Pollarding and Phormiums

I spent quite a lot of this weekend up a tree with my gamekeeper. That is to say, the Apparitional One, temporarily parted from his air rifle (which incidentally, I found lovingly cradled on the sawhorse in the woodshed, just in case it came in handy for dispatching a wood-boring beetle, no doubt), was the executive arm in a series of strong-minded acts of tree surgery, from lopping bits off an oak, to pollarding a row of geans –– this, I have to say mostly involved himself at the top of a ladder with a fearsome set of loppers, and myself standing on the bottom rung indicating with a bamboo cane where the next cut should go, but it was a good opening line, not to be missed. Havoc has been wrought. Holly bushes have been trimmed into tidy puddings. It looks completely dreadful but in three months’ time we will almost certainly be SO glad we did it – the thing with pruning trees is that almost nobody ever goes far enough. We had also hired a hedge trimmer, and with this, the AG has made a wonderful job of all the box edging, for which we are most grateful. Interspersed with all this activity there has been a certain amount of history. We are offering a certain amount of input on his GCSE History work: last week was the Industrial Revolution on Scotland, this week’s, Scottish Mining. This particular weekend, what was on his mind was the First World War. Out of some footnote or ambient information, he has snagged the notion that there had been a First World War and that it might be important, though as far as his schooling is concerned it is so completely off stage that the only thing about it he is fairly sure of is the kind of rifle they used. ‘What’s a Serb?’ he asked, in all simplicity.
What is so wonderful about the AG, like his little sister, is that he thinks this sort of thing needs to be sorted out, unlike a goodly number of undergraduates of my acquaintance whose attitude to learning seems to be entirely passive.
The other reflection which was prompted by an unseasonable gardening weekend was of a wholly different kind: I have been, it is not too strong to say, enraged at my inability to grow phormiums (these are basically, large handsome foliage plants, with the huge advantage, in this climate, of being evergreen). Almost all the roundabouts we pass on our way out of Old Aberdeen to the Deep North feature phormiums, and I have a regular little rage of the kind to which the elderly are subject – the same train of through being started by the same event, oh how boring, because the Aberdeen Municipal Phormiums are LARGE and FLOURISHING amid FUMES and NEGLECT. So I dug up all my surviving phormiums, what’s left of them, and came to an immediate conclusion: something is eating the roots. So the net question is, what is it about the countryside which has thrown the phormium a challenge it doesn’t have in town? They are a New Zealand genus but clearly something hereabouts can’t believe its luck, and goodness knows if the offender is an eel-worm, a vole, or something else entirely? Burrowing sheep? Any readers of a gardening persuasion are invited, nay, begged, to offer suggestions.

8 Responses to “Pollarding and Phormiums”

  1. jacky Says:

    You could try being more patient. I believe these plants (are they called New Zealand Flax?) can be pretty slow to establish. So unless you have actually seen root damage it might be worth leaving them in the soil and seeing what happens over the course of a few years. I had two phormiums - both slow to flourish, speaking in terms of YEARS. The red-leaved variety did eventually die, sadly, but the plain green one is now something to be proud of. (And I am).

  2. Janey Says:

    Thank you — I had a pink leaved phormium which looked SO WONDERFUL its first winter with all else underground, I bought 4 more and stuck them in here and there — but the next year it was smaller and this year it was smaller still, & when I dug it up a few days ago, the root system seemed to be telling a story. Instead of consolidating and bulking up, they have all dwindled, peaked and pined. As I say if the bloody things’ll grow and flourish on Aberdeen roundabouts, buffeted by petroleum emissions and salt winds, it’s hard to feel that it’s just a question of patience.

  3. Janey Says:

    I’ve just found some wise Emailed words from the Real World Consultant; there is such a thing as the phormium mealy bug. Unlike Old World mealy bugs it will survive any amount of low temperatures, and since it hides in the tight interstices between the leaves, you can’t necessarily spot it. No solution is offered except, ‘Don’t Get Phormium Mealy Bug’. Quite depressing, really.

  4. sally Says:

    I grow phormiums in my nursery and the mealybug can be devastating to phormiums, the only way we have had success is to use a systemic insectide, it gets taken up by the plant and when the bugs chew on the plant they die. The other bit of advice is that phormiums like to be grown on the dry side. Summer they may need a bit of additional irrigation, but not much. Plant them where they wont have wet feet in the winter

  5. Jane Says:

    I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t know. I gave up on phormiums: the ones which the council planted on the main road roundabouts still irritate the hell out of me by looking bigger and healthier every year. In general, plants’ leaf systems and root systems are in equilibrium, so if you reduce the leaf area the rootball gets smaller and vice versa. Root pruning’s very difficult though if the plants are not container grown. Good luck wiht them.

  6. Stuart McLeod Says:

    I live on Orkney, and am in the process of assimilating a collection of these magnificent plants. So far, I have 50+ different varieties, ranging from 6 feet tall to 12 inches. I have experienced a little-known problem with mine; namely that the roots can become severely infested with slugs (I think they have heard about their medicinal value), with the obvious effect of removing root material and rendering the plant wobbly.

    As has been previously indicated, the old saw of ‘first year sleeps; second year creeps; and third year leaps; very much holds true. If you want success, may I suggest growing on any purchased plants in the controlled environment of a pot, until they become unwieldy enough to look after themselves. Also, they will only take chill down to -8 degrees centigrade for a short time; any lower, or longer, and they will not like it! they will need a jacket on if severe cold weather is expected.

    Better luck with your next try, these are truly wonderful architectural plants.

  7. Spencer Kirby Says:

    Well this chilling winter has made my small collection of phormiums looking very weak and feeble.

    Sadly after the big thaw and a few moments inspecting the base of the plants, I found masses of white fluffy mildew. Clearly the dreaded mealy bug has hit all my plants.

    Is this the end or can the systemic pesticide help? Any suggestions please!! Surely this cannot be the end for my loved plants

  8. Jane Says:

    I think the snow has been a big problem for them, because they got so wet. I’ve still not been lucky with the things. It sounds as if systemic insecticide might help.

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