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.