Hartley Magazine

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Lia’s tender plants are tucked away for the winter

At this moment in the year I love to see all of my semi tender plants tucked away in the mini greenhouse. The temperature has dropped and my aeoniums, pelargoniums and other succulents suddenly looked delicate and vulnerable in a way that they hadn’t a week or so earlier as they bathed in late summer light. I know that as autumn and winter wear on I will fret about them and this may not be quite enough cover, and I will be desperate to see them out and beautifully arranged around my veranda again, but for now this is a very pleasing and cosy moment. Autumn has arrived and with it cold nights, and I am grateful to be able to tuck them away, safe, for now.

All but one, that is. We have reconfigured shelving and tried all sorts of ways, but the biggest of my aeoniums is just taking up too much space to be in the snug mini greenhouse next to the house, and the bigger greenhouse gets too cold for it. Aeoniums are the only plants I really collect and they were a daft plant to fall for because they are not straightforward. In particular they are tricky plants to get through winter. They hate the indoors, but a hard frost will kill them dead, so you have to find a kind of half way house for them, which has always been provided for mine by the mini greenhouse. This is the trouble – if you can call it that – with having had a couple of mild winters in a row: this particular one has survived, and thrived, until it’s too big for me. I don’t think I’ve got this far with an aeonium before, because they have always been hit by some disaster, usually frost related, before they have got this large, and this one is really is starting to rival the ones I lust after on my Cornish holidays, big and fat, the ones that started me gathering them in the first place.

Puzzled over what to do to protect it we brought it in for a few days and it looked spectacular at the bottom of the stairs but I know from trying in the past that these plants really hate being indoors for winter. It would have looked good for a few weeks and then gradually turned more and more sickly looking and by that time it would have been softened up by indoor living, just as the weather was turning ever colder, making it impossible to move it back out.

We have settled in the end on a sunny corner right next to the kitchen door, in among the brushes and the mop and bucket, but hopefully picking up a little of the warmth of the kitchen. It doesn’t look beautiful there, but we have found a piece of horticultural fleece and are pulling it over it each night. They can put up with a good bit of cold and really like the light and the air of being outdoors, I just hope that the night we forget with the fleece isn’t the night of the first hard frost, although it is almost bound to be.

The other aeoniums are tucked away neatly in the mini greenhouse among the pelargoniums, and should cold weather come I can throw a blanket over them, or even put a little low-energy heater in there. If the weather is on my side, aeoniums big and small will make it through unscathed and ready to be arranged around my veranda next summer, to help me imagine I’m in Cornwall again.