Posted on | June 7, 2010 | 5 Comments
This is my first article of the season for the Eastern Daliy Press
Another year has passed and a few more grey hairs have been added and maybe the old bones creak a bit more than they used to, never-the-less I have been working frantically in the garden in recent weeks getting the garden ready for its first open day of the year this Sunday 13th June.
A decision was made last summer to open the garden a few weeks earlier this year as a steady trickle of visitors usually arrive every weekend throughout the spring thinking the garden is open all the time! Unfortunately, after having the coldest winter for over 30 years, it has had a devastating affect on the garden and everyone else’s that dabble with plants on the edge of hardiness. Here, the temperature dropped down to about -5C (23F) though I have heard stories of –9C (16F) and lower in the wilds of Norfolk. Up until the winter before last some plants such as Cannas and Dahlias had been left in the ground for many years, in fact Canna indica ‘Purpurea’ had done a stint of over ten years returning regularly in late spring, though thankfully Amulree Exotics and Urban Jungle have guaranteed a good show of these wonderfully exotic plants again this summer.
Like many gardeners, with such a long run of mild winters I had discontinued wrapping my large clumps of the root hardy banana Musa basjoo about seven years ago. Here in the garden this hardiest of bananas has lived up to its provenance of being root hardy though I did lose about 60% of the stems on several of my twenty years old clumps due to such low day temperatures. The stems that have survived are producing new green leaves from the tops but are very slow indeed. On the bright side though, one of the clumps that was cut to the ground now has twenty one new pups sprouting with bursting vigour around the base. I would expect that these will do very well this summer, especial with lashings of compost and blood fish and bone liberally spread around!
I am really surprised that most of the gingers in the garden survived without protection as permafrost went down about two inches into the ground during the coldest part of the winter. Gingers are always late to shoot, and several are only 3-4ins tall, but will accelerate as the season progresses into monsters of the garden.
One plant I have mentioned in past years is the common house-plant Tradescantia fluminensis, more commonly known as Wandering Jew. This supposedly tender plant had survived at least six winters here, dying down with the first frosts of winter only to return again in late spring, and to my absolute amazement it survived last winter with flying colours. Even multicoloured form like T. Fluminensis ‘Maidens blush’ with its pink splashes on apple green foliage has survived the big freeze.
Unfortunately a large old Pear tree in the garden covered in Ivey lost one of its largest branches bringing down my phone-line, causing me to be phone and Internet free for three weeks – a very odd experience! This grand old tree had to be cut back to its main trunk, were the Ivey and a very established old Clematis Montana will soon go crazy and cover it up again. Unfortunately the dear old tree gave shade to my collection of tree ferns Dicksonia Antarctica, so I am now having to carry out a very strict regimen of watering the trunks every two or three days to keep the fabulously lush new growth happy.
Large plants such as the Phormiums were not affected by the frost, but did collapse under the many inches of prolonged snow weighing down the foliage over a long period; hence they have all had a severe haircut this spring, though I know by the end of the season they will all be back in fine fettle.
The Xerophytic garden (desert) had the most damage this winter despite being covered with a rather clever, almost sculptural construction made by Jamie Spooner from home-grown bamboo canes with multicoloured plastic balls on the tips so as not to puncture the plastic. Unfortunately, there had been several weeks of rain in the autumn before its construction which sealed in moisture which then froze during the prolonged cold weather. If it had been dry when constructed, I’m sure there would have been fewer casualties. Most of my Agaves looked in perfect condition until it started to warm up in early spring when many of them collapsed into piles of goo! Two keen exoticists Keith and Melisa in Costessey Norwich, lost many fine and established specimens in their fabulous garden, a veritable paradise I hope to write an article about later on in the season. A well known and keen plantsman and exoticist Paul Spracklin who also has an extensive range of cacti and succulents lost countless specimens and managed to fill a skip with carcases, with one Agave in particular have been in his collection for over 40 years. The question is: will they grow such things again? Of course the answer has to be yes!
A friend of mine has his own view of how he thinks the seasons work, at least here in Norfolk. Rather than the standard block of four segments three months long, he considers it seems to be more like – two months spring, three months summer two months autumn and finally five months winter. I certainly do see where he is coming from on this; the winter section of the year always seems a lot longer than our woefully short summers. I suppose this is the joy of living on a temperate Island surrounded by water, though if we didn’t have the gulfstream to buffer us we would be much colder indeed. Never-the-less, I think we should be prepared for the possibility that we might be in for a string of cold winters over the next few year, though I hope not!
There of course have been many more casualties in the garden and far too many to mention here, though I hope when visitors start arriving it will all look as though nothing has happened. As usual my newest Devon Rex cat Dweezal is sitting on my right shoulder as I write this so I think it must be time for a cup of tea…