Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Time to Say Goodbye

Astelia nervosa 'Westland' (centre) in 2006
By the way, before it causes any confusion this post is not about us leaving the blog-o-sphere (nope, far from it!) but rather about one of the plants we've had since we started cultivating this garden and going for the exotic theme. A plant that has been with us since then that I decided to let go this year.

Astelia nervosa 'Westland' appealed to me from the very beginning with it's metallic, silvery-bronze, arching leaves which turns even darker in the heights of summer and again in the winter. A lovely looking, architectural plant from New Zealand that is rather undemanding in its growth requirements, naturally growing as a terrestrial epiphyte in its native habitat. And indeed it has been undemanding in its care, living in the same pot since 2005 and has been moved all over the place as a mobile display, from full sun to full shade and everything else in between. No special treatment either, almost bordering on being neglected with it being watered only when I remember to and feed it every so often (it is an epiphytic plant after all). And it never seemed to complain in all that time, looking happy and growing away and sailing through the some of the harsher winters we've had with very little damage...

Back in 2006
Until the winter before last that is...

It started to look scruffy last year, perhaps due to the very cold winter earlier in that year or it's finally outgrown the size of the pot it is in and is showing signs of distress. Or it could be both. I don't know for certain but for a plant in a reasonably big pot which makes it very visible wherever I place it (bar placing it inside a shed) it is no longer serving its main purpose: looking good.

Fast track to 2011
There is a fine line most gardeners have to tread on from time to time; between nurturing and caring for each and every plant one owns until they look good and do well again as long as there is life to them; or about being pragmatic and objective in managing ones garden and plants and are able to decide whether to keep a plant or not with very little emotion to it, even if the plant is very much alive and healthy.

In this case, the plant was very much alive, it was just looking very scruffy and despite leaving it for an entire year with extra year and it carried on being scruffy (if not looking worse) and it was testing my patience.

So I took the pragmatic route and made the decision to just let it go. Because of the awkward shape of the pot I had to trim it down to a stump and sever the roots before pulling it out. Perhaps I could have just divided what was pulled and tried to propagate from there but I thought it was too much time and hassle for it's worth.

Or was it worth it?

Normally when I have to get rid of a healthy plant I'm pretty stoic and self assured but with this one I felt a bit doubtful if it was the right thing to do or not, to just bin it just like that. After all, it is one of the original plants we had when we started this garden and there are associated memories attached to it. But I just did it anyway, thinking that I'll just be wasting my time if I keep hesitating what I will eventually do anyway.

So now it is gone and out, and I have an empty pot and I'm trying to decide now what to do with it.

Out it goes, 2012
And speaking of pots, it's worth considering the shape of a pot when choosing the type of plant you will put in it, whether it will stay there longer or not. The more awkward the shape of the pot, the more difficult it is to repot the plant in the future without harming the plant or destroying the pot in the process.

So a blog post about one plant and one pot, so what? In this way it also demonstrates the general approach one has to take when it comes to managing a garden. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic and make decisions for the long term good of the garden or other plants you wish to keep, even if it means getting rid of plants that are still truly well and alive. It's not always nice to do and not for the faint hearted but it has to be done. A gardener is the steward of his own garden and is responsible for shaping it and caring for it, not just on individual plants but as a whole. For often what turns out unpleasant at first turns out for the better in the long run.

Like now I have more flexibility in re-arranging this little area without dragging a large pot of Astelia, and I have an empty pot ready to be filled with something new.

Mark :-)


  1. I'm with you 100%. Sometimes the aesthetic factor has to take precedence. And it was such a beautiful plant in the 2006 photo.

    What's funny, I've been THIS close to buying a Astelia chathamica on more than one occasion but then I decided against it because I thought it would look ratty pretty quickly if its leaves were less than perfect (and we get high winds at times that shred leaves).

    On pot shade: You are totally right. I removed two clumping bamboos from an urn-shaped pot last year and it wasn't easy, to say the least. I now lean towards pots that are wider on top than on the bottom, with no bulging out and no inward-leaning lips. I want a clear shot at pulling the root ball out with minimum effort.

  2. It's hard to let things go we've cared for. I've felt that way as I keep moving perennials out for flowering shrubs, but times change. You'll find something fantastic to fill your pot.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. I understand your decision. Personally, I like the challenge of nursing sick plants back to life. Probably explains why my garden looks like a hospital and yours is spectacular.

  4. I've done the opposite a few times too, and broke a container to set a healthy plant free. Never regretted it.

    I'm currently trying to decide what to do about a large Furcraea that has seen better days. I'm thinking of planting it in the ground to see if setting it free improves its looks. But then if it does I won't want to just let it die in the fall and will be faced with digging it up...decisions!

  5. RIP Astelia, but as you say there are positives. I've got two hostas I've been growing in the same pots for over ten years, and really they need to come out to be divided. But they will not shift. I'd have to break the pots to get them out. So the old things struggle on each year and they still look good despite being totally root bound. I'm sure you'll find something nice to go in the pot. A nice grass perhaps?

  6. I can't claim to be a gardener, although I do keep some plants. I completely agree, though, that sometimes it is time to let a plant go, even when it's not dead. No regrets.

  7. Had you replanted it in a 7:4:2 mix with a touch of Ruthenium then it would have sprung into life and looked better than ever, in a few days. But you did not even try-is that how you treat long standing plant friends? Bloody selfish I say.
    You know that Trachy you have had for many years-well it has one tatty leaf so it's time on this earth is numbered:-)
    Watch out Gaz it looks like Mark is on a "Out with the old--in with the new phase, so your days may be numbered also:-)

  8. When I do decide to throw out a plant, I sometimes see them weeks later clinging to life on the compost heap. So I feel guilty, have a change of heart and whisk them back to the greenhouse. Narrow topped pots are a pain aren't they? I have learnt to no longer buy them.

  9. Hi Gerhard, it was such a pretty plant back then which makes me wonder if I should replace it with another one but start with a small one which will buy me years before I need to do this again. Saying that I think Astelias are hit or miss plants, it either does well for you or not and quickly becomes scruffy. Some of the nicest looking pots are the ones with awkward shapes which makes re-potting difficult.

    Indeed Cher, it's not always easy but you have to be objective every so often :)

    Thanks b-a-g :) I like nursing plants back to life too but in some case you have to weight between the two sides if you're maintaining a garden.

    Hi Loree, that's a tricky one indeed! The Furcraea would love getting planted out and have a free root run but then again risk having it killed with the winter. But then again it could also thrive and do well in your garden? Decision decisions! As for pots I've also broken some before to keep the rootball intact, no regrets either but fortunately they weren't expensive pots.

  10. Hi Martin, glad to know that at least the Hostas still look good despite being in the same pot for years. I think Hostas make a really good pot plants. Grasses are a good suggestion as replacement, and I can trim it back down every spring and start from fresh growth.

    Hi Dimple, no regrets indeed :)

    LOL Don! I'm afraid it's not the same with plant friends, some are definite keepers ;) And tatty Trachy leaves can be trimmed away. And yes Gaz is a keeper, stuck with him for good, lol!

    Hi David, out of sight out of mind so best to make sure you don't see them again to resist temptation. Narrow topped pots are a pain indeed, it's such a shame as some of them looks good. They'll be good for annuals and bedding type of plants though.

  11. Last week, we gave away two cordylines we had grown from seed (from seed dropped by one of the cordylines in our garden). They had grown too big for their pots and pots any bigger than they were in would be too big for our garden. If we had kept them as they were, they would have died. They have gone to a new home where they will be planted in the ground. It all makes sense - but I went and hid in the bathroom for a bit after they'd been driven away because I found I was crying.

  12. Hi Esther, sorry to hear that, not always easy to let go of plants you have grown fond of. Most gardeners, us included see the plants we grow almost as pets and care for and grow fond of them as time passes by. At least you know they're going to good homes where they will grow well. Something to smile about :)

  13. aloha,

    i understand that feeling especially with older plants that just don't give the same anymore....sometimes with these I end up moving them to the back of the garden, or maybe I would have just shaved the top and trimmed the rootball, add some fertilizer and put it the back out of view and take a wait and see attitude.

  14. Hi Mark, yes you got me there, i thought there are some extreme changes with you! But it was just that, haha, one of them is leaving. And i agree with you, everything in a garden depends on the gardener. I do it a lot of times, and most of the time neglect them! [I see you also have AdSense in there, i applied twice and both disapproved, am disappointed and stressed why they said they didn't like my content, grrr! it is difficult when I am not so good with computer English]

  15. Hi Andrea, they say gardening is about controlling nature (only to a degree of course, nature always wins). Lovely to see you again :)

  16. I like astellias but they do get a bit tatty round the edges in our garden. so far I have just tidied them up. It's harder if they are in a pot.
    I still have far too many badly shaped pots ie ones that are too narrow at the top to get the plant out of without breaking it up. I'm learning to consider the shape before I buy!

  17. I love urn shaped pots but if I put plants in it I first use a plastic pot that is a size smaller so you can get your plant out a lot easier.Ofcourse you have to try to cammouflage the plastic pot with small trailing plants or so.

  18. Janet, we have learnt about pot shapes the hard way sometimes, there have been some that we have just had to break to set the plant free.

    Anonymous, that's a good tip will have to use that one!

  19. I sympathise. The biggest mistake I've made was to put Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' in a blue glazed urn like pot. It looked fabulous but when the time came to move it on to more generous quarters I couldn't get it out of the pot without almost complete destruction. I've learned that lesson. Permanent plantings go in a pot that I can easily release the rootball from!


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