Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Unlike me, my friend Colin makes time to pamper his plants, and treats his tree ferns royally all year round. This means dutifully bringing the ferns into the house for winter (Colin is not the owner of a greenhouse-yet!) . As you can see (above), his care is rewarded with stunning, healthy looking plants. As he is so wise (and caring), I’ve asked him to write a guest blog about his recent trip to Cornwall, where tender (and would- be -demanding) plants abound. Do read on….

Having driven down to Cornwall for a camping and garden visit holiday, I was amazed at how a few degrees of extra warmth from the Gulf Stream allows one to grow such an amazingly different range of plants.

Though I live in London (and its heat blanket) it still gets much colder here than Cornwall does. At the Lost Gardens of Heligan the lowest temperature they have recorded in 25 years -6, and that was only one night. Their average low is 0 degrees, even in the depths of winter.  London has regularly been down to -5 for the last for years, and outside London it’s been much colder.

Being a fan of semi-hardy plants, living in Cornwall would mean no wrapping tree ferns in fleece, freely growing Proteas and other South African semi-hardy plants outside, and having a much longer growing season. Very jealous…

But that said, it’s worth having a go with some of these unusual looking, and amazing plants even if you live in cold parts of the country, as the results can be spectacular.

If you’re looking for something different for your garden, and love to try pushing the limits with what you can grow, I would recommend the three plant types below.

I grow all 3 in London, and with a bit of care and luck you’ll get some good results too!


These stunning plants produce the most amazing flowers, and have beautiful foliage and are worth a go! Generally in the UK it’s advisable to bring them into a greenhouse or covered patio during the winter, but this does depend where you live. There are hundreds of types, so make sure you get detailed growing instructions when you buy.

Image 1:  Silver Tree at Minak Theatre (on the left, with Echium Pininana to the right)

Image 2) close up of silver tree – look at the amazing Bark and leaves

Image 3) Protea growing in someone’s garden – thanks unknown gardener!

Care and requirements:

  • Requires loamy soil, well drained, course sandy feel.
  • Wind tolerant, not so tolerant of salty conditions (though the Silver Tree, Leucadendron argenteum is a bit more tolerant of wind and salt. Minak Theatre has some stunning examples of the Silver Tree, considered to be one of the most beautiful Foliage trees in the world, growing right on the edge of the sea facing cliff).
  • Watering: depends on the species, but none like to live in very damp conditions, and do not like wet feet.
  • Generally considered to be not hardy, but some species can tolerate temps down to -4 (especially species from around Cape Town in South Africa)

Tree Ferns:

There are many types of tree fern, but the most common one in the UK is Dicksonia Antarctica.

Others considered OK to grow in the UK outdoors are Dicksonia Fibrosa, and Cyathea Australis.

As the name Dicksonia Antarctica suggests, this tree fern grows in colder conditions, and can tolerate temps of -10 for a short time. It is advisable to wrap the trunk and the crown in fleece, or to create a cage of chicken wire and stuff it with leaves. If the crown dies / dries out, the whole plant is dead!

The Lost Gardens of Heligan have huge specimens growing in their jungle valley that were abandoned for over 50 years, and are still growing fine, without any protection at all.

Image 1) the oldest tree ferns in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, considered to be over 200 years old

Image 2) the graceful beauty of the unfolding crosiers on a young tree fern

Image 3) though not a true tree fern as it does not form a substantial trunk, Blechnum Chilense grows to approx. 5 foot tall, is totally hardy in the UK,  and has much of the grace and delicacy of a true tree fern. It also spreads easily forming a fern grove rather quickly.

Care and requirements:

  • Requires humus-rich, neutral to slightly acid soil.
  • Not so wind tolerant as these are undergrowth plants, and not very salt tolerant.
  • Watering: must be kept damp at all times. This is critical. Tree ferns will die if the whole plant, especially the trunk is not kept damp. I water mine on a daily basis, watering the crown, trunk and soil. This said, they do not like to sit in water, so make sure you have well-drained soil.
  • Considered to be semi-hardy / hardy, depending on the type. I always wrap mine for the winter, and have not suffered a loss yet.


This amazing group of plants sends up the most spectacular flower spikes of almost any plant out there! Some types are perennial, but most are biennial. These plants in their first year are not particularly pretty or large, but in their second year they send up a 3-5 meter flower spike, covered in intense small blue flowers. This is an amazing show plant, and stops everyone in their tracks when in flower. Most people grow Echium Pininana though recently perennial varieties from the Canary Islands have been on sale at many garden centers.

The best examples I Found were at the Minak Theater, however, they were also growing all around St. Ives, and in people’s gardens. They appear to self seed without problem there, but in the rest of the UK you will need to grow from seed on a yearly basis.

Image 1 / 2)  Echium Pininana at Minack Theatre. The silver tree in image 2 is over 4 meters tall, and the Echium Pininana towers over it.

Care and requirements:

  • Tolerant of many soil types, and can self seed almost anywhere. The better the soil, the better the flower spike.
  • Wind tolerant (bearing in mind it can grow to 5 meters tall, so heavy winds can uproot it) and salt tolerant.
  • Watering: can tolerate dry conditions, but prefers a constant water source, without water-logging
  • Considered to be Semi-hardy, can tolerate conditions down to -4 for a couple of nights. If you live in a cold area, plant in a heavy pot, and bring into a greenhouse / covered patio for the winter

Written By Colin Copeland




p.s. from Naomi-If you’re heading down to Cornwall, I’d also strongly recommend going to the Lamorran House Gardens in St.Mawes, only open Wednesdays and Friday, 10-5p.m. and Trebah Gardens near Falmouth. All of the plants Colin has written about are available from the amazing Trevena Cross Nursery in Helston,and can be sent by mail order too!!

If you’re driving down, two other gardens/nurseries spring to mind. Bosvigo Gardens is a small privately owned house and garden in Truro with roughly 8 distinct areas to visit. It’s a true delight, and they also have a great nursery area offering plants for sale that you have seen in the garden. And on the way back , plan your route to call in on Pine Cottage Plants in Eggesford in Devon.This nursery specialises in Agapanthus, so leave space in the car for a few more plants here too. Again, plants can be bought online, but I’d highly recommend a visit to see a myriad of varieties of this beautiful perennial-you won’t be disappointed!

Many other Cornish gardens to visit are on the Gardens of Cornwall website, and I must say that the Potager Garden in Constantine, near Falmouth, open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, has caught my eye-feel a Cornwall trip coming on!

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As the days become milder, everyone seems to be itching to get out into their gardens, and with loppers in hand, start to chop away at their shrubs. Friend Jessica moved into her new house (and garden) last summer and cannily noticed that flowering on her Philadelphus (Mock Orange) was rather meagre. She’s tempted ‘to hack it right down’ now. The question is, is this wise? I’d say Whoah! Hang on a minute. First things first: if you know what your plant is, then google ‘How and when  to prune..a Philladelphus’ or look it up in a good gardening book before making the first cut.

The excellent RHS Pruning and Training book (sexy title, I know) really helps to de-mystify the whole pruning process and is a very practical guide to pruning trees, shrubs, roses and climbers. I find it invaluable, as pruning is such a vast topic and it’s great to have so many answers at your fingertips.

Jessica’s shrub certainly needs a fair bit of thinning-out, but Philadelphus, like quite a number of shrubs (and fruit bushes and canes by the way), flowers on the stems that it produced the previous year. If the whole plant is cut right back now, then there’ll be no flowers this year. What to do? As it’s still only February, I’d wait another month or so before doing anything. It may seem mild now, but the weather can still turn cold, and pruning will encourage new tender growth which could then be damaged by a late frost or, dare I say it, more snow! In March, dead, diseased and damaged stems can be removed, then the whole plant thinned out to leave the thinner, fresher looking stems that grew last year. These are the stems on which her flowers will be produced this summer. (More on this in March, accompanied with ‘how to’ pics.) If you have no idea what your plant is, then the rule of thumb is to let it flower before pruning. This will help you to identify the plant and, by knowing when it flowers, when is the best time to prune.

So the Philadelphus can wait (sorry Jessica), but here are some plants that do need to be pruned now:

  • Autumn fruiting Raspberries, cut stems right down to the ground and fruit will form on the new stems that grow this year. Don’t be tempted to cut down summer fruiting raspberries now, as in common with the Philadelphus, you will see no fruit this year. If in doubt, don’t prune until plant has fruited. Or if you’re feeling experimental, then prune some of the canes now and leave the rest. This would probably be the option I would go for. (‘How to prune raspberries’ post following shortly.)
  • Apple and Pear Trees, to reduce overcrowded ‘spurs’ on which the fruit is formed, and to keep tree airy so fruit has good chance of ripening. Don’t prune Cherry or Plum trees (or any other tree with stone fruits) yet as you will be leaving the tree vulnerable to getting Silver Leaf and cankers through the wounds. Established Plum or Cherry trees should be pruned in summer.
  • Climbing Roses, to thin out and to train last year’s new growth to grow horizontally-this encourages more flowers and stops roses only forming at the top of the plant. (Another ‘How to prune a rose’ post following too.)
  • Standard Roses, remove older wood to encourage younger, more vigorous stems and prune out any crossing stems which could rub against each other, causing damage which invites disease
  • Hydrangeas, again to encourage new vigorous shoots and to keep a pleasingly shaped plant-prune just as the buds are forming-no later as Hydrangeas will bleed as they start to grow and pruning too late could kill the plant.

One last word of caution. Plants that have green-grey foliage, such as Lavender, or other Mediterranean plants such as Rosemary, are a little on the tender side, so don’t be in a rush to prune these plants just yet either. Judge the weather for yourself. If it’s continuing to be mild in March, then prune away. If, on the other hand, it’s still really cold, then hold off pruning until warmer weather is with us. When pruning Lavender, don’t be afraid to prune hard back to just above the lowest live bud. This may seem harsh as you may be removing a lot of the plant, but it will keep the plant in a much better, bushy shape than a lightly trimmed plant which will become ‘leggy’ in a couple of years time.

Most pruning won’t kill a plant, so do a bit of research, sharpen your secateurs and then have a go. You learn the most about pruning through hands-on experience!

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What a stunner!! I have just planted this most pleasing of small trees for a client. As the sun shone through it’s umbrella like crown, it seemed to light up the whole garden and contrasted splendidly with the dark green foliage of next doors’ heavy  evergreen plantings. Looks tender, but has gone to -12 degrees centigrade this year already, and will grow in sun or part shade. Evergreen to boot, what’s not to love about this fabulous plant.

Schefflera Hoi comes from Vietnam and is available from Crug Farm Plants, based in North Wales, but currently showing off their glorious collection at the London RHS Show in Victoria, today and tomorrow, Tuesday 15th Feb and Wednesday 16th Feb 2011. If you miss them now, they will also be showing at the Chelsea Flower Show in May this year (2011) for the first time. Go visit!

p.s.Crug Farm Plants will also be taking part in the RHS Plant and Design Show in London on the 14 &15 February 2012


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