Thursday, July 28, 2011

Native Irish Plants for Winter

I've been listening to the BBC Gardeners' Question Time podcast of late, and also looking at gardens while I commute. The harsh winter of 2010-2011 seems to have ravaged gardens up and down the British Isles, and this is clear in two ways.

First, nigh-on every every episode of GQT has a question like "My beloved such-and-such plant died over the winter; can you suggest a replacement?". Second, gardens all over Ireland have dead shrubs standing out - sometimes it's just one set of bare branches, but there's one garden near us that has a hedge, three large shrubs, and several lower and smaller ones, all stone dead. There's a honeysuckle growing over one of the big dead shrubs, which gives the garden some semblance of life, but otherwise it looks like some sort of depressing art installation.

The GQT folks have a barrage of suggestions, but they come down to one fundamental - use native plants. We may think that winters like the last two are unusual, but the plant life of the British Isles disagrees, and can handle the -15°C fairly well. The exotics, on the other hand, keel over - there are dead palm trees hither and yon all over the South-west of Ireland, for just one example. Now, there are exotics I have every intention of growing, but they're either tolerant of our climate - pak choi, for instance, which is so happy in cold damp conditions that the crop I planted this year reckoned it was too dry, and bolted - or kept in greenhouses, like the jalapeƱo peppers we're hoping to have a crop from this autumn.

There were two palm trees in our place when we moved in; one at the front, and one at the back. They were terminated with extreme prejudice. Everything else shrub-like or hedging in there is native, or hardy - hazel, holly, blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, and so on. The only thing in the whole place that didn't make it through the winter intact was the rosemary in the herb bed.

So it's pretty clear that native plants have a massive advantage in this regard over the exotics. Now if only the weather could kill off bindweed.

No comments: