Three Strikes and Out

Weather-wise, we’ve had a terrible start to the gardening season for 2018. Winter long outstayed its welcome and in fact returned several times to make sure we wouldn’t forget it. Spring – if you can call it that – was ushered in with as much enthusiasm as an eskimo online-shopping for chest freezers. There’s been rain, then more rain, after which was yet more rain. I’m now convinced that blue skies are a myth perpetuated by conspiracy theorists as we’ve had nothing but dull grey overcast cloud for weeks on end. There was one searingly hot, sunny week where temperatures rocketed like I’ve not seen before and it left the garden stunned, sunburned and unsure of what to do with itself. The weather has since returned to “normal”.

With the mini-polytunnel greenhouse, we were able to protect a large number of plants through the winter. The entire patio staging fitted comfortably inside as did most of the patio pots. A lot of the pots contain herbaceous perennials that are fine to remain out over the winter, but I just stowed them away in the greenhouse to clear the patio for its annual clean. It also kept them out of the incessant rain and thus on the drier side, which many plants prefer while they are dormant as it helps prevent them from rotting away in a soggy mess.

It’s amazing how much you can squeeze into a greenhouse

That’s not to say we didn’t have casualties from the months of bad weather, there is one particular victim that I very much do regret. This winter saw me loose the third Canary Island Date Palm or Phoenix Canariensis we’ve had. It was in a pot and despite being moved up close to the house – in front of the patio doors no less, taking advantage of the heat loss through them – the crown became frosted and the new leaves rotted at the base. I was able to simply pull these out from the centre (also known as spear pulling). It spells the end for this particular plant and also spells the end for trying new replacements. Three strikes and out.

Palms and indeed some other plants such as the tree fern, Dicksonia Antarctica tend to have a single growing tip and if that’s damaged or killed, they don’t tend to recover, no matter how healthy the rest of the plant is. It seems like a Death Star-type weakness but remember that palms don’t expect to get frosted or snowed on. After three years of trying to succeed with these Canariensis and failing, I have to admit defeat. Despite being in the South, the sheer amount of rain in the winter months means these plants get cold and very wet, they also occasionally freeze, which spells disaster for any borderline hardy plant left outside, in the ground or even in a pot unprotected.

A doomed Phoenix Canariensis with a rotted crown and pulled leaves, rotted at the base

The very same thing happened to the Canariensis that was planted in the semi-circular order in the front garden. After the winter of 2016/2017, I pulled the rotted leaf tips out and waited a whole season for it to recover. It never did grow new leaves. The plant just sat there all season long with the remaining leaves gradually becoming increasingly tatty and after this winter, you don’t have to be horticulturally trained to see that from the picture, it’s dead.

Here’s one I killed earlier

Rather ironically I was thinking of using the younger potted palm to replace this planted one. With both now dead, I’ll have to move on to plan B. The loss of these palms gives the opportunity to have a new centrepiece for the semi-circular front border, which has never really felt “settled”. I’ve been thinking about putting in a fig that we currently have in a pot on the patio. I means I can also have a clematis trained up it too, so every cloud does have a silver lining.

8 Comments


  1. Sunil, I like the idea of the fig and clematis. I am not a big palm fan. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Miami and grew weary of seeing them. Yes, I know. Spoiled brat!!

    Reply

    1. Hello Lynn, that is spoilt, haha! We crave for tropical plants and people go to no end of trouble to grow them here and keep them alive through winter months and bad weather. The front semi-circle has gone through a few iterations by now and has changed completely. I don’t think there’s an original plant left. I’m hoping the fig and clematis will thrive but the spot is exposed.

      Reply

  2. I think you may have coined a new phrase – ‘Eskimo Spring’! Let’s hope we don’t have too many, and look forward to a better summer.

    Reply

    1. Hello Jason, I certainly had some choice phrases about the cold spring weather that I shan’t repeat here in polite company.

      Reply

  3. The weather seems to have finally settled Sunil. I see a number of Trachycarpus fortunei which have survived around here, I guess they are hardier than the Canariensis.

    Reply

    1. Hello Alistair, we have a Trachycarpus Fortunei in the border and I don’t worry about it because they are hardy and will easily pass through a south UK winter. The Canariensis is supposed to become hardier the older it gets and the one I lost last year was around 5 years old so I was fully expecting it to survive. It’s the wet that is the bigger problem, the cold is tolerable but when it’s wet as well, most borderline plants can’t cope.

      Reply

  4. You would think with a name like Antartica that little wimp would have tried harder. Geez! LOL! Sometimes we just have to start over. My entire new garden (almost) is full of new plants. Hello, plant shopping! 🙂

    Reply

    1. Hi Tammy, it doesn’t matter if it’s full, there’s always room for more plants! I’m looking forward to seeing how you’re getting on with your new garden.

      Reply

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