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Knoll Gardens

The Tender Trap

Like many people who love plants I find it so difficult to resist the fabulous, often brightly saturated colours and magnificent foliage that so many of the tender plants have to offer. I try hard not to collect too many but……..

Its easy enough in the spring and summer to happily plant them out in a border or a large pot and admire and enjoy their rapid growth; but come late autumn each year when the frosts start to encroach I realise that my greenhouse space is just not big enough….again!

I gradually learnt, mostly through costly mistakes, that the real winter damage is done to plants by a combination of wet and cold, and that by removing one or other of these I could be far more successful. Of course during the summer many tender plants demand lots of water to help fuel their rapid growth; it is only when the temperature drops to near freezing and below that moisture in the plant and in the soil becomes a danger. Should you be lucky to have heated glass this is not really a problem but without such a luxury the only alternative is to dry out the plants sufficiently so that the cold temperatures do less damage.

For example some plants, like the wonderful pink flowered Abutilon Janet above, I am able to keep to the left of my front door as there is just sufficient overhang and shelter to allow it to survive, with no watering, during the cold winter periods. In this very sheltered but outside spot it has survived quite happily for several winters now, flowers sporadically and has never even dropped its leaves. Encouraged, I tried the other side of the front door but given the slightly different position this is not quite as sheltered as the other side. I constantly marvel at the tiny microclimates around our houses and gardens and the marked differences that can be found in only a few feet!

Always pushed for suitable space for my ever growing collection I am using the less favoured side of my front door this year for Phoenix canariensis (did I really have to put it in such a large pot!), and my ever so favourite bamboo muhly, Muhlenbergia dumosa, while Dudleyas also find an open air home by the back door under yet another friendly overhang. None will be watered, and while they might not look too happy in very cold weather I am fairly hopeful that they will make it through.

Succulents in general I find fascinating and the Aeoniums are especially wonderful. All summer I love to have large pots of these interspersed amongst our grass collection at the entrance to the garden at Knoll. I have limited myself (for the moment) to three; the bright large plate like effect of Aeonium arboreum seen in the picture above, the amazing burnished purple to almost back Aeonium Schwarzkopf, seen below, and the rather wonderful Aeonium Blush that has reddish pink tinted tips to its soft sage green leaves.

Unheated glasshouse space is very limited for me. Glass is excellent at keeping the plants dry, protected from winds, and for gathering up every last drop of winter sunshine, and here the aeoniums take first pick of position. Temperatures can drop in here as they can outside, but the drier environment seems to mitigate the effects pretty succesfully. I have even overwintered my largest Tibouchina (did I mention I had several?), but the roots were kept dry almost to the point of dormancy.

I may treat myself to a few more of the small succulents next season; their foliage is so wonderful and they dont really take up too much room do they…….