As a self-confessed 'plant nut' where's your ultimate plant-hunting paradise? Peru is in plant hunting pole position. Spectacular floral bio-diversity is to be found including the 'Queen of the Andes' (Puya raimondii), the world's tallest flowering spike. Whilst plant hunting in December 2009 I had the pleasure of viewing this beauty, where I saw 23 inflorescences flowering at once - one spike measured 44 foot tall and bore some 10,000 individual flowers! Incredible! Even stranger, it's a relation of the pineapple!
Is there anything that you've tried to grow that just hasn't succeeded? I shouldn't be telling you this as I'm supposed to be known as the 'orchid man' but I do seriously struggle to grow some orchids - particularly the terrestrial species and, yes, including our gorgeous native varieties! The biggest challenge I have is keeping alive cypripediums commonly known as 'slipper orchids', one of which, lady's slipper, is a native to the UK. I've tried changing the compost mix, aspect of the planting position - from full sun to deep shade - and make sure to use rainwater only, but I still fail. And occasionally when a shoot does burst forth in spring, then the slugs and snails dive into a sumptous cuisine! Oh well, as gardeners often say "if you kill the same plant after three attempts, move on!"
What's the weirdest plant you've ever come across? It has to be the 'deadly stinger', the world's most dangerous plant, and one that I collected from Queensland in north-east Australia. It's a small shrub related to a stinging nettle. When you touch its leaf the stinging sensation is exremely painful, like being stabbed by needles, and this pain re-occurs in contact with cold water for up to 10 months! What a great defence mechanism against predators. Visitors to Lullingstone World Garden beware!
Have you got any plans on the horizon for the gardens at Lullingstone? There are lots of plans developing nicely at Lullingstone in 2014 including building our first ever proper orchid house plus the creation of a 1-acre orchid meadow, which'll include a wide selection of British orchids. With our new apprentice starting this spring, we're also going to be building a miniature Mediterranean garden full of palm trees.
How do you ensure your collection of cacti and succulents stay safe and warm during the chilly winter months? At Lullingstone we have some 1,500 different varieties of cacti and succulents in a structure we call 'Hot & Spiky'. During the chilly billy winter months we heat it with two electric radiator heaters that are positioned below two powerful cold air office fans. So when the hot air rises it gets blasted throughout the internal space of the structure giving an even distribution of heat. We strive to keep the temperature above freezing and ensure minimal unwelcomed condensation with this warm air circulation.