I don’t want you to think that I’m whining about this. I used to live in Telford, where the Midlands winter temperature went down to minus twelve degrees every year, which I greeted with moaning, carping and bitching, often all at once. Here on the North West coast, we are tickled by the tail end of the Gulf Stream and the frost is fairly modest. Nevertheless, any specimens which resent a cold snap should now be taken under cover. We haven’t had any inkling of ice so the Dahlias remain undisturbed in their bed, until the first serious chill blackens their foliage and turns the flowers to mush. Then I will cut back the stems, lift the tubers and store them in trays in the dark, comparatively warm garage. Attila bellyaches about being unable to stash his car, for the excess of root sleep space. I say that if a gardener has to make a stand in the face of threats of divorce, then even the most dramatically drab, miserable, unpompomed Dahlia is worth going to the mat.
Euphorbia characias wulfenii (mediterranean spurge)
When house hunting long ago, I insisted that this was the home I wanted, despite the fact that the roof was almost missing, the heating was fictional and the electric wiring was a death trap. I clapped my eyes upon the Edwardian brick built conservatory with the glorious leaded glass and declined ever to leave. During our first winter, I persevered with a paraffin heater but the fumes leaked under the ill fitting door and made the sitting room uninhabitable. I wanted to persist but my family complained that wearing gas masks made watching television a chore. I thought this a small price to pay but to keep the peace I tried to keep the chill off the greenery with an electric oil heater; after seeing the subsequent bill, my husband refused to heat the structure even if I gifted him the garage. The thermometer insists that my precious plants have to cope with two degrees of frost, so I pick my specimens accordingly. If a flower can’t stand the conditions, then I try not to buy one. Sometimes I am unable to resist something delicious but delicate and on its ensuing sad, suppurating demise, I feel entirely guilty.
Hypericum androsaemum (St John’s wort)
I wrap tender stems in fleece and make use of polystyrene boxes for the total wimps like cannas. I have potted up all of my Pelargoniums (geranium sp.) and relocated them to said conservatory. The scented leaved varieties still hold their perfume and after the hack job, the air is heavy with the fragrance of lemon, Turkish delight and Lady Plymouth. They jostle with Agapanthus (Nile lily) on metal shelves off the solid floor, so there is no excuse for frozen roots. This time, I’m bringing in the tiny bay tree, after losing the big plant with the plaited stems, two years ago. The Hedychiums (ginger) are still flowering, so bringing in the containers of exotic spiced blooms is no hardship. I can see them clearly in all their strange beauty, without moving my big bum from the sofa.
Nicandra physalodes (shoo fly plant) seed pods
I don’t grow colossal bananas or titanic tree ferns. I’m not so keen on them that I want to court a hernia, digging them up or lashing them like mummies with storm proof wrappings. I’m happy to give small favourites some bed rest in return for a spectacular show. I have no desire to coddle anything which in return for my loving care, could put me in traction.