No, you are not mistaken…there exists in Benfleet a garden that is home to a wide variety of tropical plants, that over a period of 15 years, have proved hardy enough to survive and flourish in our climate. The man behind this hidden gem is Paul Spracklin, who readily admits to being obsessive about his search for plants that will do well in this corner of Essex.
It started years before this garden took shape with Paul experimenting to see if a houseplant in his care would survive outside. From there early retirement from the police force coincided with moving to Greenwood Avenue and replacing the subsidence-affected bungalow with a white boarded plantation-style house in 1996. The adventure had begun.
With a sloping plot, facing south and with mature native trees providing shelter on the north and east flanks, the site soon proved ideal for a range of exotic plants, cacti and succulents. There have been setbacks, especially in the last two years, which proved colder than the previous ten. Combined with the now infamous “wrong sort of snow” and you have a few casualties … one established Acacia for example gave way under the weight of snow. Paul remains phlegmatic as the garden is experimental by design.
Recognition of his achiements came as early as May, 2005 with a 6 page profile in “The Garden” ( the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society). If you want botanical names this is your best bet…His knowledge and experience has led to consultancy work (see his website www.oasisdesign.co.uk) and talks to interested groups. If you want advice on what will and won’t flourish in these ‘ere parts, Paul is your man. Contact him through his website.
To get a fuller picture try the audio recording (38 minutes). An interview, which is accompanied by a tropical-style downpour with nature’s pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure.