The Tropical Border And How I Learned To Hate Soaker Hose

Like last year, I gambled on a fine spring by planting up the tropical border early.

Tropical Border (1)

In mid-April, to a comb-and-tissue-paper fanfare, I dug up the big red banana (Ensete maurelii) from its winter-greenhouse-home and wheeled it into position.

Tropical Border (3)

And then I did the same for the ‘small’ one.

Tropical Border (2)

Each year I add a deep leaf-mould and compost mulch; as well as a generous scattering of pelleted chicken manure.  Beneath the mulch and marked by canes are over-wintering dahlias, cannas and what-nots.  I mark their position so that I don’t slice through a big, fat dahlia tuber whilst planting a banana.

Tropical Border (4)

Within a day or two of planting, temperatures took a dive and I gave the red bananas a little protection.

Tropical Border (6)

Pretty, huh?  Next out, were my three colocasias and various other bits and bobs.  But in retrospect I should have left all these non-hardy perennials in the greenhouse for another month.  April and May 2015 were bitter at times; and all of these plants suffered from that harsh, grim spring.  But if leaves shrivelled and blackened, plants shrank and glared, they all survived.  No thanks to me.  Last year an early planting paid off; this year it didn’t.  I’ll eat patience pie next year and plant them out in May.  Probably.

Tropical Border (7)

Over the past four years, I have spent a large chunk of my time on Earth watering the tropical border.  To make life a little less drudge, I decided to lay soaker hose throughout the bed.

Tropical Border (9)

Have you ever used soaker hose?  I hadn’t.  Good grief but how I hate soaker hose.  (Hate isn’t strong enough a word).  There’s probably a knack to laying it: a very simple, straightforward, commonsense knack.  But if so, it fluttered above my head just out of reach, chortling.  As per the instructions I laid it out under hot sun to make it warm and pliable.

Tropical Border (11)

Contrary to the instructions, that made no difference … whatsoever.  It kinked and twisted and – as only an inanimate, unreasonable, spiteful thing can do – made me apoplectic with sweary rage.

Tropical Border (12)

Drawing on a superhuman patience I didn’t know I possessed, I slowly wrapped the untameable, kinky coils around plants and pegged it into place; un-kinking as I went.  (I should have buried the blasted thing but there were too many established plants here to dig trenches).

Tropical Border (14)

Eventually, to my great surprise, the horrible job was done and to my greater surprise still, it worked.

Tropical Border (15)

Later, I smothered the hateful hose pipe under barrow-loads of compost to hide it from view … and memory.   And to reduce evaporation.

Tropical Border (13)

I connected the hose to a timer and for an hour every summer morning, water is pumped up from an adjacent well to soak these thirsty big boys.

Tropical Border (5)

The hardy bananas (Musa basjoo) were thrusting impatiently out of their winter jackets

Tropical Border (17)

and so I released them.  Last year, growth started almost immediately and the border quickly plumped up.  But not this year:  April, May and even June passed by in a blur of inactivity.

Tropical Border (20)

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

It is only in July that the plants have fully woken

Tropical Border (19)

and the border has come to life.

Tropical Border (18)

It is still early in my ‘tropical’ season and some plants aren’t half their eventual height and width.

Tropical Border (21)

Or at least I hope they’re not.  I’ll show you the border’s progress in a few weeks time and detail the plants I’ve used; those I’ve moved; those I’ve added and those I’ve removed.  And we can hope by then, if nothing else, that those beastly satellite dishes will be lost from view.   Along with the damnable soaker hose.

50 thoughts on “The Tropical Border And How I Learned To Hate Soaker Hose

  1. Hi
    Got to stand up for soaker hoses.
    Some folks will now not use it because of this blog.
    It’s really not difficult to lay. Works really, really well.
    Nothing more to add than, don’t let this put you off.


    • Hi Steve, and thanks for commenting.

      Though you say “it’s really not difficult to lay” it certainly was difficult in my case … and I was using brand new product. This blog post relates to my personal experience but, as I stated above, once in situ soaker hose does works very well. My tropical border loves it and I’m sure readers can make up their own minds on whether or not to use it.



  2. Damn those soaker hoses.
    Your tropical border is marvellous! I think I have the perfect spot for one running down the drive but watering could be a challenge as it is in sun all day. Could look lovely though. I shall look out for your plant list.


  3. You need to tame soaker hose. First step is to take yourself to a camping store and find some of those old-type tent pegs that look like shepherds’ crooks. If your camping store is like mine, the hook is just the right size to fit round the hose. Then you stake (peg) down the end of the soaker and fall over backwards unravelling the roll carefully. Add pegs every metre (or either side of any turn). Voila. Oh, and cover the hose with mulch. Works better and looks less ugly (cos you can’t see it). And covering it makes it much easier to slice through it with a spade when you’re digging. And that gives you a good reason to get rid of the soaker hose which is damned useless unless you have just the right water pressure. Like those expanding hoses everyone seems to be selling at the moment which (they don’t say) require a water pressure beyond the realms of most of us rurals to do anything other than dribble less than a soaker hose!


    • Hi John, sound advice and taming the blasted thing is key. I did use long tent pegs actually and also covered with mulch. But when I use the hose to give the bed an extra good soaking it does, of course, wash away the mulch. Still never mind – the soaker hose is actually working. Remarkably! D


  4. Hi David, we don’t use soaker hose at Sissinghurst and after your account of laying it, I’m so glad we don’t! But the tropical border is obviously loving it and is clearly getting going, I look forward to seeing more photos later in the summer. Helen


    • Hullo Helen, step away from the soaker hose. Evil, fun-sapping contraption. You have good sense obviously. Fingers crossed the border will continue to develop. You’ll know we’ve had lousy weather this weekend in Sussex so my return to work will be full of trepidation! Dave


  5. I laughed out loud reading your attempts with the soaker hose. I have used a couple of types of soaker hose in the garden beds, and this year took to using landscape fabric pins to hold the hose in place as I worked to install it in the desired position. Made working with the hose somewhat easier. Your tropical border is lovely. My cannas are slow growers here in St. Louis, MO. Next year I plan to install them in pots and perhaps a different garden bed; hopefully I will have better results.


    • I think I can laugh about it too. Now. 🙂 Good luck with your cannas. They mostly perform pretty well for me though they do need staking. I used long metal pins to peg the hose into position too – and jolly expensive they were. I hate to think how much this bed costs!


  6. Yes, I can see that “small” is relative when it comes to Musa. 😉

    And yes, I have tried using soaker hoses. Once… in my previous garden. The reason I only used them once is aptly and thoroughly described in your post! I left them in place for the season, of course, and then in October asked myself “Do I really want to give these things storage space all winter only to have to wrestle with them again next spring?” Myself replied, “No you absolutely do not.” Upon which I said “That’s what I thought.” Would you believe I couldn’t even manage to GIVE them away? LOL


  7. The tropical border looks very impressive, I think we have all been inspired be Great Dixter. I must remember Janna’s ‘pearls of wisdom’ if I ever come to lay a soaker hose out again. In their defence they are very efficient at watering an area of garden.


    • Yes, Brian the hose is actually doing its job well now. Every morning, it’s reassuring to see how damp the soil is throughout the border and also how it isn’t baked solid lower down (as per usual) when I plant or move anything. Dave


  8. Great you have a well and not a water meter David!
    I am incompetent with anything mechanical and your leaky hose would be a nightmare to me!
    Will stick to hand held hosepipe – but I can see you are getting great results


    • Hi Roger, yes the well is very handy and a pump was only installed last year. Over a hot, dry summer it does dry out but the pump cuts off automatically if the water level level gets too low. And that’s when I too will resort again to a hosepipe and long, long minutes soaking each plant. D


  9. Blimey David, that’s impressive stuff: both the tropical border and your perseverance with the soaker hose.
    I use drip irrigation which is a bit like having a big meccano set that gradually extends itself around the garden.. each time I plant something new I have to use the little screwdriver provided to add new pipes and drip heads. It works well until some critter mistakes one of the pipes for a juicy worm. Or the gardener (bless her little heart) forgets where the network is and puts a spade through it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I use a similar system in the greenhouses, RD. And yes, like yours, it works really well. Over a relatively small area it is fairly easy to set up each spring too. Haven’t put a spade through it yet but give me time. D


  10. The tropical border looks amazing but sadly I am even more impressed by the soaker hose. For one thing I’ve learnt that you could bend it round things. I suppose its because I’ve always dreamed of having one for the long stretches of our back borders. Amelia


  11. Sounds like the job from hell, though I see Janna’s cracked it. I try not to water the garden – for once being on clay is a bonus in drier times like we have at the mo’.


    • Hi, I’m afraid lots of watering does go hand in hand with a tropical border. Even with the watering system in place I still give it a good soaking a couple of times a week when it is very hot. The Priory sits on clay too but ours is bone dry and full of huge cracks at the moment! Is yours not? D


      • Ha – it is usually, but I’ve been doing a massive revamp in the shrubbery and so had plenty of material to shred at the start of the year. Most of the garden and allotment got a nice thick mulch just before the dry weather kicked in and it’s really helped. We’ll draw a veil over the cracks in the lawn though…


  12. It was worth all the effort, the border is looking fantastic. I keep thinking about using some here, but will take your thoughts on board, maybe I will just keep on watering by hand!


    • Hello Pauline. From what I’ve read you simply need to do it properly. Or at least ask a proper person to install it. One day I hope to be a proper person. One day and then all my troubles will be over. D


  13. Soaker hoses. Grr. I used them for years and loved the way they watered but hated absolutely everything else about them. Pliable? When does that happen?? Just how close to Mordor and the fires of Mount Doom do you have to be??? Once the last ones gave up the ghost I rebelled.

    The tropical border looks fabulous. Next year you’re going to need a crane to move that banana!


    • I do like a rebel. Stacy. Ya Boo Sucks To Soaker Hose, I say. I don’t suppose Mount Doom would have had any effect either to be honest – which is odd given that SH is undoubtedly the work of Sauron. I glossed over the fact that the ‘big’ banana has been terribly shrunken by the the cold. You can’t even see it in the above photos. The only one showing is the ‘small’ one! But actually a shrunken big banana is a blessing. (That’s an unusual phrase isn’t it)? I don’t possess a crane you see. And Jim’s back isn’t what it was. Dave

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, you are so right about the fires of Mount Doom, Stacy! I have only ever attempted to fit irrigation on days over 35°C (in complete desperation to avoid the slavery to hand watering) and the heat had absolutely zero effect on pliability. I can’t possibly understand how the manufacturers think it’s good advice to unravel it.


  14. Despite your hose angst, I’d say job well done. The border looks amazing and I reckon a length of tinsel & those satelite dishes will be gone.


    • Hey Jane, tinsel? You sure? I could go the whole hog and hang half a dozen baubles on ’em too. That or smash them with a sledgehammer. I loathe them almost as much as soaker hose. But thanks for the pat on the back. D


  15. Wow. Your tropical border is worth all the effort. The Tetrapanax is particularly impressive! Having used soaker hose to water the veg in our last garden. I never would again. It kept getting caught up and kinking and was just the biggest nuisance.


    • Hi Janet, yes I’m pleased with the T. Rex. I haven’t fed it and I’m wondering whether I ought to. I think I’ll give it a snack of chicken manure. Pleased to hear that soaker hose is non-personally vindictive. D


  16. Well, that’s put me off ever trying to lay a soaker hose! It was worth it though; the tropical border looks amazing.


  17. I HAVE to use soaker hose for all my vegetables and the cuttings beds; your description is just how L laid out the first hoses, but then I adopted the method used by Jan above and it worked much better. The other reason to bury it is that if you have chalk in the water or other minerals (as I do) if you don’t cover it all the holes block up! The border looks fabulous so worth all the effort. I admire you for the patience of digging up and replanting anything!


    • Hi Christina, it seems everyone knows how to lay soaker hose except me! I should’ve asked before I embarked on the whole sorry episode. No chalk in the water at the Priory but it will be interesting to see how long the the hose lasts. I have plenty spare if it does fail. Only thing is, the spare is of course horribly, horribly twisted and kinked! I actually rather enjoy the digging up. It’s a full stop to the season. Whereas the planting out is the seasons beginning. Hard work certainly but rather rewarding at both ends. Dave

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Gosh, that did make me laugh. I have so been there (more than once!). If you ever do it again, ignore the advice to unravel it (totally impossible without kinking it) and hold the whole reel by putting one arm through the middle, using the other to gently turn it and unroll it bit by bit as you lay it in its final position. That way you can turn the whole thing when a kink threatens, without needing to chase it for miles around the garden. I feel your pain (and have now very happily abandoned irrigation altogether in my current garden).
    On a happier note, how well does your tropical bed show the magic of gardening? From nothing to full in just three months. Amazing (and beautiful). It gives Great Dixter a run for its money.


    • Pearls of wisdom, Janna. Thank you. I realised after I had unravelled the coil that I had made a ghastly mistake. Were I to do it again (unlikely) I will certainly do it your way and have someone help me too, I think. The fact that my coil was 50m of piping didn’t help either! And your comment re Great Dixter is especially welcome. They were after all my inspiration! Dave


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