When choosing a plant for the garden, an important consideration is how hardy is it? There are so many reasons why plants die. I am constantly asked why plants have died and sometimes I just want to say – ‘it’s dead – get over it and plant something else’. Of course it is often very helpful to know why a plant has died and sometimes it can be saved if it is just in its death throes.
Hardiness is a factor in why plants die. Often a plant will look as though it has pulled through a winter and you look forward to new growth in sprig but then it gives up the ghost just when you expect it to grow. I think this is down to root damage more than growth buds being damaged.
As you know if you have read previous posts I am currently having deep thoughts about water lilies and it occurred to me the other day that the hardy ones are not hardy at all. The rhizomes and every part of the plant except the leaves, is well below the surface of the water so never get frosted. I wonder if they would survive exposure to frost – hard to tell since they would then not be in water either so a tough place for a water lily.
But I am prattling. Last year I grew Solanum laciniatum, commonly called the Kangaroo apple. I am not sure why lots of solanums are called ‘apples’ since they are not especially apple like. This species is native to the south of Australia including Tasmania and is one of the more obviously attractive and showy species. It has dark purple leaves, deep green leaves and large (up to 5cm) , rotate, purple flowers with a typically solanum yellow ‘beak’ of stamens. It is easily grown from seed and can be treated as an annual, reaching 2m high in a year. In the wild, when it will live up to 10 years, it can reach twice that size. The leaves are lance shaped or lobed with three segments when the plants are young – the lobed leaves apparently resembling the footprint of a kanagroo. The leaves become less lobed as the plants age.
I have always been worried about overwintering this plant, though it has never kept me awake, because it is so easy to replace from seed, freely produced in the orange fruits (not edible). But last winter the plants in the garden survived almost unscathed. In an average winter, whatever that is, the plants might get frosted to ground level and benefit from a loose mulch at the base, the plant then acting as herbaceous. But this winter the top growth was not severely damaged and the plants are 3m tall, in their second year. The plant above is by a west-facing wall, beside a Musa basjoo, but other plants have done just as well, as have plants I gave to friends last year.
So is the plant worth growing? Well I hate to use such jargon but it does have a jungly look about it and the foliage is crying out to be put with cannas, bananas, crocosmias and dark dahlias. The flowers are not quite showy enough to put it in the first rank of garden plants but they are pretty. I think most gardeners would enjoy growing it once but maybe that would be enough.