Jungle’s don’t grow overnight. But with good planning you can grow a jungle in 10 weeks from planting to opening.

It takes a year or more to plan and grow a display such as our ‘Edible Jungle’ display in the lower greenhouse this year and a further 5 months tending that display whilst it’s open to the public.

Next year our display is going to be ‘Just Gingers’ and planning has been underway since June when the management team agreed. This week we are going to cut down the jungle and a new group of volunteers (The Ginger Group) are going to start work on preparing the greenhouse and specimens for that display. This blog reviews the work leading to this year’s Jungle display.

Our management group agreed in May 2015 that the 2016 display would be themed on ‘Edible Jungle’. The jungle would display food plants that originated in the world’s rainforests and which have gone on to become staples in various cultures. Previous displays, such as our 2015 ‘Curry House’, have relied on containerised specimens but our plan for the jungle always envisaged creating a large central bed and on a slope. We agreed early on that the bed would be constructed as a ‘hot bed’ – that is – with a base of un-rotted manure which creates heat in the compost above.

We agreed a target list of species  by early August and set about acquiring those things that we didn’t have already and would need growing to specimen size. This included the Monstera, the Naranjila, the Abelmoschus and sugar cane. We also new that we could grow other things from seed in the late winter and early spring of 2016. The Curry House exhibit closed in October 2015 and we immediately set about arranging the greenhouse for the winter.

With a stock of bananas to keep as well as the gingers we already had by then and the new plants for the jungle it’s a squeeze. It’s always difficult to juggle the sheltered space. For the last few years we have erected a poly-tunnel inside the greenhouse to shelter the most tender species and we raise the rest off the floor on bread trays and fleece them.

By February we are sowing seeds and into March we are coaxing rhizomes into growth – sometimes under artificial light. By the middle of March just before the equinox the poly-tunnel can come down. That’s when we created the bed structure and slope and installed the irrigation. It’s lined with our old pond liner and was immediately filled with fresh hot steaming manure! This is topped with a Mypex fabric and then filled with Melcourt bark nursery stock compost. By early April the compost temperature reached 40ºC and we were ready to plant out.

It looks pretty thin… but with weekly doses of Chase SM3 seaweed feed and soil that is more than double the temperature of the ground outside the jungle took root.

A mulch of coarse bark – the jungle environment was deliberately high humidity. We used the mister twice per day. These little Taros would become jungle giants by the end of the season.

The jungle floor is usually shady. We used 50% shade netting to reduce direct sunlight.

With 6 weeks to go to opening we create the labelling and fixed it to the border edges. You can see that the taros are already growing fast.

They seemed almost to grow visibly – so happy were they with their environment.

The fast growing Liannas soon began to take advantage of the climbing poles and nets. The Cinnamon vine shot up the back wall whilst the giant achocha and the tomato vine filled out the left hand side. We’re used to growing tomatoes as a single cordon but these two were left with all their side shoots. A graphic example of how not to grow tomatoes according to the text books. But we produced 5 times the weight of fruit per plant compared to our cordons in the upper greenhouse. Warmth, regular moisture, bed depth and a rich nutrient source proved the text books wrong… if you have a jungle to support their rampant growth.

This is what it looked like on opening day. Not quite to the ceiling yet but a respectable show for 9 weeks since planting. But this is not the end. By now the compost was cooling – on opening day the soil temperature was around 32C. But summer sun was maintaining the air temperature. Indeed the mister was essential to keep the air temperature below 30C

By the end of the season the taros were reaching the shade netting and the lianas had climbed right over the netting and were colonising the top of it. Our solar panel, which powered the stream, was engulfed by the passionfruit vine. No more solar power…

Over the course of the 5 months that the exhibition has been open we estimate that over 10,000 people have visited and enjoyed the jungle. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the jungle has been a fantastic educational resource as well as a delight to visit. Now, as we plan to dig up the jungle and eat it we are turning our attention to the next year’s display. Here we go again…