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Victoria Summerley: A real taste of the exotic for spring

Gardening Notebook: It's still too early to tell whether some exotic plants, such as cannas and bananas, have survived

Monday 29 March 2010 00:00 BST

The worst winter for 30 years has been tough on all gardeners, and especially tough on those of us who like to push the boundaries as far as tender plants are concerned. It's still too early to tell whether some exotic plants, such as cannas and bananas, have survived, but for others, the damage is already done.

Spare a thought for garden writer Martyn Cox, whose east London garden is lovingly detailed in his new book, Big Gardens in Small Spaces (Timber Press, £18.99). Packed with ideas for urban plots, the garden opens under the National Gardens Scheme on 27 June, but before then, Martyn will have to replace his treasured collection of aeoniums which succumbed to the winter freeze.

David Lewis, head gardener at the Roof Gardens in Kensington, west London, has a more unusual problem, meanwhile. His biggest worry has been whether the flamingoes would cope with weeks of arctic temperatures. The Roof Gardens, now owned by Virgin, have been undergoing a major restoration over the past couple of years. If you want to see the flamingoes, in all their roseate glory, it's now open to the public (call 0207 937 7994 to check a couple of days ahead) and launching a gardening club.

One of David's innovations is growing vegetables and herbs for the chefs and bar staff. I was surprised to see a tub of rhubarb on the terrace, but according to barman Tim, this is for a new cocktail he has invented – a rhubarb syrup with gin, topped with a custard foam. Cheers!

A great plantsman

There has been a ruffling of petals in the gardening world following the publication of Stephen Anderton's biography of Christopher Lloyd (Chatto & Windus, £20).

Friends such as garden designer Mary Keen have found it difficult to view the excavation of the Lloyd family secrets with equanimity, and wonder whether Mr Lloyd's sexuality and his relationship with his mother are relevant to his career as an outstanding plantsman. Personally, I think they are. For so many of us, our childhood experiences and relationships have a direct bearing on our later activities in the garden. Or am I just making excuses for what is an unputdownable biography?

An accompanying exhibition opens at the Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace on Thursday, launched by Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Lloyd's garden, Great Dixter, and our own Anna Pavord.

Dig out the lawnmower

Easter weekend approaches, and with it the traditional start of the gardening season. Lighter evenings provide the perfect opportunity to think about dusting off the lawnmower and the garden furniture.

Unfortunately there is no sign of an accompanying heatwave; the forecast is more sleet than sun. It's such a shame the Met Office has given up on its long-range forecasts this year. At least I could have amused myself as I shivered on my plot by complaining about the non-appearance of a "barbecue summer".

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