Protect your plants from the winter ravages: Spotlight on World Garden at Lullingstone Castle

PUBLISHED: 12:43 26 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:11 20 February 2013

Protect your plants from the winter ravages

Protect your plants from the winter ravages

Now is the time to protect your plants from the winter ravages. This is particularly important in the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle with its many tender plants that make up part of the global collection...

Protect your plants from the winter ravages: Spotlight on World Garden at Lullingstone Castle

Now is the time to protect your plants from the winter ravages. This is particularly important in the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle with its many tender plants that make up part of the global collection

After the severe winter last year it is even more imperative to protect the many exotic plants in the Lullingstone Castle World Garden by cutting back, covering or lifting into the greenhouses.

The enormous task of lifting around 1,000 plants is quite a daunting prospect for plant hunter and creator, Tom Hart Dyke and his team through October to November.

Some of the plants are replanted in the ground in the polytunnel, others in pots are put in the glasshouse and cactus house. The heaters just keep the temperature frost-free, explains Tom.

Other measures include building temporary covers of timber or scaffolding with sheets of metal and plastic, along with wrapping some plants. Plants like grasses, salvias and kniphofia on the other hand, are left to be cut down in early spring as this protects them from the frosts.

Last year the structure protecting the Mexican bed from the winter wet had to be rebuilt as it collapsed under the weight of the snow and ice, resulting in some of the plants needing to be replaced. We recorded the temperature on one Saturday in December at minus 15.4; we havent had as cold a winter since we were children! This year we have built concrete foundations so we could put a temporary polytunnel completely over Mexico so no plants there need lifting. Elsewhere in the garden large evergreen shrubs and trees had their branches broken from the sheer weight of the snow, including our 19th-century cedar that lost two large branches. Even with non-stop heating the greenhouses experienced below-zero temperatures, recalls Tom.

As the climate is so variable it takes careful monitoring of the forecasts and reacting accordingly. An added challenge of course is that Tom is usually off plant hunting in winter, in some exciting hotter corner of the world, meaning there are often calls to his mum at home to turn up those heaters!

Fortunately, many plants that looked like they had been lost and were cut right back, recovered and put on a stunning show over the season. We lost a couple of hundred plants but only one eucalyptus died, however the growth rate was superb this year. The collection looked really fresh, Tom adds.

From experience and continued research Tom is introducing more plants that cope with the conditions by choosing the same exotic species but ones from higher altitudes in more frost-prone areas. Often it is not the cold that is the problem for the plants but the wet.

Last year we lifted 1,800 plants and this time we are doing around half of that to reduce the work load. Last winter was a reality check so this time there will be less to dig up, more are in containers and more can be covered. Each September we also take lots of cuttings as backup and pop them in florist oasis foam blocks in the greenhouse, explains Tom.

Other methods used to protect plants include toppings of dry mulch, such as wood bark chips and compost, fleeces and even old jumpers, as well as laying cut foliage of the plant over the crown, such as with the tree ferns.

One important thing to remember is to make sure the plants can breath a bit as they all need aeration, Tom adds.

For the hardy areas of the garden that fend for themselves, such as the European and North American areas, the cold weather is essential for their fruiting and flowering.

After the winter period of shut down, a week at the end of May will reunite the garden as the overwintered plants are replanted in their continents of origin and the botanical displays can again burst forth into growth.

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