Family Favourites – growing a passion for plants

Pictured above l to r: Kristofer holding baby Joy, Maria (9), Alexa, Harry (6) and Annabelle (11)

When Annabelle Swaine and her sister Maria posted a YouTube video about their favourite plants in the garden in 2019, which finishes with a wonderful pitch for their National Garden Scheme open day, we were intrigued to find out more.

“They put the video together without my knowledge,” says dad and garden owner, Kristofer Swaine. “The children have helped make a number of videos about the garden before, but this solo project shows a real passion for plants and an enthusiasm for our up-coming, inaugural opening for the National Garden Scheme.”

The children’s passion for plants, especially the wonderful array of exotic plants that Kristofer nurtures in his 50 metre long garden plot in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is very much an inherited passion.

“My nanna and grandad inspired me, I’ve been gardening since I was five years old,” explains Kristofer. “I helped my grandparents grow runner beans, potatoes and flowers, like tulips and bedding plants, and I’ve grown something every year for over thirty years now.”

As well as outdoor plants, Kristofer grew cacti as a child and when he got his own garden he started with traditional schemes; native plants, wildlife spaces and vegetables. The move to exotic plants was kick started when the local garden centre started selling small banana plants.

“I bought one, plus some exotic bulbs like elephant ears (Colocasia) and swamp lilies from the local hardware store, and was amazed when they started to grow. Twelve years later I still have the banana plant.”

That banana plant, and other exotics he’d grown, came with Kristofer to his current garden six years ago. “The garden was mainly laid to lawn with overgrown laurels and silver birch. I created a plan and pretty much stuck to it,” he says. “Parts of the garden which are exotic today were lawn last year.”

Controversially, perhaps, for someone with four young children, Kristofer’s advice to young families who feel they have little time to garden is to get rid of the lawn.

“It’s probably the single most high maintenance part of most people’s gardens and it can take up a lot of your time. Removing the lawn means more time for the fun aspects of gardening,” he says.

For most young families, the lawn is the hub of activities, it’s where the football is kicked and the paddling pool sits, so, how do the Swaine children feel about having a garden full of exotic plants?

“There’s always something happening,” says Annabelle. “A new flower on the passion-flower plant, a new leaf on the banana… as soon as I step into the garden I feel like I’m in a different world. I love it. I can escape to enjoy the wildlife, discover creepy-crawlies or sit in the jungle hut and read a book.”

“The garden has so much to offer,” adds Maria. “There’s a huge variety of things to explore. My favourite plant is the Ipomoea lobata.”

For six-year-old Harry it’s the pond that he loves the most although he’s pretty fond of the passion-flower too.

At the weekend, and during the holidays, the children are first out into the garden, helping dad film his videos (he’s been sharing his garden story online since he started) weeding a little, planting in the spring, sowing seeds, picking vegetables and sometimes helping with the watering. Although, as Kristofer admits, this usually turns into a water fight.

It seems that the love of gardening is blossoming in a new generation of Swaine’s.

“We all enjoy the garden so it’s really not difficult to combine family life with it and in the summer, the garden largely looks after itself so we have lots of time to sit back and enjoy being outside together,” adds Kristofer.

You can enjoy the Swaine’s garden too when it opens for the National Garden Scheme on August 18th (details below). And don’t worry if you’re not up to speed on your exotic plants, there will be plenty of enthusiastic helpers on hand to guide you.

An exotic treat, the garden in Wakefield

ABOUT: Great Cliff Exotic Garden, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

An exotic garden on a long narrow plot. Possibly the largest collection of palm species planted out in Northern England including a large Chilean Wine Palm. Colourful exotic borders with Zinnias, Cannas, Ensete, Bananas, Tree ferns, Agaves, Aloes, Colocasias and bamboos. Jungle hut, winding paths, pond that traverses the full width of the garden and vegetable plot.

For more information see: https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/36321/ and you can view Kristofer’s garden tips at YorkshireKRIS Exotic Gardening U.K.  

Listen to their recent interview on BBC Radio Leeds here (it starts at 2:25:00)

Take a look at the children’s YouTube video.

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