Pushing The Boundaries

As I write it is blowing a gale outside. A typical dreary November Sunday afternoon with the added bonus of horizontal rain. Yuk. We have reached the point in the year when any day working outside in the garden can be considered a bonus. The glorious russet colours of the last post have long since been spirited away on the wind and the soil has succumbed to its usual late autumnal bog-like state. Winter is on the way.


Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset'


Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’


After all the other pressures of 2020 though, this winter has to be different. A winter full of things that will keep me joyful and motivated until the warmer weather returns. I’ve long been hankering after a leucadendron, a much envied addition to gardens in more hospitable climes. It’s actually hardy to about -5C in ‘ideal’ conditions. Mine is but a baby and is staying under cover for now. It’s a lesson learned the hard way. Whilst I’ve never been shy of nudging the zone boundaries it’s led to some heroic but costly failures. Devon may be one of the milder counties in the British Isles but chez duck is several miles inland and located at the bottom of a valley. In a frost pocket. And it’s wet. Very, very wet. Not exactly what you’d call ‘ideal’. No, when I go for the exotics now, or even the borderline hardy, I buy small (cheap) and grow on under glass.


Grevillea 'Canberra Gem'


Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’

One of last year’s southern hemisphere purchases, Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ kept me supplied with blooms all winter long in the greenhouse. Having now grown to at least twice its original size it is (hopefully) established enough to survive outside. This one is hardier, down to -10C, but as a precaution I’ve planted it next to one of the south facing walls in the new terraces. It’s best to do this in spring, thus giving a plant the maximum amount of time to settle in before winter comes round again. The grevillea has a new crop of flower buds already, as seen in the post header above. Whether it will repeat its floriferous performance cast out into the wind and rain remains to be seen. But what a joy if it does.


Olea europaea


Olea europaea (Olive)


The grevillea isn’t the only thing booted out into the cold. I’ve had a trio of shrubs growing in large pots for a number of years which I’ve brought back into the greenhouse every winter. An olive tree, callistemon and a bay tree, all hardy down to -5C. Even a young tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, hardy to -10C. The trouble is, with a growing collection, indoor space is now at a premium. Back in spring I decided to risk it and plant them all outside.

After all, winters have been getting milder, right?

Hardly surprising then that it’s been a cracking autumn for berries and acorns and we all know what the old wives’ tend to say about that. Just don’t blame me, OK? I can’t have been the only one. Horticultural fleece at the ready.



We’ve also started a winter pot collection. I say ‘we’ because it was Mike’s idea.

Hellebore ‘Lost Label’, a small Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ and the first shoots of the dwarf Narcissus ‘Tiny Bubbles’. There are plenty more bulbs awaiting their moment behind the scenes. I’m thinking of adding a dogwood cutting from last year, with its bright red stems, and dig up some black mondo grass from the borders to fill another pot. That should really make the flowers pop. We can keep switching around containers as the weeks go by to create a properly Dixter-esque seasonal display. Well that’s the plan.


Banksia blechnifolia


Banksia blechnifolia

Retreating back under the cover of glass, another of last year’s purchases has also thrived. So much so it’s now causing me a problem. This banksia has an unusual habit in that the stem, rather than growing upwards as most plants do, creeps along the ground. And now it’s reached the edge of the pot. Thus I either have to persuade it to hang a right or I have to repot it. Ideally it would be left to run through a long border and do its own thing but I’m nervous about this one, even though it is supposedly hardy down to -5C. I’ve read Western Australian plants can be fussy about where they grow so I doubt it will relish our wet winters and heavy soil.


Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwarzkop’


Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwarzkop’

A better known and more readily available ‘exotic’ in the UK. Native to the Canary Islands. Acquired just recently, in the same shipment as the leucadendron, sadly it hasn’t travelled well. The lower leaves were rather crushed and one rosette fell off the plant completely. I’ve potted up the casualty and hope it will sprout roots. Two for the price of one will most definitely sweeten the pill. Like the banksia these will stay permanently in pots and overwinter in the greenhouse. I have seen them growing in sheltered borders in coastal South Devon gardens but for me that would be a risk too far.


Ferraria crispa


Ferraria crispa

A South African plant with a difference, when it blooms it looks more like some exotic sea urchin than a flower. There is a picture of it (here) on Wikipedia. I kept the corms completely dry over summer and started watering them in late September. They now have five strong shoots and, if I’m lucky, sprays of flowers will appear in early spring. Something else to look forward to.



Paeonia delavayi (tree peony), Geranium psilostemon and Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’


The most inexpensive way of acquiring new plants, especially if you want to try something a bit different, is to grow from seed. I’ve never been a great one for annuals, it seems a lot of work when there is so much else to do. But calendula did well here last year so I’ll be trying more of them again. What I really love though is growing perennials, trees and shrubs. They do need a bit more patience, the peony above has taken two years to germinate. But there’s nothing I enjoy more than a challenge. The sense of achievement when the nose of a shoot pokes up above the soil just can’t be beat.

The Royal Horticultural Society suspended their seed distribution scheme this year on account of Covid. The Hardy Plant Society kept us on tenterhooks to the last minute, forcing me to make an emergency seed order elsewhere (OK, two elsewheres) and in the process filling up every last inch of space on the greenhouse bench and in the stratification cold frame.

Now the HPS have decided they will go ahead after all. 20 packets of seed for just the price of the postage.

And so, in spite of everything I said about NOT sowing so many seeds this year, will I be tempted?

Is the Pope a Catholic?