Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Trewidden Inspired

Aloe polyphylla
I like going to garden and plant shows, you always come home with ideas you can apply to your own garden. Not just design ideas but also ways to manage some of the plants you already grow in the garden.

And one good example is how I came about deciding what to do with my spare Aloe polyphylla.

We have several already in the garden, two have been planted out since last year and sailed through last winter, another one recently planted, and one waiting in the wings until the construction of the pond pergola has been finished. They are all in the new garden where the raised beds are, an area that receives lots of sun and by the very nature of raised beds, well drained.

Newly planted this year
Aloe polyphylla has been fine permanently growing outside in our garden (I have lost one before though, not because of winter but because it got stepped on and crushed to death, long story!!) and sails through the winter unprotected. This and a couple more aloes (A. aristata and A. striatula) I find are hardy enough in our garden in most winters. There’s one or two more aloes out there that are potentially hardier than perceived but I have yet to try them myself so I’ll keep mum about them for now.

Pardon the mess! This one is about 14'' in diameter
So is this Aloe hardy? Nope, I won’t be brazen enough to say that with conviction. And besides, what is ‘Hardy’ anyway? The definition is much longer and to answer it is a long discussion in its own right.

I would say though that this Aloe is one of the few that are worth the gamble on being planted out in the garden. Like all living things there are no hundred percent guarantees but it seems much less riskier than most of the aloes out there. And if you do plant one out, it’s worth siting in the most sheltered spot you can find for it. A spot that ideally gets winter sun on a well draining soil that doesn’t dry out too much in the summer as this aloe seems to appreciate a richer soil than most succulents would prefer.

The biggest in the garden, this one is about 16'' in diameter
Or if such a spot simply doesn’t exist in your garden or your area gets really cold in the winter, you can always grow one in a pot that can be shifted under cover during the winter.

One thing I have observed though is how much this aloe loves a free root run and grows so quick if given generous root space. And that’s the main advantage of planting it out where it can root away happily into its surrounding space.

Although we have several planted out already, you can never be sure. If possible I always try to have back up plants of most of the ones that get planted out and this is no exception. Having back up plants reassures you that at least you one or two tucked away safely in case the weather gets too adverse and losses are incurred (you always hope you never lose any of course!).

Waiting in the wings! The fourth one with other plants that are to be planted in the area once pergola has been built
The only thing though is I can see how stunted my remaining back up plant already is, kept in the original small pot it came in for years. It’s actually from the same batch as the ones planted out last year the difference in size between them is very obvious. Poor back up aloe, it looks like it is suffering in its small pot!!

And then I remembered that show plant Trewidden had in the recently concluded Chelsea Flower Show. It is a huge plant, healthy, pristine, and flowering away despite being in a pot. It was the centrepiece of their gold winning stand and one of the star plants of the show. It’s permanently kept in a pot of course so they can take it with them easily on all the plant shows they participate at. The main difference though is that it is in a large pot hence has a generous root space that keeps their specimen happy.

Trewidden's stunning Aloe polyphylla
So I thought, why not treat my back up plant the same way? Over pot it and let it relish a bigger root space and hopefully it will become a fantastic specimen too that I can position in the summer anywhere I wish, a lovely mobile display by virtue of being in a pot.

Claire and Jeff posing for us with their well deserved gold medal and their star plant!
Two things though: most likely I’ll never plant this one out (large pot=large hole to dig) and will remain in a pot. Second, as it will be under glass in the winter it will be heavier to shift around and will occupy more precious space. I don’t mind, if I get it looking as good as the one Trewidden has then it’s worth the extra effort. And also I feel that I’m giving this plant the long overdue extra attention it needed after suffering in its small pot for a long time.

My spare plant re-potted. The original pot to the left compared to it's new pot. This is the same age as our biggest one, that's how stunted it was!
This is one of the rare times I severely over pot a plant but I’m hoping the plant will appreciate the extra generous space and reward me by growing quick and looking pretty. And if I'm lucky I might get it looking just as good as Trewidden's!


  1. I just picked up my first one, it's not in the best shape but I've been reading up on it to hopefully increase my chances of success. Such a lovely plant. Any extra hints? What kind of soil do you use? I was thinking of planting my 1 gallon sized plant into a pot almost the size of a half barrel as I've read in your post and elsewhere they enjoy large root systems. Excellent and relevant post to my plant hoarding.

  2. Hi Nellie, the large aloe is gorgeous isn't it? :)

    Hi Nat, I reckon your aloe will recover very quickly once repotted. I used a mix of JI, compost, slow release fertiliser, perlite, and some grit. Sounds a rich mix for most succulents but this one appreciates the extra nutrients. If you'll overwinter it in a heated greenhouse you can be extra generous in your potting mix. If for outside make it less rich and extra gritty. You'll love the way this plant develops in time, especially once you start seeing it develop the spiral :)

  3. That is one beautiful plant. I'd love to be able to grow them outside, but even in a pot, I have no space to bring it in the winter. I think it's a good idea for you to do a container one also.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

  4. That's true Cher, apart from being a back up plant it will make for a nice potted display in the summer months too :)

  5. Very well thought out - I'm sure it will work. Does the flower grow from the outside of the plant? - it's difficult to tell from the photo.

  6. Hope so b-a-g! The spike seems to come out from the base hence lookin like growing outside, which is handy as it doesn't ruin the symmetry of the plant :)

  7. Wow, four polyphyllas! The ones in the ground look amazing. My polyphylla has always been in a pot. I recently moved it to a significantly larger pot than before and I was amazed by how root-bound it was even though the previous container was not tiny.

    I've seen very large potted polyphyllas at Succulent Garden and they were clearly happy--they had began to spiral, in fact.

  8. That's good to hear that you've seen several in large pots looking happy Gerhard! Four is not much really compared to others who grew theirs from seed, they have loads now! :)

  9. You might have chosen a nicer pot to put it in if it is going to stay in it for a while!

    Just bought another replacement as they seem to be a bit tricksie for me - a big pot means wetter soil which I have found a problem in the winter.

  10. Lol! Hi Tony, with plants in functional black pots I tend to place them inside nicer pots or clad them with brushwood screening when displayed.

    With some of my succulents, this one included, if I will overwinter them inside a heated greenhouse I use a richer potting mix which helps in quicker growth. I still minimise watering in the winter though. If to be overwintered outdoors or unheated shelter then I grow them much harder.

    Good luck with the replacement! It can be a variable plant, some hardier than others so might be worth getting a few just in case...

  11. It really was an impressive plant at Chelsea: suprised to hear how hardy it is,may give it a try in my London garden

  12. Richard - Well worth a try a try in London, should be hardy enough for you?

  13. One of my very favorite plants, and really, really, difficult in my climate. It must love your climate far more than mine. I'm keeping ice cubes on the soil around mine now to keep it cool. One thing--maybe a touch more water to prevent those brown tips. It's a balancing act, though.

  14. Hi Hoover, thanks for the tip, they would have been very dry over winter as we had little rain, that would account for it. Its been very wet lately so no issues there!

  15. I have one myself and I think it was in too small a pot. So last year I transplanted it and then the big pot got knocked over and broke. So out it spilled. Geez, now it is in another pot and I think for the first time I will leave it outside. I have never done that before because I was afraid. So wish me luck and cross your fingers.

    To have four is awesome! And your oldest is perfect!


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