Plants that disappoint

Four years ago

Four years ago, I wrote of this roadside shelter belt:

“Finally, coming home, I stopped to record the effective trimming of this Cupressus x Leylandii down the road. It was just an ordinary shelter belt until the lower canopy was recently lifted, exposing the trunks. The fact the branches have been trimmed reasonably flush helps but it adds a whole new dimension, being able to look through. It has turned an unmemorable shelter belt into something much more graceful and distinctive.”

And today. Cypress canker.

Sadly, it did not stay that way. Now it is a prime example of canker, a common problem in cypress and why the quick growing Leylandii has fallen from favour.  Canker is a fungus (two forms of seridium, in NZ at least), incurable and untreatable. It may or not be related to the limbing up carried out earlier, but it is all a bit academic now. Taking out the dying hedge is going to be a major operation for the property owner at some stage in the future.

Cypress canker

Some cupressus species and named varieties are much more susceptible than others and if you are thinking of planting any, it would pay to do an online search. There is a handy reference here from Agriculture Victoria. The names many of us know like ‘Leighton Green’, ‘Castwellan Gold’, ‘Naylors Blue’ and ‘Swanes Golden’ are all particularly susceptible. Best not to plant them in the first place, would be my advice. The cost of removal is going to be hugely greater than the cost of initial purchase.

The sparrows are stripping the flower stems bare as they open

While on disappointing plants, it is the pesky sparrows that are making me think there is no point in growing Stipa gigantea. I have used it quite extensively in the new grass garden and I will give it another year to see if sheer quantity can defeat the sparrow population. But the signs are not looking good and I may have to replace it with something else. The flower spikes are barely forming before being stripped by sparrows and bare stalks don’t do a whole lot for the garden aesthetic.

This is how I envisaged my Stipa gigantea would look

The whole point of Stipa gigantea is the gentle waving flower and seedhead which is very tall and golden – hence its common name of golden oats or giant feather grass. It appears to be compulsory in every modern British garden which is where we first saw it. And my friend Robyn Kilty praises its virtues in her little garden in Christchurch. It is a tidy grass with attractive glaucous foliage, easy to multiply by division and appears to be sterile so doesn’t set seed like many of the grasses.

I will be disappointed if I don’t get my sea of ethereal, waving golden orbs. I blame the early settlers. Could they not have left the sparrows (and blackbirds, many common slugs and snails, rabbits, ferrets, stoats and a host of other bothersome introductions) back in Old Blighty?

Look at the stipa in the background. I wanted that height and gentle movement

Postscript: while on disappointing plants, my Stachys Bella Grigio died completely. As predicted by a number of people who had a similar experience with this new release a few years back.

14 thoughts on “Plants that disappoint

  1. jaspersdoggyworld

    I saw a Stachys Bella Grigio in a garden while on a garden tour. It certainly stood out in this small urban garden. I have followed your progress with it with interest, I’d still love to try to grow it but suspect it will suffer the same fate as yours.

  2. Elaine Bolitho

    I just learned recently of the reason for importing sparrows – apparently, in early Canterbury there was a particularly pesky caterpillar that ate all the grain crops, and made the railway lines so squishy slippery that the trains could not run. Sparrow were imported to eat the caterpillars so the settlers could have their wheat, oats and barley! But that doesn’t really help your grass problem Abbie!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Such a shame those sparrows did not stay in Canterbury! I bet the offending caterpillar was also an import. Our history is like the old lady who swallowed a fly.

  3. Kiyel Candy-Boland

    Hi Abbie,
    Do you know where i can get Stipa gigantea, from. Im trying to get a collection of larger grasses but never see them listed any where .

  4. Robyn Kilty

    Well it”s marauding neighbourhood cats who sit all over my Stipa gigantea and my other grasses squashing
    the young tender plumes flat which are just forming so that they never look tall and ethereal either. Even C.Karl Foerster gets the flattened out treatment too, and they have killed or dug out several C.buchananii. so disheartening!!

  5. Tim Dutton

    We have a large Thuja plicata that has been suffering die-back for a couple of years now. Looks very similar to your photo, so I wonder if the same canker can affect that?
    Sparrows have been a problem for us: I can only grow peas under nets, since they discovered they like the foliage, and this year they have taken a liking to the new foliage on the Rosa ‘Sparrieshoop’ that grows up the front of the chicken house. The best defence there is to let the chickens out early…the sparrows then all go into the chicken house to find any grains that the chickens have spilt and leave the rose alone.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I see Thuja plicata is rated ‘less susceptible’ but not immune to canker.
      Mark now grows many of his crops under cloches because of the birds. The quail had a good go at eating the brussel sprouts and leafy greens in particular but everything is after the strawberries.

  6. Tim Dutton

    We also have to contend with kereru plucking the flowers and young leaves from the apple trees.

  7. tonytomeo

    I just recently (although after your article posted) wrote about Leyland cypress. It does about the same here, which is why it is now rather rare in nurseries. I would not mind it for temporary applications, but only in rural areas where permits would not be necessary to remove the trees. Monterey cypress is native nearby.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Mark was remembering back to his early nursery days in the mid 80s when leylandii cultivars were the hottest line in the nursery world, promising super quick, super easy results for propagator, grower and customer. It took a few years for their shortcomings to become all too obvious. There are better nurse crops to give short term shelter while slower growing permanent shelter grows.

      1. tonytomeo

        Oh yes; I remember that, although we lacked the variety of cultivars. For windbreaks, they worked out nicely if planted in front of something more permanent, or alternating with it. Unfortunately, I did not work with those that worked out nicely. I inspected many in suburban areas. There is one mature specimen at work that looks rather happy now, but could die at any moment.

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