. Part of the neighbour's garden then descended to cover the rubble heap and soon all became hidden by brambles. Most of the back garden has now been re-built and re-planted with emphasis on the Mediterranean-style.

In general, planting was strongly geared towards foliage and the creation of an ‘exotic’ atmosphere. Not all plants used are fully exotic - ‘hardy exotics’ is probably a better description of some of them - many just have an exotic
Crassula ovata in flower
Crassula ovata grows outdoors in a tub. This plant will grow in the open but the soil must be exceptionally well-drained and winter temperatures must not fall much below 0C.
appearance: Fatsia, Fatshedera, Paulownia, the larger mahonias, hostas, bamboos. Others have now become so commonplace that the adjective ‘exotic’ seems over-dramatic: cordylines, Phormium, Eucalyptus, various Magnolia species. Nevertheless, all these plants contribute splendidly to an exotic atmosphere in the garden and, correctly used even without further help, are able to mesmerise observers and transport them to distant realms. At Southern Comfort all these plants are used as solid base for more extreme exotic planting; they are, at the very least, an insurance policy against that severe winter which will turn the rest of the garden into exotic garden compost. Even here care must be taken since cordylines will survive a cold winter but will not survive a very cold one. Some years ago many of them suffered here in Torquay.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are what I would consider to be the true exotics. They are the bananas, the agaves, the tree ferns, the aloes, the Aeonium, Strelitzia, cannas, tender aroids, palms, bromeliads and so on. Meanwhile there is one glaring exception in the form of Trachycarpus fortunei (the Chusan or Chinese Windmill Palm) and its dwarf alter ego, Trachycarpus wagnerianus. This palm is generally considered to be the most hardy palm in the world and is probably more resistant to cold than most of the other plants in the garden – reputedly it is hardy down to -15ºC or even more. The list in the above paragraph can now be extended to include a real palm which is ‘as hardy as nails’. At Southern Comfort there is a large number of Trachycarpus fortunei (which seed themselves silly). Large-leaved rhododendrons would enhance the exotic atmosphere but soil pH would make growing them troublesome. An experiment with the impressive-leaved Rhododendron falconeri was unsuccessful but the reasons for failure are not clear.

All plants I refer to here are grown in the open. During winter, no special protection is given to plants other than the shelter afforded by the site itself and careful choice of planting medium. Most winter losses I can attribute to rotting caused by damp and wet rather than by low temperatures. Initially, injudicious planting over areas of constant water flow led to losses of succulents, trees, shrubs and palms. Today, losses still occur but are less frequent.

Some species are so sensitive to winter wetness that no matter where and how they are planted they still disintegrate during the cold months. In this way I kept losing Agave parryi, Agave potatorum and Aloe vera. Where the the plants are sheltered from above and kept dry from below they invariably not only survive but thrive; even Aloe vera manages the milder winters when plated up against a south-facing wall in well-drained soil.

Aloe arborescens - flower head

Aloe arborescens has been growing in the south-facing border by the house for over twelve years (2012). Over the past fews years only it has suffered some winter damage but always regrew from the base. The flowers of aloes resemble those of the genus Kniphophia, to which they are related.

There is another group of plants which are neither exotic nor have in themselves any striking exotic appearance but which, if used correctly, appear miraculously to blend seamlessly into the company of exotic plants and proudly take on their features. At Southern Comfort such plants are Cotinus coggygria, Gleditsia triacanthus ‘Sunburst’, Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea', various Viburnum species, a Japanese maple, Ceanothus impressus, Camellia, Hemerocallis, Rheum palmatum, Rodgersia, Ajuga, many ivies, the foliage in particular of Cyclamen, also the foliage of hellebores and a number of grasses such as Miscanthus and Arundo donax. I could go on.

Finally, I grow a substantial number of plants which no amount of conceptual jiggery-pokery would bring into the fold of the exotics but which nevertheless happily harmonise with them. These are often plants which bring the mind back in line with geography and insist that ‘This is England, don’t forget’. They are best listed: snowdrops, daffodils and Narcissus, primroses, Geranium, garden irises, poppies, Pulmonaria, Weigelia, Philadelphus, Berberis ‘Dart’s Red Lady’ and an assortment of clematis. We leave the wild strawberries totally unmolested despite their aggressive qualities – in return, they reward us with delicious and aromatic fruit.

The garden is divided into a number of microhabitat. It would be more accurate to say that the structure of the plot itself dictated the layout of the different environments. They are roughly as follows:

1. The south-facing front of the house – full sunlight all day, heat, dry soil. This area has a clump of Aloe arborescens now recovering after some major damage during the winter of 2010-11. There is also a mature clumpof Strelitzia reginae which has also flowered regularly for some years although, like the aloe, refusing to do so after some of our recent vicious winters. Other plants include the wavy-leaved colourful Agave salmiana angustifolia 'Variegata' (which, incidentally, I was not alone at one time in confusing with a form of Agave americana), a Wisteria sinensis which climbs up the south face of the house and Aeonium arboreum. Of particular note here are the bromeliads growing on one of the two Cordyline australis. The Fascicularia bicolor, Billbergia nutans and Tillandsia bergeri have all been growing unaffected by our recent minus 4 to 5C winters. Achmea recurvifolia 'Benrathii' is a recent addition to these epiphytic bromeliads.

2. The woodland area east of the drive – dryish soil in most places, dappled shade with some sun later in the day. Plants of note in this area are Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila, Cordyline indivisa (in its 4rd season and still small), several Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan Palms) & T. wagnerianus, a couple of (recently planted) Chamaerops humilis , a green form of Phyllostachys nigra 'Henonis', the gigantic Dahlia imperialis, Yucca elephantipes, Aspidistra elatior, Agave celsii, Aloe striatula, Hydrangea aspera, H. macrophylla 'Blue Wave', H. serrata 'Bluebird', two species of Tillandsia (T. bergeri & T. aeranthos) on a Cordyline australis which also houses a variegated form of Billbergia nutans, the Japanese Banana Musa basjoo, the giant reed Arundo donax (variegated), Pseudopanax 'Cyril Watson', Paulownia tomentosa, Mahonia gracilipes, Mahonia confusa, Fatsia japonica 'Variegata', x Fatshedera lizei 'Annemeike', Camellia x williamsii 'Debbie', Viburnum burkwoodii, Magnolia wilsonii, M. stellata, a clump of red-flowered hardy (at least here!) Hippeastrum, self-seeding Echium pininana, Hedychium coccineum 'Tara', Fuschia arborescens, some variegated periwinkle and a mixture of varieties of Hosta. During the winter 2010-2011 a Cymbidium (orchid) hybrid survived temperatures of minus 4 to 5C to flower in the spring.

Experiments with Washingtonia filifera and Syagrus romanzoffiana in this area were unsuccessful; the washingtonias all eventually succumbed to the low temperatures and the Syagrus (although winter hardy) stubbornly refused to grow during summer. However, washingtonias growing on the west side of the house and those in the sloping rear garden suffered little during the 2008-2012 winters.

The question of what to plant under the clump of three Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila has been a troubling one. Underplanting eucalypts is notoriously tricky. While the trees were small there were hostas and hardy banana plants growing under them with apparent ease but as the trees increased in size their roots began to dominate all but the first few inches of soil. At this point both the hostas and the banana plants were unable to grow to any size. The area has now been underplanted with Aloe striatula, Chamaerops humilis, Dianella, Euphorbia characias, Arundo donax (variegated) and an Agave celsii. The Arundo donax may seem a strange choice; however, it has been growing in the same position - bang up against one of the trees - for about ten years and in the time it has grown very well and has even spread moderately. The underplanting is now into its second season and its prospects remain good.

3. The damp woodland garden - ‘the rainforest’. This is the area west of the drive along the boundary with the road and up to the steps to the pond. Although the rill empties directly onto the soil there is probably not enough water present for this to be a true ‘bog garden’ let alone a ‘rainforest’ together with monsoon rains. The area is certainly quite damp the whole year round, has full shade, is very sheltered and has a moisture retentive clayey soil. This section has the most naturalistic planting of the whole garden and could almost be mistaken for an exotic forest.

The very exotic-looking Beschorneria septentrionalis - developing flower spike
Beschorneria septentrionalis grows on a drier part of the sunny damp terraces behind the house. The main problem is with slugs which can rapidly render the foliage quite shabby. There is something reptilian about the developing flower stalk. There is another species, B. yuccoides, which has slightly more attractive silvery leaves but a somewhat less impressive flower.

Plants of note in this area are: Aspidistra elatior, Begonia luxurians (somewhat tired after having been repeatedly cut to the ground by recent winters - its prospects for 2012 do not look good), Begonia palmata, Begonia evansiana, Blechum chilense, the hardy bamboo palm Chamaedorea microspadix, Chamaedorea radicalis, Cordyline indivisa, Darmera peltata, Dicksonia antarctica, Hosta 'Sum and Substance', Hosta 'Hadspen Blue', Impatiens tinctoria, Impatiens omeiana, Magnolia grandiflora, Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Feather Fern), Mitraria coccinea, Rheum palmatum (Ornamental Rhubarb), the silver-leaved Pulmonaria ‘Cotton Cool’, Rodgersia podophylla, Rodgersia pinnata, Rodgersia tabularis (syn. Astilboides tabularis), Schefflera taiwaniana, Tetrapanax papyrifer, Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan Palm) with bromeliads (Billbergia nutans), a recently planted Eucalyptus nitens, Woodwardia radicans (the Walking Fern). Low level ground cover is provided mainly by Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Helxine soleirolii, Saxifraga stolonifera, Hedera helix 'Goldchild' and self-seeding hellebores (orientalis, argutifolius & foetidus). Shade and protection are provided mainly by several Trachycarpus fortunei, Dicksonia antarctica, Gleditsia Triacanthus "Sunburst", a Magnolia grandiflora, a Magnolia officinalis 'biloba' and a Japanese maple.

During Winter and Spring, when the this area opens out more to the light a small selection of early-flowering plants enhance its appearance: snowdrops, wood anemones, trilliums, Solomon's seal, crocuses, Erythronium, and marsh marigolds. None of these plants is even vaguely exotic, but they make a valuable contribution in what would otherwise be a fairly drab area at that time of year.

In this area experiments with Cyathea medullaris a tree fern, Impatiens niamniamensis, Strelitzia reginae and Chamaedorea elegans the Parlour Palm were not successful; the plants were severely mauled by recent winter temperatures. However, the small feather palm Chamedorea radicalis has proved to be quite exeptional; it requires to be grown in shade, its leaves are of a beautiful dark green colour, it flowers while still relatively young, it geerminates dependably and, very importantly, has so far been totally resistent to the lowest temperatures to which it was exposed (minus 5C). It is ideal for higher level ground cover (photograph).

The area between the drive and the rill was originally designed as a ‘meadow’ where spring and autumn bulbs were placed in an area of coarse grass all under a Eucalyptus gunnii. While there are still thousands of snowdrops, Narcissus, Cyclamen repandum (spring-flowering), C. hederifolium (autumn-flowering), some C. coum (winter-flowering), Colchicum automnale, Fritillaria mealagris and Primula vulgaris, these plants have recently been given the company of such 'unmeadowlike' plants as a Butia capitata (Jelly Palm), a Crinodendron hookerianum, a Nerium oleander, Amaryllis belladonna, a recent clump of the restio Rhodocoma capensis, Dicksonia Antarctica (tree tern), the triennial Echium pininana, Brunnera 'Looking Glass' and others including ginger lilies (H. densiflorum 'Assam Orange' & H. greenii). Recent addition include a Trachycarpus wagnerianus, a couple of dunalias the massive and vigorous Canna altensteinii and a selection of hostas. The Echium in this area were exceptionally tall in 2008 with the tallest measuring over 6 metres. There are also a couple of Colocasia esculenta which, although not large, survived the -5C or so during January 2009 but they can hardly be treated as permanent. Gradually, this area is becoming less and less like a meadow and is beginning to form part of the damp woodland garden.

The small waterfall by the pond takes the spring water to the rill. The damp area around the waterfall is being gradually colonised by mosses and liverworts.

4. The pond and rill (‘the stream’). The pond is fed by a spring which is situated on the high terraces behind the house. The rate of flow varies greatly according to levels of rainfall but the flow has never been known to dry up completely. Because of the high lime content of the rocks above the spring the pH of the water is high – around pH 8.5-9.0. Although as the water enters the pond its pH drops slightly it is still higher than the recommended level for fish and the like. Fortunately, we have never observed any ill-effects on any of the creatures living in the pond.

The water enters the pond by means of a small fountain (with a pressure relief valve) and overflows via a small waterfall into the rill. All excess water flows onto a damp bed next to the pond. The rill runs parallel to a path dividing the damp woodland area from the meadow and finally empties onto the damp woodland area.

One of the effects of the high pH levels in the pond is the inhibiting of vigorous plant growth. In fact, some plants even refuse to grow in it. For example, the growth of Canadian Pondweed has been extremely sluggish over the years, duckweed disappeared after each of several introductions (although there may be other reasons for this) and a correctly planted Nymphaea odorata ‘Alba’ was looking very sorry for itself even after two years. Stratoides aloides, the water soldier, lost its will to fight. Algal growth is kept to a minimum by the use of bales of barley straw; this method has proved to be extremely effective and the water is generally crystal clear. Nevertheless blanket weed does have a very slight tendency to form in the pond and readily chokes the rill especially at times of low rates of water flow.
Agave americana
Agave americana leaves create some arresting effects in sharp light.

The pond is a lined with a butyl sheet welded to the shape of the pre-existing round concrete pool which leaked badly. The waterfall and rill are constructed out of rocks, concrete and mortar. It is lined with waterproof epoxy paint. Any slight leaks at this point are unimportant since the water is constantly being replenished and in any case eventually flows into the damp garden.

Notable plants by the rill include : Cautleya spicata 'Robusta' and Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’. The pond area includes the papyrus-like miniature Cyperus alternifolius, Iris pseudacorus ‘Variegata’, Zantedeschia aethiopica, and Aponogeton distachyos (the fragrant Water Hawthorn – in fact, nothing like a hawthorn).

Plants around the pond include: Iris sibirica, Canna 'Pretoria', Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen', Stipa gigantea, a small clump of the royal fern Osmunda regalis (which does not seem to mind the high pH of the water overflowing from the pond), a variety of hostas, and Alchemilla mollis.

Ponds and streams inevitably attract wildlife. In this case, apart from the goldfish, minnows and bleak which we have introduced, the most evident are breeding colonies of the Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and the Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus). We have observed that the latter, like its close relative the alpine newt (T. alpestris), is far more aquatic than the Common Newt and adults are often seen in the pond at all times of the year. The Palmate Newt is the commonest newt in the South-West; it is also the smallest of the three indigenous species and the liveliest to observe. Other creatures include dragonflies, damselflies, the Common Frog, Pond Skaters and Water Boatmen.

Although we have had bleak in the pond for only a few years we would strongly recommend them. While their colours are rather drab they more than make up for it by their liveliness, by staying close to the surface and not hiding in crannies, by being prolific breeders and by not stirring up sediment. These small fish follow visitors around the pond hoping for the morsel or two. I suspect that in order to keep them successfully where there is no running water a pump and a fountain (or waterfall) may be required in order to satisfy their oxygen requirements.

Whilst toads and newts often coexist together, frogs seem to live a more exclusive life. This is probably because toad tadpoles are unpalatable to newts and that frogs have a taste for young newts.

5. The lawn area contains several memorable plants: a fifteen-year old Phoenix canariensis which has the beginnings of a trunk. Growing in the fibres at the bases of the leaves there are succulents and Billbergia nutans. Close by there is a small clump of Phyllostachys nigra, the Black Bamboo which was planted in 2003. The patch of soil where it is
Miscanthus floridulus
Miscanthus floridulus is rarely seen to flower but flowers most years at Southern Comfort.
growing is sandy and dry with the result that, despite regular watering and feeding, the growth of the clump over the years has been somewhat slow. Other plants of note growing around the lawn are: Crinum powellii (pink), Melianthus major, Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea', Desfontainia spinosa - the shrub which thinks its a holly, the fragrant Michelia figo, Pseudopanax lessonii 'Purpureus', the spring-flowering and scented Osmanthus delavayi, Euphorbia mellifera from Madeira, the giant grass Miscanthus floridulus (generally shy to flower but manages to do so here at Southern Comfort - it flowered even during the autumn of 2008); Arum creticum, from Crete, yellow-flowering in spring and deliciously scented; a purple Phormium tenax; an immature Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pembury Blue' (ten years old but very slow-growing). A small Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm) was added on the west side in the spring of 2011.

6. The rock garden - between the pond and the drive. Plants: Hedychium densiflorum 'Stephen', Crassula sarcocaulis, two varieties of Phormium including P. cookianum 'Tricolor', Billbergia nutans, Agapanthus, Bletilla striata, Tulbaghia violacea, Trachycarpus wagnerianus (recently planted), Helianthum 'Ben Ledi' and the orchid Bletilla striata.

7. The balcony faces due south and has mostly succulents: Aloe, Agave, Echeveria, Aeonium and assorted mesembryanthemums. All plants are in pots. The overhang from the balcony above enables plants to be kept fully dry during the winter rest. In this way the generally tricky Aloe vera (=barbadensis), for example, remains 'outside' for twelve months of the year without any noticeable ill-effects (unless temperatures drop to below minus 2-3C.

8. The Cliff. This is hardly a cliff but part naturalistic-looking sloping retaining wall and part exposed natural rock face, about 2.3 metres high and abut 5.5 metres long. While it is in fact south-facing it, nevertheless acts, as though it were a
Furcraea longaeva
From a distance Furcraea longaeva can easily be mistaken for an Agave or a yucca. However, it lacks the aggressive spines of both of the latter and is a superb plant.
north-facing slope because it is totally shaded by the house a metre or so away. The wall and the exposed face are both limestone - a low grade marble rock common in the immediate area. Although quick-draining the permanent lack of sun allows a degree of moisture retention except during prolonged hot dry spells in summer. The base is a narrow strip of soil held in position by a low retaing wall; the soil here is often waterlogged - a problem which may yet have to be addressed. One particular irritant of this area is that the weed Helxine soleirolii is endemic here and the cliff has become its epicentre from which it seems to find its way into every corner of the garden. This relatively small spot, therefore, has been quite challenging but is slowly beginning to show promise.

The original idea was to create a 'low maintenance' naturalistic alpine rock face with common unnamed ferns, Campanula and a shade-tolerant Sedum. This worked well up to a point but was not particularly exciting. Something more was needed. The ferns were spruced up a bit with Athyrium nipponicum 'Metallicum' (Japanese Painted Fern), Cyrtomium fortunei (one of the Holly Ferns), Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart's Tongue), Polypodium vulgare 'Cornubiense' (variable-fronded variety of Common Polypody), Asplenium trichomanes (the Common or Maidenhair Spleenwort) and a miniature hosta. The two Asplenium species have been seeding around into neighbouring crevices in the wall to good effect. Other fairly mundane plants were added: Primula vulgaris, Ramonda myconi, Milium effusum 'Aureum', Arum italicum 'Marmoratum', Helleborus orientalis, Hedera canariensis 'Gloire de Marengo'', Clematis 'Ville de Lyon' and a few less mundane ones: Bergenia ciliata, Fascicularia bicolor, Billbergia nutans, Epiphyllum sp., Begonia sutherlandii and a gasteria; all these have been unaffected by recent bad winters. As these plants developed, gained strength and grew the Helxine became less of a visual problem and now, in the company of various mosses, seems almost an acceptable background to the main plants; it is controlled by removing the occasional handful whilst passing. The cliff is now one of the most interesting features of the garden and promises to become even better in the future.

9. The Mediterranean Area. In broad terms this is the whole area of the upper (back) garden above the 'Cliff'. Part of this section became accessible to visitors in 2012.

The path and steps along the east side of the garden lead through climbers and a tightly planted area of Trachycarpus fortunei to an area of raised beds, terraces, walls and finally, a greenhouse and pergola built against a high retaining wall. This section of the garden slopes steeply at an angle of around 30 in a southerly direction. This angle ensures optimal light and heat capture for plants with high requirements for both.

The Mediterranean style arrangement was designed with both plants' and garden users' needs in mind. The soil is very well-drained, there is maximum light and heat for plants, access to beds is easy and full use is made of all available space. The small terrace is secluded but has an excellent view of the valley down to the sea, is warm and sheltered and is surrounded by a huge variety of mostly exotic and exotic-looking plants. The greenhouse was built according to conservatory standards (PVC/metal structure & double glazed) and acts as growing area for tender plants, as a plant propagation area, as a winter storage point for the less hardy plants as well as a general garden and potting 'workshop'. It is fully wired and has its own water supply from an underground stream; water is automatically pumped and stored in a 'header tank' behind the retaining wall.

The planting is mostly recent and only a few plants can be regarded as established. Of these we note the following which have been growing and thriving for some years: a huge Agave americana - by my reckoning over twenty years' old and very close to flowering, Agave celsii, A. salmiana 'Ferox', a mature Yucca recurvifolia, Trachycarpus fortunei, T. wagnerianus, Brahea armata, B. edulis, Sabal minor, Beschorneria septentrionalis, B. Yuccoides, Genista lydia, Crinum moorei, C. x powellii, Olea europea (the European Olive - still a small plant), Amaryllis belladonna, Arum creticum - a delightful beautifully scented arum lily from Greece, Iris unguicularis (syn. stylosa) - a winter-flowering iris from north Africa, Magnolia 'Leonard Messel', the banana relative Musella lasiocarpa, Carpobrotus edulis and Dasylirion texanum from central America.

In the new planting (2011) some plants I know will grow with no problem but others remain with a very clear question mark over them. It is unlikely that any of the following will fail: various species of Opuntia, the following species of Aloe - humilis, brevifolia, aristata, striatula, the grapevine Vitis 'Regent', Hippeastrum 'Red Velvet', various agaves, Genista aetnensis, Acacia verticillata, various Cistus, Campsis 'Madame Galen', the leptospermums and perhaps Grevillea juniperina 'sulphurea'. Less certain are the Citrus varieties (lemon, mandarin and orange), Protea cynaroides, Leucadendron strobolinum, various Lampranthus, Puya berteroniana (berteroana), the aloes A. polyphylla and A. mitriformis (syn. perfoliata). Lonicera hildebrandiana is likely to survive only if winters suddenly become milder again and even Brahea armata is not certain of getting through bad winters here unless it is a largish plant (which ours is not).

Curiously, all the Washingtonia filifera in this part of the garden survived the 2010-2011 winter but not without some damage to the leaves and spears. None of the washingtonias in the front garden survived.

The bed in the greenhouse contains a few aloes (and relatives) some of which are unlikely to survive in the open in temperatures below minus 3-4C: Aloe striata, Aloe ciliaris, Aloe cooperi, Aloe vera, Aloe plicatilis.

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Agave americana Southern Comfort garden - Photo Gallery
(Photographs of garden and plants at Southern Comfort)
Aloe arborescens Ogrd Macieja Srzednickiego przy domu Southern Comfort - Galeria Zdj
(teksty i opisy rolin po angielsku)
NGS logo National Gardens Scheme Web site -
(Other Open days in NGS gardens)
RHS logo RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Plantfinder
(Who sells what and where - nurseries and suppliers in the U.K.)
EPS logo The European Palm Society
(For all enthusiasts of palms and similar botanical exotica)

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2. Links to enthusiasts
3. About Maciej Pomian-Srzednicki, the garden owner

1. Nurseries

This is a list of nurseries and garden centres which I and my gardening acquaintances have found useful. They range from multi-acre monsters to a small back garden but there is one thing they have in common: good service and an excellent quality and variety of plants. Each nursery has its strengths and weaknesses and the smaller ones are often very specialist. Most can be found in the RHS Plant Finder. On many occasions we have even found good plants (but often in a bad state) at places like Focus DIY, Homebase and B&Q.

Hill House Nursery, Devon - what we think of Hill House
Pan Global Plants, Gloucestershire - what we think of Pan-Global Plants
Duchy of Cornwall Nursery, Cornwall - what we think of the Duchy of Cornwall
Lower Kenneggy Nurseries (this site is probably now defunct) - what we think of Lower Kenneggy
Desert to Jungle, Somerset - what we think of Desert to Jungle
High Garden Nurseries, Chiverstone Lane, Kenton, Exeter, Devon, EX6 8NJ; Tel: 01626 899106,; open 0900-1700 Tue-Fri; contact: Chris Britton.
The Palm House, Devon - what we think of the Palm House
The Palm Centre, London
Trevena Cross, Cornwall
Cross Common Nursery, Cornwall
Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens, Dorset
Amulree Exotics, Norfolk
Urban Jungle, Norfolk
Hardy Exotics, Cornwall
Key Essentials (mail order for Tillandsia)
Otter Nurseries, Devon
St Bridget Nurseries, Devon
Withleigh Nurseries, Devon
Pine Cottage Plants, Devon
Stuckey's Alpines, 38 Phillipps Avenue, Exmouth, Devon EX83HZ; Tel: 01395 273636, (open by appointment only; contact: Roger & Brenda Stuckey)
Long Acre Plants, Somerset
The Cactus Shop, Devon
Burnham Nurseries (the tender orchid specialists)

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2. Links to Enthusiasts

The role of the internet has been particularly important. It has enabled garden enthusiasts to 'google around' for information published by like-minded devotees. Here is a list of some (mostly non-commercial) links related to the growing of exotic and tender plants in the U.K.: (in particular, see Dave Poole's postings) (hardiness checklist for growers of bromeliads) (garden designer Paul Spracklin lists and comments many exotic plants - recommended) (a valuable agave resource in a constant state of development) (varied and interesting content, links, photographs) (a sub-tropical garden in the Bristol area; also open under the NGS)

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3. About Maciej Pomian-Srzednicki

Dr Maciej Pomian-Srzednicki's original background is in biochemistry but his Ph.D., however, was concerned with politics and sociology. He has been gardening on and off for about thirty years. In 1997 he moved from West Sussex to the West Country and began gardening tentatively with hardy exotics and semi-tender plants in his south-facing sloping garden in Torquay. His garden has been featured in the local press on many occasions and was described in the "Readers' Gardens" section of Amateur Gardening in September 2009 and also in the magazine Devon Life in October 2011. An article in Coast Magazine is due to appear later this year (2012).

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All photographs, unless otherwise mentioned, are copyright © Maciej Pomian-Srzednicki 2012


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