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Although this could very well be a picture of me finding a new treasure at a favorite nursery, it's actually an illustration by David Catrow for a children's book called Plantzilla.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Resurrectionem mortuorum

You may have heard many gardeners in the Pacific Northwest discussing the phormium killing winters of 2009 - 2010 and 2010 -2011.  These winters packed quite a punch and what phormiums that weren't killed in the first PKW were killed in the second.   For many years, there were five huge
specimens in raised beds outside of a nearby parking structure.  The elevation of the beds further enhanced the great size of these monsters.  I watched with sadness as these and the other phormiums around town bit the dust. Unfortunately, I've not a picture of the former grandeur of these plants. Some made a valliant effort to come back from the roots after the first winter only to be cut down again by the second. The last couple of winters have been relatively mild in comparison.   Driving by recently, I thought that the plants had been replaced.



Upon getting out of my car to take a closer look, it seems that the original plants were left in place and have been resurrected from the dead!  I'm naming this one Lazarus!

While these are only about a quarter of their previous size, they will soon regain their former stature if winters aren't too harsh.   The lesson:  One should not be too hasty to give up hope.

Resilient buggers aren't they?  Do you suppose that the additional drainage was helpful to their survival?  Can you think of a reason that these  would return while so many others didn't? 
I'm so looking forward to welcoming phormiums back into my garden this year!  Will you be taking the plunge?  The nurseries are certainly stocking them again in a way that they haven't since the PKW's!  Is there a plant of marginal hardiness in your area that you'll be trying or trying again this season?

18 comments:

  1. We lost our huge Phormium tenax winter 2010-11 (as so did lots of other plants, that winter was nasty), dug up in the spring and replaced with something else. It probably would have attempted to come back but it was in such a prominent spot that if I kept it would have been a eyesore we had to lived with for more than a year. Might reconsider introducing Phormiums again but this time smaller growing ones like from the species cookianum :)

    That surviving Phormium is a tough one! If it flowers and sets seed it's worth collecting them...

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    1. You probably hit the nail on the head with the diggng out business. Many gardeners, not having the desire to allow big plants to simply sit looking dead for a season replaced them. Because these have lots of vegitation to camouflage the dead vegitation, they were simply left aloe.

      Good pointer about collecting seed! I'll keep my eye on those!

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  2. They are gorgeous plants and I have avoided them because of the hardiness issue. Your post is encouraging and I will give phormium a try now. Of course with two mild winters behind us, the next one could be PKW.

    We had two killer winters in a row and I left all my "dead" plants in the ground. Many of them sent out shoots much later and very slowly. Most are still smaller but more compact and in some cases look better and healthier than before. Don't give up is a good lesson.

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    1. Glad you'll be giving phormiums a try and will look forward to hearing about their hardiness in your area with it's huge temperature swings.

      Plants are interestng critters! Glad to hear that your patience paid off!

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  3. Always amazes me what comes back and what doesn't. Who knows. I have had things that are "bullet-proof" side by side in the garden and after years one just konks out and the other doesn't.

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    1. Crazy isn't it? Go figure. I guess that's one of the many things that keeps us iterested in gardening!

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  4. Okay, I'm soo with you on the phormiums. They played such a prominent role in my garden and life. They were my go to plant. And then all was shattered. I didn't even know they were marginal when I planted them because big ones were everywhere. But I have already re-introduced them. In less prominent was albeit, but they are around. I just pray that no more PKWs show up.

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    1. I think that we'll probably have enough years of non PKW's to let them get really cool looking again before we get another 15 year weird cold snap. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all so here's to another decade or so of fabulous phormiums!

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  5. How cool that this one came back. It may be smaller, but it still makes a great architectural element in that combo. Maybe I'll try one. It's such a striking plant, it's hard not to put it in a really prominent position.

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    1. Actually there are 4 of the 5 that came back! I guess we'll just have to enjoy them as long as we can!

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  6. Phormium would be a definite no go for me. I still have dreams of a Tetrapanax after seeing them everywhere when I was out your way last summer. Plant Delights has them rated as zone 7a and I believe my patio garden is a zone 7 microclimate. Best I order early and get it spring planted then cross my fingers.

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    1. You're right, no phormium for you unless you want to haul it inside for the winter. I bet you'll be able to do tetrapanax & even if they die to the ground in the winter, they'll come back from the roots. Hooray!

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  7. Parting with Phormiums was a wrenching emotional crisis. Now you're telling me to go through it all again? I never had you pegged as an evil seducer.

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    1. The name's Beelzebub ma'am but my friends just call me Bub. You want phormiums with their statuesque presence and interesing colors. Go ahead, give in to your desires. Heh, heh, heh.

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  8. At the end of the first PKW I had a heart to heart with Mr Hogan. He recommended I trim back the dead foliage to 4" or so from the ground. Fertilize it well, give it plenty of water once it warmed up that summer and then plant a new 5-gallon Phormium right next to it. You're laughing but that's exactly what I did, minus the first half of the sentence (in other words I dug, tossed and replaced). Then guess what...dead all over again. I saw signs they'd come back but in my small garden I just couldn't bear to dedicate the space for waiting. Oh ya I should mention I had 12 or 13 of these in my garden that first year. So that was the end of the love affair for me, or so I thought. They're slowly inching their way back into my garden, only because we've had back to back (so far) Phormium friendly winters. Last March when I was in San Francisco I was blown away by their huge plants, how quickly I'd forgotten what a statement they made.

    (sorry for the super long comment, you've obviously touched a nerve)

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    1. Love the long comment! I didn't mean to bring up bad memories of your former relationship with these heart breakers! Digging phormiums out is a huge undertaking! I planted sort of temporary stuff next to mine in hopes that they would come back. One of them sent up a little growth the first year which was killed the second. I've got a 'Guardsman' in a pot that gets to spend the cold days in the glass room and another one or two other varieties planted out in the garden. I'd like to add three more this year.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love to hear your thoughts.