Architectural plants can be used to give height and interest from all angles of the garden. They are plants with varied foliage shapes and textures combined with good branching structure to make them the cornerstones of the garden. Although most of them do not flower, they can provide interest all through the year. They can be used as focal points at key locations or used at the back of a border to give a dramatic effect. The choice of plants is wide so try to pick plants that have distinctive shape, that are evergreen or have nice bark colouration so that your garden does not become dull in winter. Try plants like bamboos, palms, phormiums and grasses to create focal points.
More and more Irish people are going on holidays to warm climates, where they see exotic plants growing freely. The fun of growing exotic plants that we know are not totally hardy is in using our skills to nurse them through the winter. Plants growing in pots can be moved to the greenhouse or a warm, sheltered part of the garden in winter. Tender plants growing in the ground must be insulated with horticultural fleece to protect them from frost.
We normally associate palm trees and cycads with tropical forests. They can be grown outdoors in mild frost-free gardens. In frost-prone gardens they are best grown in pots and transferred to a greenhouse for the winter. Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm) has a stout, straight trunk with spreading, arching leaves. It likes a moist, well-drained soil in full sun, with some mid-day shade. Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm) is a very hardy palm that will survive outdoors in this country. It forms a single stem, which is covered with fibre. It forms a canopy of large fan-like evergreen leaves. It can grow to a height of 70 feet, although it will take about twenty years to reach a height of 12 feet.
Phormiums are grown for their magnificent foliage which gives contrast and colour variation in the garden. The foliage is often coloured or variegated. They soon become focal points as they mature. Some varieties can grow up to 10 feet tall. Phormiums grow best in well-drained soil in an open sunny position. They have a reputation for being slightly tender so give them a mulch in very cold gardens. Cut off any scruffy looking dead, damaged or split leaves in spring. Plants three to five years old will produce flowers, the flower stems can be up to 7 feet tall. The flowers are small and insignificant , the seed pods are much more noticeable and last for months. Phormiums are widely used in flower arranging to give height to the arrangement. Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax) has rigid dark green leaves up to 10 feet long. Phormium tenax ‘Dazzler’ has arching bronze leaves with red, orange and pink stripes, it grows about 3 feet tall. Phormium tenax ‘Jester’ has deep pinky-red coloured leaves. Phormium tenax ‘Platt’s Black’ has almost black leaves with a yellow margin along the leaf.
Bamboos and grasses have become popular in recent years. A huge range of ornamental grasses are now available and they can be used right across the garden. Grasses that die back completely in winter can be rejuvenated by cutting the entire plant back to within a few inches of the ground in early spring. Evergreen varieties that survive the winter should not be cut back, clean up the plant in early spring by removing any dead growth.
Some varieties of bamboos can be rampant and spread too much. These plants can be planted in a hole lined with plastic or planted in a container. Fargesia nitida is an rigid bamboo that can grow to 15 feet tall. It forms a dense clump that spreads slowly. The canes are purple-green in colour with purple-green leaves. Thin out some of the canes in late spring to create a see-through effect. The canes that remain will grow thicker and taller and have better colouration. Phyllostachys aurea (Golden bamboo) has green canes that mature to a golden colour. The leaves are golden green in colour. Phyllostachys nigra (black bamboo) has green canes that turn black in their second or third year of growth.
Flower and Garden Club Notices
The Maigue Flower and Garden Club will be holding their annual gala afternoon on Sunday week (March 29) in the Woodlands House Hotel between 3pm and 5:30pm. There will be a demonstration by floral artist Tony Mackessy.