Doncaster gardener's exotic haven proves palms and ferns can thrive in Yorkshire

Tim Oakes in his garden at Doncaster
Tim Oakes in his garden at Doncaster

A former high-level fencer with a keen eye for exotic plants is urging Doncaster green fingers they can grow similar species in their cold Yorkshire backyards.

Stepping into Tim Oakes' garden in Caxton Road, Woodlands, you'd be forgiven for thinking you weren't in Doncaster.

A red abyssinian banana plant in Tim Oakes' garden at Doncaster

A red abyssinian banana plant in Tim Oakes' garden at Doncaster

His 24 palm trees, some of are about two metres tall, take pride of place alongside ferns and yuccas.

Other noteable features are his rare black-stemmed banana plant. Tim also has ginger plants.

The garden is his pride and joy, and his haven. Tim, who is 71, said he could be found in there most days, 'just mucking about'.

There's always something to do: Weeds need to be pulled and dead leaves cut from trees to improve their appearance.

Tim Oakes in his Doncaster garden

Tim Oakes in his Doncaster garden

When the work is out of the way, he relaxes in the space.

"It's a lovely place to sit," Tim said.

He has plenty of time to devote to it. Tim is a semi-retired business consultant.

His partner, Jane, loves the space as well, though she's less keen on the gardening side of it.

Tim said it was a constant source of angst between the two.

"There are debates on how many plants I've got and how many are on her side," he said.

While most of the garden's features are easy on the eye, there are a couple which are unforgiving, should you be unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.

Tim has a danger sign installed, warning visitors to be wary of the trithrinax campestris, otherwise known as the caranday palm.

The palm, which is native to Argentina and Uruguay, has serious spikes and razor-sharp leaves.

"It's the most dangerous palm tree there is," Tim said.

Tim said he was considering opening the garden up to visitors under the National Garden Scheme. Visitors' money would go to charity.

Otherwise. he's got no way to show it off.

He is also keen to pass on his knowledge of exotic gardening to Doncastrians.

An important part of the process is finding a good supplier. Tim's are in Lancashire.

"They will give you a lot of advice," he said.

Some were tough to get to Yorkshire. It wasn't a case of transporting them in the car.

"Some of them need a big lorry," Tim said.

"Some of them are half a ton in weight."

His advice for anyone looking to branch out into exotic plants is simple.

"Know your subject," Tim said.

Plenty of his palm trees could survive the colder climates like Yorkshire's.

"Some grown in the Himalayas, and have snow on them," Time said.

"Anybody can grow banana plants and yuccas. They're hardy."

Time, patience and dedication is required for success.

Many must be moved indoors for the colder months, after being lifted from the garden and having their soil dried out.

The ones left outside are wrapped in hessian for protection from the Yorkshire winter.

"They need care, no question," Tim said.

The keen sportsman was forced to make a choice between training hard with the British Olympic fencing squad or a career in management in the mid 1970s.

The latter meant he had to give up his Saturdays at the headquarters in London, but Tim said it was the obvious choice to make.

The London lad moved further north, settling in Rutland and Worksop before moving to Doncaster about 10 years ago.

Tim said space issues ensure he won't add to his garden anytime soon.

"I don't think I've got any more room," he said.

"The garden is packed. I don't think I could get anything else in."

When he's not looking after his plants in Doncaster, Tim can be found abroad.

"I love travelling," he said.

Favourite destinations so far include Mexico, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and Tim wants to soon add India and China to the list.

"I'm hoping to go at the end of the year," he said.

"When it's our winter, it's summer over there.

"I enjoy England, but I enjoy the difference over there."