How hardy is hardy?
What a bleak early winter. It has caught me out. My cabbages look miserable. I don’t know if you heard Gardener’s Question Time from Anne’s garden (3rd & 5th December) with a question on storing cabbages. I asserted coleslaw types with hard white flesh were tenderer than Savoy types with crinkled leaves. I’m afraid I’ve demonstrated the point. Still, no use crying over spilt milk, or decomposing cabbages.
Likewise you may recall in a previous blog I mentioned trialling Aloe vera plants outdoors following a question from earlier this year. Well, they had a growing season to establish - plants survive far better the longer they’ve been in the ground - but they do not look well; their thick succulent leaves are flaccid with a dark water logged appearance. I doubt even the centres have survived. The questioner asked whether theirs, which had been out all last winter, would recover. Now this cold spell has been as chill as last winter if not as long and three plants, in different places, have all apparently succumbed despite being well sheltered and not overly moist. Therefore my original suspicions seem confirmed; the questioner actually had the very similar looking agave not an aloe. Both are reckoned to be about equally tender but I’ve had agaves survive outdoors before.
Agave leaves are thicker, tougher and with nastier hooked spines but very similar to aloes. They are often the variegated form and it was the questioner’s comment of a small STRIPED bud appearing that gave me my original doubts.
So to conclude aloes are certainly not much hardier than we thought and temperatures more than a few degrees below freezing do indeed kill them.
Anne Swithinbank's border with Eucalyptus some Pittosporums
Back to the recent GQT from Anne’s garden - we had a great time looking around and her houseplants were of course immaculate. However as noted on the programme, her husband had planted a Eucalyptus very close to their house and they had a mass planting of phormiums. Now we would seldom recommend such to other gardeners as we know of the problems these may rapidly become. But, as Anne mentioned, they would be removing them as the space was wanted for other subjects. This the big difference between hard core gardeners and less experienced.
When we start out almost every specimen is sacrosanct, and to kill and dig out a plant let alone a tree somehow seems wrong. But as we progress we become more ruthless and are prepared to plant, tend, nurture, and then eradicate if that’s required.
Some years ago we found the same when we visited Holland. We were surprised by the Dutch planting forest trees really close to their houses but, as we were told, these would be grubbed out and something else put in when they became too big. After all we do not expect summer bedding, a bunch of cut flowers or even some pot plants to go on for ever and even trees pass away eventually anyway.
Bob Flowerdew is an organic gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.