Thursday, July 21, 2011

A little corner problem

I have a small border in my rear garden against the south facing house wall and sheltered from the west by another wall.  It's probably the warmest spot in the garden - virtually frost free some winters, though not the last three.  The soil is good and, due to the shelter of the house and garden wall, a little drier than the often soggy soil in the rest of the garden.  Warmest of all is the north west corner where the house meets the garden wall.  Hardly surprisingly I grow my most tender sun loving plants there.  Equally unsurprisingly I lose them on a regular basis.

I've had some notable successes in the past when plants that are far too tender to survive outside in Plymouth nonetheless came through one or more winters.   Sparmannia africana survived for three winters, normally regenerating to come back strongly after being cut back quite hard, although one winter it was almost unscathed and produced it's early spring flowers - the first I've seen outside in the UK.

February 2007 flowers on Sparmannia africana
I grew it for it's foliage - big leaves which seemed untouched by our gales despite their seeming fragility.

Sparmannia and Ipomea indica  in 2006
It succumbed the in the winter of 2009.  The perennial morning glory behind has migrated along the wall to the other end of the bed and no longer occupies that corner planting.

A prior occupant of the spot was a nice Brugmansia.  This made quite a substantial shrub before succumbing.  It flowered reliably and, on warmer evenings, the scent was intoxicating, wafting through the garden and, if we had a window open, into the house.  The variety I know not - Brugmansia 'Pink' was the label.  But whatever it was, it survived outdoors for a couple of years and longer from cuttings in my greenhouse.

Brugmansia 'Pink'

Last year was the turn of Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'.  I'd grown this a greenhouse plant for a few years and managed to rescue it when the greenhouse was destroyed by gales.  Nothing ventured, it went into the corner but, alas, did not re-appear this spring after our hardest winter for years.  I've got another plant - it's one of my favourites - but I'm not retrying it outside until I can build up a stock.  I value the long tubular flowers too highly to risk losing it.  It's not that easy to find.

Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'

Fuchsia boliviana 'Alba'
Which brings me to this year.  I've got wall space to occupy and the sheltered corner just in front.  Needless to say, it needed to be filled with something tender - even if past experience suggests I'll fail one winter in two.  The rewards for success are worth the risk.  So, what did I come up with for this year's attempt?

On the wall, starting to climb my wire framework, is Passiflora 'Purple Haze'.  This is a new one to me.  Passiflora caerulea is hardy with me in the open garden though, sadly, its beautiful white form 'Constance Elliott' succumbed two winters ago.  A shame - they cross pollinated and produced a lot of fruit, something I don't get from the normal blue form on it's own.  There is a small edible core in a mass of inedible flesh - but it's not likely to catch on as a crop.  'Purple Haze' is a P.caerulea and P.amethystina cross and reputed to be hardy to about -8C so should (fingers firmly crossed) be a reliable plant on my warm wall.  No photos yet - it's still a baby - but I'm looking forward it occupying the vertical space.

In front I've added a plant of Iochroma grandiflorum.  This, like the closely related Brugmansias, is a South American cloud forest plant, in this case from Peru and Ecuador.  It should relish our cool, wet summers.  I got a quite substantial plant cheaply from Hill House Nursery and it's settling in nicely and has already produced some of the beautiful, tubular blue flowers that should be borne in increasing numbers as the summer progresses.  I've grown other species of Iochroma in the past and this has by far the largest flowers - 7cm long and 2.5cm across the flared bell of the blossom.  Once it gets into its stride it should carry quite large bunches of these at the shoot tips. Hopefully I'll be able to update the blog with a better picture.

Iochroma grandiflorum
The foliage is a quite decent - simple oval  leaves which are a fair size and a little like smaller Brugmansia leaves.  They're not for stroking, however.  They're quite sticky.  I would suspect it's an anti pest protective secretion though I'll need to search the literature to check that out.

So, two new tender(ish) plants.  Time will tell if they survive next winter.  I can - and will - provide some protection.  But, whether they survive or simply add to the growing collection of labels of no longer extant plants, I'll have a bit of fun.  And learn a bit more about growing tender plants outside in my Plymouth garden.


  1. Very cool plants. Not something we have up here. I am following you now and it would be great if you'd visit my blog and follow also. Thanks.
    Craig Ohio Outdoors

  2. Very interested in your Iochroma grandiflorum, I've not heard of it before though I don't suppose it would enjoy my Scottish winters.

  3. Thanks for both your comments

    None of these are plants for harsh winters. A couple or three degrees of frost is the limit - but some winters that's all I get so they're worth a risk. The reward is a long season of interest during the summer and into the autumn. The risk is they need replacing next year. But we do that with bedding plants - and these are more interesting. I've got a local nursery who sells them cheaply so it's not even that expensive.

  4. You are very adventurous to try all these tender plants--very beautiful.

  5. a brugmansia surviving outside in wales?

  6. Hi motormouth

    I'm in Plymouth in South Devon, not Wales. I was just lucky that year and the Brug kept all it's top growth. I used fleece on the few frosty nights. Normally any that are left out are cut to ground level. They can resprout but growth is so late it's not worth while trying them.

  7. fuchsia_boliviana_alba.... hmmm where could cuttings for this beauty be aquired?... VERY, very enticing!!!

    1. I got my plant from the Duchy Nursery in Lostwithiel (Cornwall). They do mail order. Just Google Duchy Nursery and you'll find them easily enough. Just don't get carried away. They sell a lot of interesting plants!