Saturday, August 4, 2012

Plants I have killed

On many occasions when walking around a flower show, I have overheard other gardeners talking and making the comment "I used to have one of those but it died"! And I guess we can all say that with regard to many plants. I recently thought that it would be fascinating to have kept a pot containing the labels of everything that had expired in my care. I fear it would need to be a rather large container. I have to admit I'm very much of an opportunist gardener and cannot resist an impulse purchase if the plant catches my eye. I don't necessarily always think whether I have got the right spot for it or if it is really likely to thrive in the conditions of my garden, so I buy it!

Setaria palmifolia in my Palm Springs Yard
The same plant six months later when I returned after my summer break
(Philip says 'Not guilty - blame the irrigation')
Years ago I used to manage Whiteknights,  the estate of Reading University which had been owned back in the 18th century by the Marquis of Blandford who ultimately bankrupted himself primarily because of his excessive expenditure on gardening and plants. It is recorded at the time that not a lot of his plantings were successful as he merely instructed plants to be established where he thought they would look good, rather than in the appropriate growing conditions. So succulents would be planted alongside water features and aquatic plants in dry stony scree beds. Despite this some fantastic trees remain from those early plantings. Whilst I hope I will not bankrupt myself visiting garden centres, I fear I may be guilty of some of his rash planting. Maybe we all buy the odd plant thinking it would look great against something we already have without really analysing the right conditions.

Whiteknights in 1817 - the lake and trees are still there but very different now.

Whilst in the USA back last winter, I purchased a plant of Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'. it's brilliant foliage just beckoned to me and I couldn't resist the purchase even though I had absolutely no idea what conditions the plant wanted or how it would grow. Sadly and almost inevitably it died within a few weeks.

Manihot esculenta Variegata - a fleeting visitor
 Another plant which I have killed on numerous occasions, is Fremontedendron californicum. Now I fell in love with this plant many years ago when I first saw it growing on the back of the old laboratory building at Wisley. I have planted a in almost every garden I have owned since then and on every occasion it has died. I really do not see why this plant cannot reciprocate the love I have for it. I really feel quite spurned!

Fremontedendron californicum

I have tried that lovely South African silver leaf plant, Melianthus major several times but again it's doesn't like me or my garden and has struggled this summer yet again. Its alive but only just! In other places I see big, somewhat straggly lovely lush foliage and the occasional deep maroon flower - but not for me! Maybe it has heard me speak of its obnoxious smell!

Melianthus major with Verbena venosa
Most gardeners lost plants in the harsh winter of 2010/2011 and I was no exception. Sometimes it takes a while to realise that something has gone like the white Agapanthus and blush pink Zantedeschia that shrivelled that winter and were cleared away with all the other skeletons. Its always tricky to know whether to replace such old friends or to try something new.

Agapanthus 'Isis'

Zantedeschia 'Kiwi Blush'
One of my saddest losses was  Canna 'Italia'. This brilliant cultivar came to me in a small package, having been liberated from Madras Botanic Garden in 1977. (How? - Don't ask!) It took a while to identify this wonderful flower as the 1895 novelty plant. I grew it for a few years but it succumbed to canna virus along with the rest of the collection and had to be destroyed. So sad. I did sell it to various canna growers for a few years so maybe there is some clean stock somewhere.

Canna 'Italia'
Just a few of my losses! I wonder whether readers have greater success or whether you too have victims to confess to!


  1. Wonderful post topic! We all want to know we're in good company when it comes to killing plants. I've killed oh so many! I just chose not to think of them because it would be a little depressing...

  2. What an interesting and unique post! All good gardeners have their share of plant losses too, all part of the learning curve :) We have our fair share of losses too, some are an enigma why they don't do well in our garden, others part of experimentation and all. But it's all part of the fun!