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Green-fingered Sally's passion for weird and wonderful

PUBLISHED: 11:17 26 September 2009 | UPDATED: 09:59 13 July 2010

RIPENING kiwi fruit, flowering ginger plants, giant Himalayan lilies, Japanese wineberries: not a list of Kew Gardens' attractions but just a few of the exotic species growing in the modest back garden of a North Walsham town house.

RIPENING kiwi fruit, flowering ginger plants, giant Himalayan lilies, Japanese wineberries: not a list of Kew Gardens' attractions but just a few of the exotic species growing in the modest back garden of a North Walsham town house.

Green-fingered Sally Balding admits to a passion for the “weird and wonderful” when it comes to plants and has created a flourishing jungle out of what was once a choked wilderness.

She loves nothing better than to nurture specimens from around the world, some of which are not supposed to thrive in this country.

Among nations and continents represented in her Kimberley Road garden are: New Zealand: tree fern, Egypt: papyrus, Australia: bottlebrush tree, Brazil: strawberry guava, South Africa: honey bush, and a thriving pomegranate tree from south-west Asia.

“I went and asked the man from the kebab shop about the pomegranate, because he's from Turkey, and he said it should grow fine here,” said Mrs Balding.

She and husband Trevor, both 50, believe their “muck and magic” approach is helped by plenty of sunlight and bordering beech trees, a tall laurel hedge and a neighbour's garage which help create a micro-climate in their garden, protecting it from damaging winds.

But when the couple and their son Chris, now 26, moved in 12 years ago, it was so overgrown, with over-the-head weeds, that they could not open the back door.

Only after much hacking did they discover that the plot included concrete paths, a pond - and an intact bomb shelter.

They expect to start harvesting their outdoor-grown kiwis from November and predict this season's crop will be even bigger than the 300 fruit they picked last year.

“We tried selling some of them at farmers' markets in North Walsham, Stalham and Potter Heigham but nobody believed we'd grown them ourselves so it didn't go very well,” said Mrs Balding, who was made redundant 18 months ago from her job as a relief cook working in community hospitals.

The couple, who also cultivate a smallholding in Felmingham, use much of their produce in their new Tresal catering business, although home-grown olives will not feature yet as their first-year's harvest will only yield enough to fill a couple of jars with green olives.

Mrs Balding believes “talking nicely” to her plants is as important to growing success as perseverance and know-how.

“I go down the garden every day and ask all my 'boys' how they're doing,” she said. “I stroke their leaves and tell them that they're all lovely.”

The Baldings can be contacted on 01692 500608.


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