Thursday, November 29, 2012

My visit to Alternative Eden, the garden of Mark and Gaz (part 1)...

I cannot begin to describe how excited I was to be visiting Mark and Gaz (of Alternative Eden) during our September trip to London. It was thrilling to visit a grand botanical garden like the Kew, but what about a “real” garden, you know…the kind we all tend? One I've been virtually visiting (via their blog) for a couple of years? It was FABULOUS, what an opportunity.

Once our trip to London looked like it was really going to happen I contacted them for advice, right away they suggested we meet up, maybe at Kew. Yes! Then they said something on their blog about working in London. That’s when I realized they were close enough maybe I could actually visit their garden. A (hopefully polite) inquiry from me and the next thing I knew they were offering to take a day off work to accommodate my vacation schedule. Yes, just to have a crazy American visit their garden. How nice is that? When I mention this to my non garden-blogging friends they look at me like I’m mad. “You what? You took the train out of London (alone!?) to spend the day with two guys you’d never met before? Wasn’t that just weird?” But you all understand, I know you do. It was like we were old friends, catching up. We immediately had A LOT to talk about…

Even with all the time I'd spent admiring their garden via blog posts I still didn't quite understand the layout. We entered the garden from a door off the kitchen, and stepped onto this deck. Surrounded by exotic potted plants you could see see bit of the garden beyond, but it was impossible to tell just how big it was.

The garden is roughly "L" shaped, with the bottom of the L up against the house and extending a bit beyond (there's a jig/jag in there too but I'm trying to keep this simple). The older part of the garden is the long part of the L (and that will be today's post), with the newer raised planting areas, koi pond and filter house occupying the other end (which we will see tomorrow). Mark and Gaz moved into their home the spring of 2005, those of you who follow their blog but haven't gone "all the way back" might enjoy checking out this post from 2010 where they share pictures of the very early days.

Here I've stepped off the deck and into the garden. Rather than going straight we're going to veer to the right and look at another seating area.

And some more fabulous plants!

The big guy is a Dasylirion quadrangulatum, I want!

I also want to steal the idea of red poles in the large urn (only mine would be orange, of course).

You can see how this seating area abuts the deck off the back of their house.

As I look out across the lush plantings I'm starting to get an idea just how big this space is...

And you better be ready for some major Schefflera lust. It seemed every 5 feet there was another beautiful (previously unknown to me) specimen, this one Schefflera myriocarpa.

We've now backtracked and are headed down the pathway first glimpsed in the 4th photo above. I kind of felt like this was a test to see if I made it past the guards and was allowed further into the garden.

Rhapis excelsa...

As we enter one of many rooms obscured by foliage, you really feel transported to the jungle. I loved it!

Cutleaf Emperor Oak...

And Schefflera rhododendrifolia (formerly S. impressa). If you are starting to be impressed with my mastery of names of their plants don't be. Mark and Gaz kindly agreed to identify a few photos for me.

Coming face to face with this gorgeous Canna 'Cleopatra' I remembered how much I loved it when I saw it on their blog. I might have to track one of these down!

Next to Cleo is Tradescantia 'Blushing Bride'

That's some successful layering...

Schefflera vietnamensis

Euphorbia stygiana



Now we're coming up on the Jungle Hut (aka The Exotic Shed from their blog post yesterday)...

Wouldn't this be just the best place to sit and enjoy a warm summer rainstorm? With a book and beverage of course.

Love the details, work done my Mark and Gaz themselves of course.

Almost the same shot as above but pulled back just a bit.

Forging onward...

I didn't ask about this Schefflera assuming it was S. taiwaniana.

Another private spot...

In which to sit for a bit.

Here though you're not alone, look at those cute mugs! (the weather had been quite stormy before my visit, hence the coverings)

You bamboo lovers could go crazy here...

Tucked in a back corner was one of two greenhouses. Mark and Gaz have been so busy with their koi pond project many of their plants didn't make it out of the greenhouse this year. Probably for the better with the extremely wet summer they endured.

Such a collection!

As we walked through the tall bamboo and dense foliage I had the feeling I was being watched, yep. Wild jungle cats! This is Twinkles (the former cat person in me really enjoyed meeting both Twinkles and Knickers).

I didn't catch this guys name.

Seriously...how beautiful is this!?

Fagus sylvatica franken (Mark informs me its a beech)...

Tree ferns! As if the Scheffleras didn't already have me green with envy...

Well, that completes today's journey through the exotic jungle. Tomorrow we'll step out into the light and enjoy the garden addition and take a look at the koi pond project!

62 comments:

  1. What an exciting treat this must have been for you! I love that tall urn with the mosaic around it. I want that Cleopatra Canna too.

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    1. If my memory is correct I think they got those urns at IKEA...crazy huh?

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    2. Yes they were from Ikea :) they were such good value too!

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  2. I don't even know what to say. I can't think of enough superlatives to describe my response to your photos. All I can say that I hope to see Mark and Gaz' sanctuary in person some day. An entire coffee-table book could be written about their garden.

    Awesome post, Loree. I can't wait for part 2.

    P.S. What is the bamboo in the next to last photo? The internodes are extremely curious.

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    1. Gerhard, the Bamboo you are asking about is just a Phyllostachys aurea, and I have spotted we hadn't cut out the canes that had died this year!

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    2. Gerhard I hope you will have the opportunity to visit their garden someday...you'll just love it! I'm sure I could return again and again and discover new plants every time...it's amazing! (and I'm glad Mark and Gaz chimed in about the bamboo as I had no idea...)

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  3. Oh man! This is an extravaganza of lushness. Although I've bopped over to Alternative Eden a few times, I really hadn't taken in the enormity of their undertaking. And all this in just six years! I'm amazed at the palms and other semi-tender plants I see planted in the ground. I especially loved seeing that big agave and Twinkles sharing a nice garden seat in pic #9, possibly with Knickers in the background? I'll be back for an encore tomorrow!

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    1. Heya, Knickers is on the Bench in #9, with twinkles behind. The garden was started in the summer of 2005, so we are just about 7 years now.

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    2. You've got great eyes Jane, I had to enlarge the photo to see both cats. They were both very sweet.

      As for their timeline I feel like such a slacker, they moved in the same year we did and their garden is so much more...well...more! See you tomorrow...

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  4. Sigh...to have THAT much space! So glad you all got to meet up...they seem like such sweet guys :-)

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    1. I know huh? I forgot to ask them what the basic lot (before the addition) measured. Just the garden portion has got to be about the size of my whole lot (front, house and back).

      And yes...they are.

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    2. Hi Scott, Loree, we never really figured it the exact measurements of the garden because of its odd shape, sort of L shape but the longest arm is about 120 feet long. The garden fans out too from the house which makes it more tricky to measure. We wouldn't mind a bigger garden in the distant future though :)

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    3. Ah yes that makes sense (the fanning out part). And your garden length (120ft) is just about the same as my whole lot front to back which measures 111ft.

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  5. Just amazing! It's so lush and full of plants and seating areas, quite an achievement for their city location. Like parts of Kew in residential scale. So worth the trip.

    Seeing it through your lens and point of view has been quite revealing because I had no idea there was so much to the garden. Can't wait to see tomorrow's view of the pond project.

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    1. The fact that the plantings are so dense in some areas really gives you the feeling you're a million miles away from civilization...glad you could sense that from the photos.

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  6. Epic beyond epic! Seriously?! That is my dream. I could move into their garden, build a tiki hut and perform a sun dance.

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    1. Careful, they might take you up on that! (I think all of the UK might be happy with a little more sun)

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    2. Definitely! We would love to have more sunny days, especially after this year which has been exceptionally grey and wet

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    3. When I visited England a little over a year ago I lucked out and had sun all but one day! I am definitely going to go back soon. I love it there! Maybe next time I'll give Mark and Gaz a ring.

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  7. This is an absolutely stellar garden. I am a fan of Alternative Eden and your tour has helped me to piece together many of the parts of this gorgeous space. It was sweet of Mark and Gaz to take time off for you and also nice that you are taking us all along on this glorious tour. Thank you! Can't wait for tomorrow's post.

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    1. I think you'll enjoy tomorrow too...although it is very different. Glad I could help you to piece together the spaces...I once thought about trying to organize a blog event where we all drew (by hand or with computer assistance) maps of our gardens so we'd better understand the layouts of the gardens we virtually visit all the time but may never actually step foot in. What do you think?

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    2. I think that's a good idea, we'd join in if you organize one :)

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  8. I have just begun following their blog, and honestly...they should link to this post as an introduction and overview. I feel almost like I've been there now.

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    1. Yay! That's a great compliment Ricki, thank you.

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  9. Hi Gary and Mark the garden looks great as usual is the fish in the big pnd yet xx

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    1. Thanks Carol, but the credit for the fantastic photos goes to Loree.

      We havent yet got the fish in, but are on the final leg of the job now setting up the filters. We may get the fish in this year! but only just if we manage it.

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    2. I think I hear the makings of a very fun New Years Eve party...move the fish! (before drinking any champagne of course)

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  10. You got to visit Alternative Eden in person? So cool! I think I discovered their blog here. I can't wait for Part II.

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  11. Thank you everyone for the lovely comments about our garden, and special thanks to Loree for such a wonderful write up and photos. As you said it did feel like we had known each other for a long time, and really didn't seem strange to take time off work to show you round.

    The big Schefflera is taiwaniana, and has been fine in our garden.

    The Myan head was made by a friend of ours, and hasn't got a name, maybe we should ask for suggestions!

    There are several photos above from angles that I just haven't considered before, I will have to take some for ourselves, you have really captured the view to the pale green bench wonderfully, I don't think I have taken a photo as nice as that in that area!

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    1. This is supremely dorky but when I read "Myan head" I keep actually reading Ryan rather than Myan. Probably because that's one of my brothers names. I think "Ryan the Myan" has a nice ring to it though.

      BTW you should consider my photos yours, if you want any of them in higher resolution just let me know.

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    2. Will take you up on that offer Loree! Your photos are superb, especially the one with the bench at the back :)

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  12. It's a lovely garden.

    Very well designed and full of lots of wonderful plants!

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    1. Actually you raise a question I never thought to ask them. If the overall design was planned out of just sort of happened...

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    2. Loree, its a combination of both. The main layout of the garden was planned along with the key larger plants. However the garden has been allowed to evolved, sometimes just because we had to "have that plant" then needed a home for it.

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    3. Yes, I know that feeling.

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  13. I can see why you enjoyed your visit, they are gardeners after your own heart. I look forward to pt. 2.

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    1. Indeed they are...with the succulent and Schefflera collection to prove it!

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  14. Ooo-la-la, la-la..How splendid to have had the opportunity to visit M and G's beautiful garden. Really looking forward to your report on the fabulous koi project.

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    1. I should have taken them up on the offer of a trip down inside the pond, I could have shared fishes perspective on the build.

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  15. Wow...only part 1? Amazing spaces you narrated on, and that is a serious quantity of containers. And I'm always learning - had no idea there were Schefflera spp. hardy beyond the tropics!

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    1. Hardy there are! I've got a couple in my garden but they've only had to withstand last winters test which was pretty easy. I've seen and heard of others that have been in the ground 5 yrs+ here in Portland.

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  16. It is s gorgeous garden with some seriously interesting plants, and Loree, as usual you have a real knack for composing some great photos. I've been amazed at the high quality of the photos and consistently good lighting you seem to always capture. You really know how to work that camera of yours, and must be more rigorous and ruthless about not including/posting photos that don't make the grade. You must also spend more time/attention on editing/cropping your photos than I do with my garden photography, and it really shows! A brilliant stroll through a fantastic garden. I like your idea of including some sort of graphic plan for the gardens. Some serious garden envy here; also loving that Canna 'Cleopatra' and all the various Schefflera species, we generally only see S. pueckleri, S. arboricola variegata in gardens here in the SF Bay Area, and I imagine they would all be dead easy in zone 9b/10a conditions like mine. Thanks for sharing all 3 of you. David in Berkeley

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    1. Gosh you really know how to make a girl's morning! Thank you for the kind words. I was extremely lucky with the light that day (and in Sean's garden), bright clouds make great filters. And you're right, I take many more photos than I end up posting and I do run them through Picasa for quick edits and cropping (thanks to Alan at It's Not Work It's Gardening for turning me onto that program).

      As for the Schefflera selection I just don't understand why there are so many more available in the UK than there are here...

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  17. Fantastic plants!! There are so many 'I wants' all in one place! The Fagus 'Franken'...whoa!!

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  18. Oh my goddddddddddddddddd that beech! I MUST HAVE THAT BEECH!

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  19. It's always a treat to see a garden in person that you've read about online for so long. And it's especially cool that you were able to do this even on an overseas trip. The power of blogging! Thanks for sharing the tour.

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    1. So true about the power of blogging! Who knew I could have a lady from Austin visit my garden one year and be standing in a garden in England the next!

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  20. They have more agaves than I do. Impressive garden! And I love the mix of jungle and desert.

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    1. I guess the real question here is when are you going to get more agaves Jenn?

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  21. they are all fantestic pictures and lookwise so beautiful and amezing

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  22. Lush and tropical are not even words I would use to describe this beautiful garden. Maybe magical would be the word. And your photos brought the magic to my eyes. Wow thank you so much for showing Mark and Gaz's beautiful garden to us. In there post they say it is interesting to see their garden through another's eye's. And it is true. Can't wait to get to part two!

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    1. Magical is the perfect word Candice!

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  23. Hi Loree, i came in from Mark and Gaz! I have been a follower of their posts since maybe 2yrs ago and i think you showed another perspective of their garden, that they really took for granted. It really is amazing from another's eyes and point of view. That is very understandable, i already read their latest post before coming in! I think you showed us the extent and size of their garden wonderfully, sometime i thought they are hiding some portions, haha! So theirs plus yours is a beautiful and complete Alternative Eden! I told them that looking at some portion of AE is just like looking at the natural vegetation in our real tropical areas. I somehow feel sad when many of these plants succumbed to winter.

    I am so glad that bloggers different parts of the world meet for the gardens. I also found some blogger friends as if we've known each other for a long time.

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    1. Well there was that corner they wouldn't let me into so maybe they are hiding portions still! (haha, just kidding). It's so true about how wonderful it is when we can meet. Even just getting to meet other garden bloggers here in Portland has been wonderful. All these people who've become a part of my life that I would have never met otherwise!

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  24. What a great post, it really does give a good idea of what a fantastic job Mark & Gaz have done in the garden - I guessed you guys were good, but I'm completely blown away by the scale of your achievements. Great work all round.

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