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Gardening in Sri Lanka

Phil McCann is a writer living and gardening in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His new garden is presenting some wonderful opportunities and experiences.

Hot, humid and a horticultural heaven - that's our garden in Colombo, the noisy cauldron of car horns and screeching brakes, capital of Sri Lanka. Plants I formerly thought of as delicate little numbers, specimens needing a wheelbarrow of TLC and a shed full of mollycoddle, grow wild out here. Hibiscus are ripped out of borders before they get too big, lantana is considered a weed, and bougainvillea, the doyenne of many a garden in the Mediterranean and conservatories in the northern reaches of Europe, cascade from every balcony.

The near constant temperature throughout the year, and two rainy monsoon months enable exotic plants to grow with an enthusiasm and vitality I have never before encountered (conveniently forgetting the Leylandii hedge planted by a neighbour in the UK). Plants here do not know the meaning of cold winter nights and short day lengths. Seasons are more or less a distant memory for me, although our temple tree (Frangipani, Plumeria obtusa) did have its own autumn in May when most of its leaves dropped off, soon to be replaced a week later by fresh growth and more fragrant blooms.

We took over a garden consisting of a rectangle of lawn, 10m x 6m, surrounded by stark white walls. Everyone in the know says that when you take over a new garden all the hard landscaping, that's the paving, fencing and lugging stuff around part, should be complete before you indulge in planting. Come off it - how could I resist the plants available here? We needed plants to create an immediate feeling of peace and calm in a turbulent city. Only plants can do this and we have become regular visitors to the fortnightly plant market held in Victoria Park. There, haggling is a game and the prizes are amazing number of different palms, jasmine filling the air with sweet perfume, orchids that take your breath away and roses.

Yes, roses are big in Sri Lanka, and just as I drool over the waxy flowers of hoya, the fragile looking leaves of caladium and the bold red blooms of Ixora, local gardeners swarm over hybrid teas, floribunda and standards. Seeing marigold in full exuberant bloom during January and February is strangely uplifting.

It is going to be great fun filling the garden with plants, pots and
eventually, yes, I will get round to the hard work part of gardening. I'll wait until it cools down a little first!

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