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Wintry experiments

I'm intrigued by the difference between annuals and perennials, and their behaviour in cold climes. Annuals generally derive from hot places like Mexico and South Africa (many of Beth Chatto's drought-resistant plants originate from SA) and flower best with heat, dying down when the weather turns cold. Perennials, on the other hand, are built to resist the cold, and will refuse to flourish in a heatwave. They'll generally die back in winter, but be reborn again in the summer, often bigger and better. I've not often seen an annual survive through to the next summer, though one tiny lobelia plant seeded itself last year, to my surprise. But this past summer I had a beautiful cascading lobelia plant growing - one I'd grown from seed - and it just broke my heart to leave it out there all winter in its hanging basket. It was starting to look miserable and I couldn't bear to see it die. So, I thought, I'll do an experiment, bring it inside to my kitchen windowsill, and see what happens. So far, it's reaching for the stars with its exquisite dainty flowers, getting bigger and bigger. I'll continue this experiment into spring and summer and see how long I can get it to survive.

Another experiment I've got going is Pennisetum rubrum 'Fireworks', which is a purple grass that I simply craved and bought at the end of summer, like a silly person, but I am very silly about plants and having to have them. Speaking as a garden designer, do as I say, but don't do as I do... My obsession with plants is not going away, but I have managed not to buy anything for at least a month. Mostly because I have nowhere to put any new plants. But back to 'Fireworks'. My nursery man (and the RHS website) warned me that it was grown as an annual, and would die down. If you want it to survive the winter, you have to bring it indoors, and I'm not a fan of digging things up. So I planted it in a pot and brought it inside as soon as it got colder, to the same windowsill, to see what would happen. One website said I should cut all the grass stalks down to about eight centimetres but I balked at that and just left it be. It's doing pretty well there, also growing long tall grass stalks. It's not very purple, but generally more green, as you can see in the photo. The nursery man who sold it to me said that most people just buy it as an annual and let it die, and basically told me to do as I wished with it, and report back! So, let's see how this goes, and whether it will turn back to its original glorious purpley-burgundy shade when it warms up again. It's been a pretty mild winter (she said, writing during Storm Brendan), so a lot of perennials are still waving around in the breeze in mid-January. Let's see how that goes! This climate change business is a bit of a surprise to gardens and gardeners everywhere.








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