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The year of the cordyline


By kowhai


Among the plants which were inherited in our garden was a cordyline, not planted I suspect by the original blue stocking owner of the property, but by the venomous vender (and owner of the koi carp, as noted in an earlier blog) in a half hearted attempt to ‘modernise’ the garden. In fact, I was very pleased to find a well established cordyline at the bottom of the garden, as it’s a tree familiar from my New Zealand childhood, when we all knew it as the ‘cabbage tree’. (Cf. my earlier blog on names, this being the ‘folk name’ before the plant moved up market and started to be called by its botanical name.)

During our nine years here, the cabbage tree has grown by about six feet, and about four or five years ago, it started to flower. The flowers aren’t all that spectacular, but they do form a substantial cluster, and this year we are being privileged with no less than three such clusters (see pic below of one). Indeed, it looks as if the three separate heads which have emerged over the past several years, are producing a cluster each. (According to the Wikipedia entry, ‘after the first flowering, it divides to form a much-branched crown.) So, we have a tousle headed cabbage tree which forms a mildly exotic focus to the view down the garden, and this year it’s giving us a good floral display as well.

What this all demonstrates is how much good luck seems to favour the fortunate gardener. Who would have thought that a cabbage tree would do so well in a garden with so many things going against successful cultivation? overlooked by a huge mature copper beech, east facing, poor soil which dries out very quickly, fleeting sunshine. The cabbage tree seems to have handled all of these constraints very successfully. Possibly this is because, to quote the Wikipedia entry, ‘It grows in a broad range of habitats, including forest margins, river banks and open places, and is abundant near swamps’, our garden resembling a forest margin, I suppose. I note in the same entry that it can grow up to 20 metres (66ft) tall, so there’s plenty more room for growth!

The cordyline now shares the bottom of the garden with a yellow stemmed and a black stemmed bamboo, which I planted, as well as a low growing fan palm (don’t ask the botanical name) which we also inherited; no doubt it was part of the modern, exotic scheme envisaged by the previous owner. I’m particular fond of bamboo, and would love to have a garden devoted entirely to the species. Recently, when travelling in Queensland, quite fortuitously, I discovered a nursery specializing in bamboo (see photo) and my own black stemmed bamboo, though present in the stock, appeared to be but a very poor relation to the magnificent bamboos that surrounded it. Alas, such varieties will never survive in the climate of the Thames Valley, so I’ll make do with the more modest varieties which do happily survive. (By contrast, in Queensland’s tropical climate, it seems that gardeners fear that bamboo will be invasive, and at the bamboo nursery, information on display reassured potential purchasers that most of the bamboos on sale were ‘non invasive’.)

Curiously, my two yellow stemmed bamboos, though having been acquired from the same nearby nursery, have behaved quite differently. This may be due to the differences in location because, although each is at the bottom of the garden, they are on different sides. The one in the least sunny location is doing extremely well, and is once again in the process of sending up what will be very tall stems, rising to about 10 feet. The one in the more sunny location has a disappointingly modest, low rise habit, and there is no danger of its being invasive!

Another New Zealand species is the Phormium, or, ‘flax’ as it was known before it, like the cordyline, moved up market. As a birthday gift, my daughter gave me a red leafed version some years ago, in a pot. As it grew, I decided to move it to the bottom of the garden where it could co-habit with the cabbage tree in a kind of Kiwi corner. Unfortunately, it didn’t do very well, there, so I returned it to a pot. It seemed to do even less well, and eventually, having split it up, and done my best to encourage pieces to thrive, I disposed of it. Is there, I wonder, an optimum potting mix for bringing on phormium? Coincidentally, Pamela, my next door neighbour, has recently planted a big phormium in a huge pot at the front of her house (part of her strategy to mask one of the multiple rubbish bins that we have been obliged to accept), so it will be interesting to see how successful it is.

Again, as with the cabbage tree, luck may play a part. Something which all gardeners, no matter how skilled and hard working, must, like farmers, always hope for!

More blog posts by kowhai

Previous post: The Naming of Plants

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wow nice,love the bamboo

13 Jun, 2010


Yes, the place was full of wonderful, covetable bamboo. Almost worth moving to Queensland for!

14 Jun, 2010


Bamboo is studiously avoided in most gardens here in Queensland ... well in gardens that are smaller than a few hectares anyway! A few of the neighbours out here have bamboo (not sure of the variety) but the stands cover almost 20 metres in both yards and they reach well over 30 feet tall ... great as windbreaks though!

Your Cordyline looks terrific ... they are stunning when they flower.

14 Jun, 2010

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