Friday, 17 June 2016

natural defences

Yesterday I finally planted my Gazania and Arctotis in the gravel by the entrance.  Gazania will actually keep for a remarkably long time in a very small pot, and will overwinter if kept frost free. I discovered this when several years ago I had some in a six by four modular tray that I never got around to potting on, and which ended up spending the entire winter sitting in the greenhouse.  The following year I finally potted them up, since rather to my amazement they were still alive, and they went on to make flowering plants.

I could have kept the Gazania back until the rabbit problem was under control, but didn't since I'm not going to have enough space in the greenhouse this winter as it is.  The seeds germinate quickly, and apart from the seedlings being vulnerable to over watering they are easy to grow, so my current plants can take their chance with the rabbits and I'll sow more next year.  So far so good, since the rabbits have not eaten them overnight.

They have had another chew at my array of pots on the concrete, all things waiting to be planted out, or possibly pressed on willing (and not so willing) friends or donated to garden club plant stalls if I can't find a space for them before they start to become hopelessly pot bound.  However, I now have a novel plan to keep rabbits at bay.  Some of the surplus plants on the concrete are Puya in five litre pots, while I have an awful lot more young Puya stuffed into one litre pots and desperate to be potted on along the back of the greenhouse staging.

I defy any rabbit to eat a Puya.  Indeed, any rabbit that so much as sniffs a Puya is likely to be rewarded with a painfully prickled nose.  Puya are terrestrial bromeliads, which is to say members of the pineapple family that live on the ground, and their long grey leaves are arranged in rosettes like the tufts on top of a pineapple but enormously scaled up.  In response to the barren conditions of their native Andes they have evolved sets of sharp spines down the edges of their leaves, each spine curving inwards towards the heart of the rosette like a hook.  These are designed to trap and hold any grazing animal unwise enough to poke its questing nose into the plant, which may remain caught until it dies and its rotting carcass can nourish the roots of the Puya.

I have been moving the Puya in one litre pots into two litres, and arranging them and the bigger plants as a barrier around the other pots.  My hope is that the rabbits will give up on encountering the Puya palisade, and not manage to get at the trays of Verbena bonariensis, Oenothera, Centaurea nigra and Malva moschata behind them, all of which they had a chew at last night.  It's a theory.  If it works then the Puya will see me right until the autumn, at which point I have to work out how on earth to overwinter them given the quantity of other things I need to fit in the greenhouse.  They would take temperatures down to freezing if kept dry, but not below zero while sitting sopping wet in a black plastic pot.

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