24: Autumn 2009

Author: Judith Stephens

Time for That Extra Blanket

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Time for that extra blanketJudith Stephens

I lived for almost 20 years in the middle of Bodmin Moor, 10 lonely miles from the nearest shop. At this time of year a real sense of urgency would accompany the annual battening down for the winter – being cut off by ice and snow was a frequent occurrence. Now I live at sea level, surrounded by shops, and no longer need to count the candles and batteries and top up the paraffin, but fear of what might be around the corner still lingers on.

A garden writer once expressed surprise that, although so close to the sea, I grew so few tender plants. How could he not see that we are on the valley floor and therefore collect all the frost from the hills on either side? Stung by his criticism, I branched out, and now have the worry of protecting my costly purchases. I use various methods, a pile of conifer branches being the easiest, though not necessarily the most foolproof. Last Spring, thinking the new growth might rot, I removed the cover from some salvias too soon and lost the lot. I also lost three newly planted and well-covered Dichroa febrifuga, though a couple of older ones grew again from the roots.

Several years ago I acquired a Colocasia esculenta (on an HPS outing), and, having been taken into care each winter and given freedom in the summer, it has clumped up well. I have had it growing in the boggy jungle where the dark green shield-like leaves on strong 3′ stems help to create the desired exotic effect. It originates from the East Indies, where it is called Indian Kale, the tuberous roots being edible. I lost C.e. ‘Black Magic’ last winter because I kept it in an un-warmed greenhouse, or perhaps I watered it too generously. C. fallax is described as the hardiest of the tribe, but I shall give it houseroom in its first winter here. It may be stronger, but I can see it’s not going to be so effective. Dahlia imperialis will come in too, though all other dahlias are left in the ground.

I’m willing to leave Passiflora caerulea outside, but not the pretty pink P. mollissima, and definitely not Pandorea pandorana or P. jasminoides. And I have probably been too optimistic in hoping to grow Schisandra species, though Hillier makes no suggestion of tenderness, as he does for Berberidopsis corallina. We shall see. I shall worry happily until springtime comes again.

First published in the Cornwall Group Newsletter, November 2008
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 24
© Copyright for this article: Judith Stephens

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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