Garden Blog - Blog Post

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.

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Sunil Patel

I'm Sunil Patel, this is me. I created the Garden at 13 Broom Acres and I open it to visitors. I also bake and write blog posts giving a "behind the scenes" look into what it's like to maintain such a garden.

Visit the blog, then come and visit the garden. We can have a good sit-down, a jolly chinwag and a relaxing cup of tea with a sinfully generous slice of home made cake.

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lynngator 06/05/2018 - 9:43 pm

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!!

Sunil 09/05/2018 - 11:30 am

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.

gardeninacity 09/05/2018 - 3:31 pm

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.

Sunil 09/05/2018 - 4:56 pm

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

aberdeen gardening 16/05/2018 - 5:51 pm

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.

Sunil 17/05/2018 - 12:36 pm

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.

Paul Jones 01/07/2021 - 9:10 am

I have to say I been experimenting with these CIDP palms and I also lotst UK grown 7yr old ones this last winter, with spear pull. I may have been able to save these earlier if used peroxide as a precaution. I also bought imported much bigger 6-7yr old CIDP’s last year with two in the ground. One spear pulled only 4 weeks ago, the other palm is very healthy and growing with no winter damage and i have some in pots around the back. All the imported ones with 6-8 inch trunks survived, so testimanet to the larger more robust specimens rather than smaller 5yr old palms. My UK grown 7yr ones were about the same size or smaller than yours.

I’m in the midlands UK, we get extra warmth from Birmingham’s big city.

Sunil 04/07/2021 - 3:08 pm

Hello Paul, it is true that these palms become harder as they get older, the thick trunks helps to insulate the sensitive crown and growing tip. Being taller also helps lift it above the ground layer of cold air. Where we are, we don’t have city heat-island effect to help us and we are reliably wet and frosty over the winter (snow is rare though) so I’ve had to give up on these, but there are plenty of areas with the right microclimate (with or without protection) to get these through the winter, though every winter can be a gamble.

casa mariposa 10/06/2018 - 4:49 pm

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! 🙂

Sunil 16/06/2018 - 9:20 pm

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.

Stephen Cox 21/11/2021 - 7:44 pm

Hiya Folks, I too am a palm geek, I have lost a number of cidp’s and phoenix robelenii over the years, I’ve tried the fleece bag approach every winter on my delicate palms but am I creating too damp and cold an environment inside the fleece bag during winter?. Chatting to a council gardener whilst on holiday in Bournemouth admiring the large cidp’s growing in the city parks, I asked his advice on overwintering cidp’s in Birmingham (where I live). He said “it’s the damp and wet more than the cold that kills cidp’s in winter, cover them to keep the rain off them, don’t wrap them with fleece and they’ll be fine”. I am going to put 4 × 7ft canes around my cidp’s, no fleece, and pop an upturned square gravel tray on top weighed down with a brick and keep my fingers crossed.


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