Growbag Blog

Growbags batten down the hatches


Yikes, just when we thought we’d got away with it, the weather went all Winter Olympics on us.
So how far were you prepared to go to protect those borderline shrubs which you were just congratulating yourself on having nursed through the worst of the winter? In my case it was quite far; I have a penchant for subtropical plants and this week had to activate the ‘Emergency Procedures Plan’. 

Me beneath a fantastic crinodendron on Islay where it grows happily in the shelter of the Gulf Stream.

I did this alphabetically in order of a plant’s nationality, so the Chileans came first and into the glasshouse come pots of Crinodendron hookerianum (Chilean lantern tree, curious deep red waxy bells and tough leathery leaves) and Embothrium coccineum (Chilean flame tree). Then, having grown it in a pot for a number of years but finally risked planting it out (albeit in a sheltered spot next to the boiler outlet pipe), my precious specimen of Luma apiculata (Chilean myrtle) had a length of fleece wrapped around it followed by a short prayer.

Tucked up for the Big Freeze – Geranium maderense. 

Next it’s the Madeirans with the monster Geranium maderense holding court in the corner of glasshouse whilst outdoors Geranium palmatum got a  blanket of bracken pegged over it and Euphorbia mellifera received a stern talking toreminding it that it’s already been allocated the priority spot under the eaves of the garage
Finally it was  Mediterraneans, always a bit wimpish in my experience, so pots of speciality rosemaries and lavenders were dragged under cover and the olive tree wrapped in fleece – it would probably survive without, but might have dropped all its leaves in protest, which is never a good look come spring.

No need to worry about the hellebores though, they may be on the ropes now, but they have their own antifreeze and will rise from the ashes once the beast has passed, and if you want a real tonic just look at the variety that Louise has it her own garden in Great Plants this Month.

One thing I have noticed though about my sub tropical beauties though, is that I bought most of them  in Scotland, mostly from the excellent Loch Fyne Tree Shop where apparently they sail through winter outdoors, bathed in the protective westerlies of the Gulf Stream, so how come Caroline is always bleating on about how hard done she is to be gardening north of the border when clearly she could be achieving a lot more?


Sometimes I do wonder if Laura has lost the plot bigtime. She must be exhausted after this bitterly cold week.  Surely the whole point about gardening in these hallowed isles is the enormous range of plants we can grow without resorting to lugging great pots in and out and round about! 

And yes, I do sometimes lose one or two in the winter and probably will again, but usually this is much more to do with continuous wet than cold.  And if I was enslaved to an alphabetical list of floral exotica (that sounds rather like a page in the Ann Summer catalogue, doesn’t it!) as Laura is, then no doubt I would be wrapping them in the finest pashminas with a little furry hot water bottle.

Isoplexus lovingly gifted to me by Laura – oh dear!

This might be the point to mention that I used to have a very gorgeous Isoplexis canariensis that Laura gave me some years ago – greatly admired by garden visitors.  It is known as the Canary Island foxglove, a 5ft evergreen shrub with beautiful orange/rust flowers in summer.  You know what’s coming – I killed it, by not giving it the diva treatment. Oh well.

Helleborus argutifolius – as tough as a pair of your favourite long-johns.

We’d love to know what you do to protect your plants and if you have any really good tips, but in the meantime, here’s what I do.  All my pots of pelargoniums and aeoniums overwinter in the porch or cold-frame. Errr, that’s it.  A bitterly cold wind in late spring last year wrought havoc with Olearia macrodonta last spring in Normandy, but short of a helicopter ride from England to cover them up, we were a bit stuck. So I am taking my pleasure in the plucky little aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) (hardy to something very minus) and the bright flowers of Helleborus argutifolius, a native of Corsica and Sardinia, but as tough and loyal as the elastic on your Siberian long-Johns.  I bet even Caroline could grow THEM outside…….


No not on the seaward side I can’t – that’s only for the desensitised phormiums and polar bears. We’re not talking the Gulf Stream here but the brutal North Sea, so I was prepared to see Laura’s ‘yikes’ and raise her a ‘bl**dy hell’. If Amazon Prime ran out of horticultural fleece last week – I’ll put my hand up – I was part of their problem. Baby it was cold out there and my plants are.. well…. my babies. My Euphorbia mellifera was swaddled like a great big Baby Jesus while my Lobelia tupa doubled as an Egyptian mummy although I’m almost sure it’s already dead (why isn’t there an app for this?).

My swaddled euphorbia – not instantly recognisable as Baby Jesus but you know what I mean?

I don’t feel badly for Laura – she’s pushing boundaries with her range of exotica and Elaine, well she just doesn’t try (although I did actually learn things from her last gardening tips column so quite looking forward to her new one next weekend), but spare a thought for me last Sunday. Thoroughly spooked by the Met Office my pots of agapanthus were dragged into the greenhouse which meant there was no longer room for my tubs of overwintering dahlia tubers which had to come into the ‘cool room’ (and got all mixed up in the process) thus my zaluzianskya seedlings were displaced and had to be moved into the warm room where my toddler tomatoes had to be transferred to the top of the filing cabinet by which time I, myself, had to be moved to the members’ bar at the golf club.
You see when the BBC say it will be minus 10/minus 15 and feel considerably colder but ‘we shouldn’t panic’, I feel like Theresa May hearing she has the full support of her backbenchers – extremely nervous.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

7 replies on “Growbags batten down the hatches”

Fab blog !
-now just as I thought the worst had passed the sleety rain returns..I have gone into hibernation for the week—plants….just get on with it-I shall probably bitterly regret this attitude as I open the garden in 3 weeks today for the NGS (eek) and visitors may eye up the wasteland with curious glances…

Hello Irene, yes the weather is throwing everything it has in its armoury at us at the moment, every day it’s a new challenge. But nature has an uncanny way of compensating and you will undoubtably find that in three weeks time there will be plants that you have previously overlooked, or have normally been eclipsed by others at this time of the year, that will choose that moment to shine and delight your visitors.
Just keep calm and carry on! Happy gardening, Laura

You ladies are hilarious! I’m not so sure some of my hellebores will recover this past week as they appear to have shrivelled stems and dangling flowers … tulips,pansies and wallflowers in pots not looking so special either- I think due to the fact they had got quite dry prior to the bitter winds and snow.
Anyway hope yours have all survived- although I expect Caroline has yet to thaw.

You are absolutely right, Fiona, even on the soft South Coast, some of my hellebores were looking terribly forlorn……but they are starting to bring their heads up again already. And being dry at the roots might just have saved some of your plants from freezing solid – I do hope they all recover! Elaine

Some would say (our siblings and neighbours) we were slightly mad, we grow many tender succulents that have to come into the conservatory with us! 8ft red banana , Yucca, large assorted Aeoniums, lemon tree pelargoniums plus 30 pots of succulent cuttings to sell on NGS open days..
Outside we have bananas fleeced, Tree Ferns, Melianthus, Mellifera, Geranium palmatum…..the Olive and the Crinodendron are well over 6 ft so they do have to take their chances, same as the Pseudopanax now too large, but the Fatsia looked dead this week and our beautiful Loropetalum looks decidedly sick, the problem was the ground was frozen solid for so long…..and all this in the soft South!
As usual I had a good laugh at your hilarious blog…..

Oh my goodness, Angela, you do indeed sound as bonkers as Laura, but I bet your garden is amazing in the summer! Elaine

Hello Angela, Laura here and clearly a kindred spirit… we were at Wisley this morning and I particularly checked on their crinodendrons, which like yours are big plants and have to stay out, and they looked OK but were in a sheltered spot behind a large wall. I hadn’t heard of Loropetalum so have just googled it, and it is definitely going on my shopping list!

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