Gardening column: plants to survive the winter

04 January 2019

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AT THE time of writing, the close of 2018, we have not had a penetrating frost in Staffordshire. Yes, the dahlias and tender bedding-plants have been blackened, but the borderline hardy subjects are fine. A large patch of the Mediterranean native Cerinthe major is looking partic­ularly perky, and shrubby salvias are still in flower. If the benign weather continues, I am to witness a spectacular flowering of the Acacia dealbata, or florist’s mimosa, at the end of my garden. It is smothered in buds that would be destroyed by a hard frost.

In late winter, in London, the canary-yellow sight and honey/lily-of-the-valley scent of a mimosa tree in full bloom is a joy; but the place to see this native Australian really celebrated is the French Riviera. It was introduced to the hillsides near Cannes in about 1880 — no doubt by one of the aristocratic gardeners drawn to the region by the winter sun.

These days, a special tourist association promotes a route du mimosa from January to March that extends over 80 miles, from Borme-les-Mimosas to Grasse. If you are feeling a bit jaded by winter gloom, their downloadable brochure is a cheering experience, with its images of sunny yellow blooms against an azure sky. There is a calendar of mimosa-centric events: garden, farm, and nursery tours, countryside trails, and a grand parade with flower-covered floats.

Acacia is taken seriously in the south of France. It is farmed to send to florists throughout Europe, and is used in perfumery and even in cooking, to flavour syrups, confectionery, and pastries.

As an evergreen garden tree, Acacia dealbata has much to commend it. It is a pioneer species that grows rapidly but doesn’t get huge in the UK. My tree, with a height and spread of four metres, arrived as a mail-order purchase through the letterbox, five years ago. They can be grown in a container to start with, but you will soon feel the need to set a specimen free. It likes free draining, but not chalky soil, and a sunny spot. A tree that flowers will also set seed in long papery pods. You soon discover its fresh green progeny about the feet of the parent.

It is best to prune lightly each year, in April after the flowering season, rather than attempt anything drastic; after a hacking, they can just look wrong. That said, a tree will bounce back from most assaults. A severe frost, say below –7°C, can kill the main structure, only to stimulate a mass of new growth from the base of the trunk. There is a cultivar selected by the French cut-flower industry, “Gaulois Astier”, that is hardier than the straight species, reportedly coping with –10°C.

Mine is the common one, and, if an arctic blast does sweep in over January, the froth of mimosa buds will have been but a long tease. But, with its feathery foliage and generous nature, it is an optimist’s plant — and I still love it.

routedumimosa.com

ard frost.

In late winter in London, the canary yellow sight and honey/lily-of-the-valley scent of a mimosa tree in full bloom, and squeezed into a front garden, is a joy; but the place to see this native Australian really celebrated is the French Riviera. It was introduced to the hillsides near Cannes, around 1880, no doubt by one of the aristocratic gardeners drawn to the region by the winter sun.

These days, a special tourist association promotes a route du mimosa from January to March that extends over 80 miles, from Borme-les-Mimosas to Grasse. If you are feeling a bit jaded by winter gloom, their downloadable brochure is a cheering experience, with its copious images of sunny yellow blooms against an azure sky. There is a calendar of mimosa-centric events: garden, farm, and nursery tours, countryside trails, and a grand parade with flower-covered floats. Acacia is taken seriously in the south of France. It is farmed to send to florists throughout Europe, used in perfumery, and even in cooking to flavour syrups, confectionery, and pastries.

As an evergreen garden tree, Acacia dealbata has much to commend it. It is a pioneer species that grows rapidly but doesn’t get huge in the UK. My tree, with a height and spread of four metres, arrived as a mail-order purchase through the letterbox, five years ago. They can be grown in a container to start with, but you will soon feel the need to set a specimen free. It likes free draining, but not chalky soil, and, unsurprisingly, a sunny spot. A tree that flowers will also set seed in long papery pods. You soon discover its fresh green progeny about the feet of the parent.

It is best to prune lightly each year, in April after the flowering season, rather than attempt anything drastic; after a hacking, they can just look wrong. That said, a tree will bounce back from most assaults. A severe frost, say below –7°C, can kill the main structure, only to stimulate a mass of new growth from the base of the trunk. There is a cultivar selected by the French cut-flower industry, “Gaulois Astier”, that is hardier than the straight species reportedly coping with –10°C. Acacia pataczekiii, from the highlands of Tasmania, is the most cold-hardy: it is said to tolerate –18°C.

Mine is the common one, and, if an arctic blast does sweep in over January, the froth of mimosa buds will have been but a long tease. It would confirm to some that it is not a sensible choice for a Midlands garden. But, with its feathery foliage and generous nature, it is an optimist’s plant — and I still love it.

routedumimosa.com

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