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4 November 2014

Phormiums - Adding Shape and Colour to Your Garden

I have a Phormium Tenax Purpureum growing in a container in my coastal garden, and it has kept going for a few years now with the minimum of attention. If you are looking for a hardy plant which will add a sculptural element to your garden it could be one to consider.

Phormiums, also known as New Zealand Flax, are hardy evergreen plants, and they are especially good for coastal and windswept gardens. They can be found in a wide range of colours, from yellow-green to dark purple, via pink and red, especially if you investigate a specialist nursery. They make a large clump of leathery, strap-shaped leaves, with tall panicles of small, tubular flowers in summer. They can easily tolerate temperatures down to minus 5C and normally minus 10C if basic precautionary measures are taken. Just provide them with a deep and dry mulch of peat, bark, leaf mould or leaves around the base of the plants, and between individual shoots if you have a large clump with many side shoots. The leaves of larger clumps provide a degree of protection, though they may get split and scarred by the wind.

Phormiums grow best in full sun in a moist but well drained soil, but will still grow well in poorer soils providing they are given regular granular feeds of a nitrogen based fertiliser. They will grow quickly if they are well fed, providing a colourful foliage display, and for this reason are popular with councils for use on roundabouts and for roadside planting schemes.

Phormiums are most easily propagated by division in the spring. Simply dig around the plant and gently prise away some of the side shoots from the main clump. The side shoots will have developed their own root systems and care should be taken to ensure that the offsets do have some roots with them. If these are small and inadequate, then pot them on and keep them in the greenhouse for a year while they become established enough to be returned to the garden.

Phormiums are pretty much pest free though they can sometimes have a problem with mealy bugs. Outside in the garden, birds usually control this pest naturally, but when phormiums are grown in pots on patios or in the garden the mealy bugs can however appear unsightly, and you may want to use an insecticide.

Some varieties of Phormium for you to look out for are:-

Sundowner - an evergreen perennial forming a clump of erect leaves to 1m or more, bronze-green striped towards the margins with red and pink. Flowers yellowish, seldom produced.

Variegatum - a clump-forming evergreen perennial with erect, strap-shaped leaves to 1.8m in length, green striped with cream towards the margins. Flowers dull red, in large panicles

Duet - an evergreen perennial up to 80cm in height, with sword-shaped leaves green in the centre, variegated with cream along the margins. Flowers yellowish, seldom produced.

Evening Glow - an evergreen perennial with bright red and pink leaves which are erect at first and then spreading. Height and spread 75cm.
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