Monday, March 28, 2011

Winter Damage 2

The frosts were harder at my family home in the Co Derry countryside, where I suspect lows were closer to the Castlederg figures - probably in the -16C to -18C range.

Even Trachycarpus fortunei (pictured) succumbed here. The centre spears of this plant pulled out with only a slight tug and it looks very much as though 3 of the 4 plants in the garden are dead. The fourth is the tallest (15ft) and is planted on a slope, close to an even taller hedge, which may have given it some protection.

Musa basjoo and cordylines were also destroyed here and large clumps of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) have collapsed. There is little sign of life, even in the more robust green form (pictured below)

Winter Damage

December 2010 was the coldest December on record in many parts of Northern Ireland with extreme frosts on many occasions. The West of the province saw the lowest temperatures and Castlederg broke the all time low on several occasions, finally setting a new record low of -18.6C (-1.5F) on 23rd December.

Here, in South Belfast, adjacent to the frost pocket of the Lagan Valley, frosts were also prolonged and severe falling to -11/-12C (10F) on several nights. Downtown Belfast and areas near the sea or outside of valley frost pockets, still saw lows of -9C.

Damage to tender plants was not immediately apparent and it was some weeks after the New Year thaw before it became clear that the numerous Cordylines which had been planted in gardens all across NI were slowly collapsing en masse!

Now, at the end of March 2011, it is possible to have a clearer idea of the full extent of damage in my own garden and it is not good news. Definite losses include Chamaerops humilis, Beschornaria yuccoides, Dicksonia antarctica, Astelia Silver Spear, Musa basjoo (even though they were protected) Callistemon, Aloe striatula, most Fascicularia bicolor, all agaves - including 2 Agave parryii which had previously survived -10C. (The picture above was taken in February but the plant continued to rot and is now mush!)

Smaller Agaves which I had been bringing on in pots in the cold greenhouse also suffered badly but it was interesting to see the effect on some species which had been promoted as ideal for our climate. First to collapse completely were Agave montana and it was a pretty comprehensive wipeout! Next came A. protamericana and desertii (although a few of the latter look like they may survive). A parryii ('giant' form) were untouched, at least until a cat got into the greenhouse and knocked several over! I am pleased that young plants of A. ovatifolia also performed well. They are fast growing compared to other species and on this evidence they may be albe to go outside. Two A. scabra plants also survived untouched.

Survivors included Trachycarpus fortunei and wagnerianus (but see the next post) although not without some leaf burn. I am hopeful that my Jubea Chilensis might survive - I threw several blankets over it before the extreme frosts, but it still suffered considerable leaf burn. Surprisingly many of the low growing Delosperma succulents survived - perhaps helped by several inches of snow cover for most of December.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Record Low - and eventually, the thaw

Castlederg managed to break the Northern Ireland record low again, on the morning of 23 December 2010, reaching -18.6C and endured several more 'double digit' lows before the thaw finally arrived on Boxing Day. The thaw itself brought slippery pavements, burst pipes and unusual events such as ice flows in rivers and cases where ice was thrown up over river banks, as in this picture of the River Lagan a couple of miles from Belfast City Centre. Damage to plants will become more apparent in the coming days & weeks but cordylines and chamaerops palms look as though they have been badly hit.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Record December Freeze

The latter part of November and most of December 2010 has brought heavy snowfalls and arctic temperatures to Northern Ireland. All time temperature records were broken with a low of -18 C at Castlederg in the west of the Province, equalled the following night at Katesbridge on the eastern side. Daytime temperatures in my own garden have failed to get above -6 C for the last 3 days with night time lows around -10/11 C.

A similar freeze in December 2009/January 2010 caused several losses in the garden, including a 6 foot tree Dicksonia tree fern, my lovely Cyathea smithii (grown from spore) and damaged numerous other plants. Several Chamaerops humilis which were damaged but recovering are now likely to be lost alltogether.

A beautiful 7 foot Cordyine indivisa near my front door was badly damaged in the January freeze and although still alive the lower part of the trunk was partially rotted and several new shoots were coming up from below ground. With the prospect of even lower temperatures than in January, I took the decision to cut the plant down just above the damaged part and to cover the emerging shoots with blankets & snow to protect them. The trunk is currently in my garage and I will try an experiment to replant it in the spring and hope that new roots can grow from the (hopefully) healthy part of the trunk.

Meanwhile the frost & snow are providing some very picturesque scenes, such as this view of the frozen River Lagan in Belfast (looking towards Ormeau Bridge).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Winter Snow

The main event of winter 2007/08 was the heavy snowfall on the evening of 3rd January 2008 which saw most of Belfast blanketed in 4 to 6 inches of snow in a couple of hours. This Chamaerops was pictured early in the night. By morning many of the lower fronds of Chamaerops and Trachycarpus were bent under the weight of snow and remained that way after the thaw.

Elsewhere the weigh of snow broke branches of trees and felled some small trees - very evident along the Lagan River where the towpath was blocked in places by fallen trees.

Monday, September 24, 2007

An Aloe Hardy to -10°C

This Aloe can survive most of what the UK/Irish climate can throw at it! Cold, wet & drought, even prolonged frosts down to -10°C. Even if defoliated, the chances are it will grow again from its semi-woody stems or from below ground level .... and it grows fast!

Aloe striatula

The orange flower spikes are a bonus in summer. (This one was severely cut back in early summer 2007 and didn't produce any flowers this year.) Another essential plant for the exotic garden. Easy to root from cuttings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hemitelia smithii - a Hardy Tree Fern?

A number of years ago I purchased spores of a New Zealand tree fern, listed as 'Hemitelia smithii' in the Chiltern Seeds catalogue. (not currently in their online catalogue). These did produce a number of small plants but most of them subsequently died. I was eventually left with 2 fairly vigorous plants which are located in the back garden and have survived frosts down to -7°C. The fern pictured below is now big enough to begin forming a trunk.

There is very little on the internet about Hemitelia smithii and what there is suggests that it may in fact be properly named as Cyathea smithii.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Trachys & their Irish offspring

Just to finish off the overview of the rear garden here is a picture of a little group of Trachycarpus palms which were grown from seed in the early 90s and planted out when we moved here in 1994:
The larger palm at the back is Trachycarpus fortunei and the two at the front are the smaller leaved T. wagnerianus. Several more varieties have been discovered in the last decade or so - all likely to be hardy in the UK and Ireland.

The three Trachycarpus fortunei in the front garden have been flowering for several years now and one has also been producing seed. The seeds just about manage to get to their full size in October but, with our cool summers, they never actually manage to ripen. Imagine my surprise then, a couple of years ago, when I spotted a single seedling leaf poking up at the base of the palm.

The following year, seeds were produced again but remained green going into winter. Anyway, the next spring I decided to scatter the seeds in the border, in the back garden, just in case. Surprisingly a few seedlings did emerge later in the summer and more appeared in the autumn and it seemed they continued to grow slowly during the winter. Again, last year (2006) I scattered some of the seeds and again some germinated. By March of this year parts of the border in the back garden were looking like this:

The dilemma now is what to do with all these seedlings - all of them true Irish palms!

After a great start, this summer turned out to be a total washout and, even with the relatively warm and dry weather of the last few weeks, it looks like this year's crop is not going to develop fully. (I think I have enough seedlings anyway.) This is how it looks now in mid-september:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rare Puya chilensis flowers after 17 years

The rear garden is smaller than the front and more difficult to capture in one photograph. I have to start with one plant (pictured) which flowered earlier this summer, some 17 years after it was purchased as a seedling, on a visit to Tresco in the Scilly Isles - It was sold as Puya chilensis:-

The other spectactular flowering plant in spring/early summer is Beschorneria yuccoides which is also visible in the photograph (the red stemmed flower spikes).

The Puya was kept in a container for several years and planted outdoors in the spring of 2001, in this relatively sheltered position. I threw a blanket over it on very frosty nights but it did suffer some damage on occasions where the temperature dropped to -7°C or below. I would not consider it to be reliably hardy, except in the mildest areas of the UK and Ireland. I have been very lucky to get it to flowering size and am claiming this as a first for Northern Ireland! (But, it seems, not the first in Ireland! .....see

Coming back to the present, this is another shot of the rear garden showing Yucca gloriosa tricolor, Musa basjoo, Cordyline parryi purpurea, among others.

I intend to deal with individual plants in subsequent entries but the star at the moment has to be Fascicularia bicolor. There are several of them flowering in the garden at the moment and one is just visible in the bottom right of the above photograph (& close up below). This is a pretty tough, bromeliad which is native to Chile and has survived prolonged severe frosts (as low as -11°C) in 1995 and 2000/01. The leaf bracts of flowering plants turn an intense scarlet colour in late summer but the flower itself is a little bluish cone at the centre of the rosette.

Fascicularias tend to take on a tussocky appearance after a few years and do benefit from being divided regularly. Also the offsets root quite easily in spring/summer. The only problem is that the leaves are edged with little spiny hooks which will cover your hands with scratches if you don't wear gloves.

So, that is my recommended plant for today - Fascicularia bicolor. (They used to be hard to obtain but much easier to find these days - B & Q were selling them earlier this year!)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hardy Exotics: The Tropics Move North!

My interest in experimenting with sub-tropical plants and 'hardy exotics' took off in 1983 & 1984 which were relatively hot summers in Northern Ireland and gave a (false) feeling of a mediterranean climate.

I was aware at this stage that we could grow Cordylines in Northern Ireland , that they would be cut down by frosts but that were also capable of regrowing from ground level. The next 'discoveries' were that there were some Yuccas which were totally hardy in our climate and even one palm 'Trachycarpus fortunei'! There followed an explosion of possibilities and experimentation with plants grown from seed or imported from specialist nurseries in Cornwall and elsewhere in England. (Sources were very limited at that time). Many plants died in our cold wet winters but others survived and we left our first house in January 1994, with a garden full of well established Trachycarpus palms, Chamaerops humilis, Cordyline australis and the more exotic C. indivisa, yuccas, bottle brushes, astleia, some hardy cactus, etc.

Anyway, this blog is more to do with the garden in our current house in the South Belfast area, Northern Ireland and to demonstrate that even in a small urban garden it is possible to cram in a lot of exotic plants and create a sub-tropical effect.

I'll finish this introduction with a picture of the front garden taken a few days ago.