The cold winter of 2009/2010 killed many non-native plants, but take a risk with the Acacia

WE lost the run of ourselves in Ireland for a number of years, didn’t we? 

The cold winter of 2009/2010 killed many non-native plants, but take a risk with the Acacia

We thought we were untouchable and that things would never go wrong, but then, of course, it all changed — and the extreme cold of early 2010 knocked out so many of our garden plants.

Plants that we knew, deep down, weren’t suitable to be grown outdoors in Ireland, Gulf Stream or no, but which had survived several years in our gardens came to a frosty end in 2009/2010 .

Many years of growth were wiped out, overnight and those that did survive were dealt a knockout punch later that year, when the extreme cold returned via temperatures as low as -17C, whitening gardens in snow cover for several weeks.

It seems unbelievable now, even looking at photos of that period, it’s hard to believe that I experienced it, but like many gardeners all over the country, I suffered severe losses that year and some irreplaceable jewels are gone forever.

Tree ferns which had found unlikely new homes in gardens throughout the south, must have wondered what they had done to deserve being exiled from the balmy southern hemisphere of Australia to cold, wet gardens on a rock in the Atlantic.

Braheas, Phoenix palms, Butias, and many more exotic palms, like Yuccas and Agaves, specimens that cost serious amounts of euro, turned to mush in a matter of days.

I knew of a few gardeners who, up to that winter, regarded Strelitzea, or Bird of Paradise, as a suitable plant to be left outside all winter in Cork. Many of us were brought crashing back to earth that year.

As the country is beginning to recover from the recession and people are living again, we dare to talk of economic growth and to look to the future optimistically, once more. So, too, we gardeners are allowing ourselves to be bold again.

Acacia — Wattle, Mimosa, call it what you will — is a genus of several species, all of which can be grown here, but with varying degrees of hardiness.

I remember we had one growing when I was a small child and it held centre stage in a large greenhouse. It was probably about 20 or 30 year’s old and I loved its soft, furry foliage and each year about now it produced masses of tiny puffball, yellow flowers.

The Acacia, too, is native to Australia and even in the greenhouse, with the protection of the glass, it fell victim to a particularly cold spell and, one morning, I woke to find a tree with brown furry foliage where it should have been green.

No amount of wishing on my part, or mulching with good compost and pruning, would save it. Many people suffered the same fate in 2010, as the Acacia is not hardy here. Some will have survived, but they are the exceptions, and if yours did then count yourself lucky.

I plucked up the courage last year to plant another one. I was looking for a small evergreen tree for a particular area of the garden. It is getting a fair amount of sunlight and is sheltered by a two-metre high wall.

When I need a plant for a certain area, I look at it as an opportunity to introduce something new into the garden and, if possible, the new addition should bring more than a fleeting period of interest.

With that in mind, the variety that I chose, and which is quite simply my favourite of all the Mimosas, is Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’, also called the blue- or purple-leaved Mimosa.

It will grow to about 3m, provided the winters allow it, and it creates a beautiful, fluffy effect, about 1.5m in width. It will develop into a small tree, a bit cloud-like in texture with gorgeous, green foliage, which has a strong, blue hue, the new growth being quite purple in colour.

The yellow inside the flower buds of my new specimen is just bursting to come out, show itself off to the world, and attract the bees that are about so early in the year.

It’s great to have something showing colour at this time of the year, but, as I say, I like my plants to offer more than just one period of interest and this Acacia does that with its fantastic foliage and texture. Evergreen , it’s a plant that brings something to the garden each month of the year.

Hopefully, the winters will be kind and I’ll enjoy this beauty for years to come.

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