Gardeners act to protect exotic plants after last winter's losses

Exotic plants are being protected in gardens across southern England in preparation for winter.

Cold weather threatens plants - image: HW
Cold weather threatens plants - image: HW

Garden attractions in southern England are taking steps to protect exotic plants, fearing a repeat of the cold winters seen in recent years.

Despite being in warmer parts of the UK, gardeners in the south said certain species need to be protected, while some are moving away from more tender plants.

Trewidden Garden head gardener Richard Morton said most of what would need protecting has already been lost. "We have suffered from some cripplingly cold winters in the past four or five years, with some quite severe cold weather for Cornwall. Three-to-four years ago we got down to -8 degsC. We were getting to the stage five years ago where we had one or two frosts to -1 degsC and that was it, but we've had a run of very cold winters in the past five years. A lot of the very tender stuff has already died."

He said he is unlikely to plant them again. "We have been experimenting with borderline plants, but the cold and wet is what they don't like. It's too wet in the winter. We'll see how things go and if we're going to keep getting cold winters we'll stick to stuff we know is reliable. After three years we got fed up of the expense of having to replace things."

Trewithen Gardens head gardener Gary Long added: "We don't do too much because it's quite warm in Cornwall but we have got a few specimens we protect with bamboo frames. We prune roses really hard, so they're one third of their height. We have been fairly lucky with cold winters and haven't had it too harsh, but some plants need it."

Lullingstone Castle - Measures taken to protect exotics from cold

Lullingstone Castle World Garden creator Tom Hart Dyke said ensuring plants survive the winter is a major operation, developed by experimenting over the past few cold winters.

"We've got various ways," he added. "In the Mexican section we build a 50ft-long polytunnel to protect the cacti, succulents and chocolate plants, which is the most extreme protection we do." The plants are protected from snow and hail but still have a good flow of air, he said. "They freeze, but they don't get physically attacked by the frost."

A large number of plants cannot be left outside. "We physically remove plants from the garden. It used to be 2,000, but now it's more like 400-500. We either move them to pots or plant them in polytunnels."

He added that he rarely uses traditional methods such as wrapping plants with fleece and chicken wire.

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