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Death of birthday presents


By balcony


“Death of birthday presents” must seem a pretty funny name to call a blog! But that is just what has happened to me. Back in May this year my son bought me 3 plants of my choice from a gardening centre. He took me there in his car & told me to choose whatever I liked (yes, I did wonder if he had come into some big money as well!)

As I’d been thinking for some months of changing from seasonal planting to fixed planting on the balcony I thought to myself ‘What better moment than now to get a few small shrubs & put them in the long white troughs on the balcony floor?’ If I did that I wouldn’t have to empty them out twice a year. So I started to look for some small shrubs that grew little more than knee high so they could live in the troughs for some years but wouldn’t get so big that they outgrew their space.

There is a bar that runs around the middle of the balcony railing & I like to put another 3 small troughs on them as well as some pots. The railings are covered with chicken wire which I put up when we moved into this flat 17 years ago. At that time we had 5 little dogs and at first they would escape from the balcony & run towards the road, (we live on the ground floor), so I bought some chicken wire to enclose the balcony. I can tie the troughs to the chicken wire & the central bar & have pots of plants balancing on the bar but tied to the chicken wire so they don’t fall off.

I bought a Fuchsia with golden foliage called ‘Genii’, a Philadelphus (Mock Orange) with variegated foliage & a Potentilla with lovely buttercup yellow flowers. I checked the heights of the plants on the labels before buying them & all three were under 2ft.

As the sun began to set the day we went to buy them the rays of the setting sun fell on the Fuchsia & it positively glowed!

I was so impressed that I decided to plant it in the trough directly in front of the balcony door so I could see it whenever I looked out of the window in the door, being as that is also the first & last place to get the sun during the day I thought I would be able to see it glowing most days.

The other two plants were planted in the other two troughs; in the middle tough I put the Potentilla and the Mock Orange in the last one, counting from the door of the balcony.

At first everything was going alright but then along came one of the longest, hottest & sunniest of summers for more than 40 years!

The first sign of trouble was when some leaves on the ‘Mock Orange’ started to go brown & fall off. Within a couple of more weeks most of the branches had withered away! This obviously upset me but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move the plant from the trough as I had filled it with many other plants. When the plant sent out new growth from the base & it, too, started to dry up it occurred to me that if I could shade the plant from the strong sunshine perhaps it would grow.

So I put up a few canes around the plant &, using plastic clothes pegs, I fixed up a shelter of paper from the strong sunshine. This seemed to do the trick at first & I was pleased I’d been able to save it! Unfortunately this didn’t work for long & the new growth withered away! I did see from time to time a tiny green shoot at the base of the plants but they, too, died.

Almost the same happened with the other 2 plants but because of all the other plants in the troughs I wasn’t able to do the same as with the Philadelphus, i.e. put some paper around them to protect them from the strong sunshine. All three ended up withering away. The last to go was the Potentilla. I checked online to see what its requirements were & was most encouraged to read that it can stand up very well to the sort of weather we were having! Only it didn’t! By the end of August it, too, succumbed to the terrible heat (around 30C on several days) & almost non-stop sunshine.

I did get to see a very few flowers but it didn’t live long enough to flower well. I noticed a little new growth at the start of September but within a few days it too withered away.

I removed the Philadelphus & the Potentilla from the troughs today & scraped away some bark from the thickest stems closest to the soil but they were dead so I threw them away. Tomorrow I will take the Fuchsia out as well but I know it will be dead. I have tried a couple of times over the last few weeks to see if there was any life in the stems but they are all dead.

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That's very sad Balcony. I know fuchsias are not aways happy with too much hot sun but you would have expected the Potentilla to love it. But perhaps in a container the roots got too hot, in full sun all day when it was so very hot. Who would have thought of bubble wrap to protect from heat rather than frost???Wonder if it wold have helped?

Even my Pelargoniums hardly grew and had few flowers this summer and you would have thought they would have revelled in it.

17 Oct, 2018


I have been removing the 3 shrubs that survived on the garden to deep tubs to give them root/moisture space
then standing these tubs on the gravel bed. When there I can easily give them a gallon container of water twice a week. Whether this would be effective on Balcony's hot spot I do not know.
The rock plants in the Crevice garden were unaffected by the heat, as their roots went down below the rocks.
I have used Sempervivums on deep tubs for next year, with a good root run.
Clematis died down with the heat, then grew again.
I mulched everything with Gerbil litter which helped.
We have to be better prepared for next year, better choice of plants that can stand the heat, mulch at the ready, more gallon containers to store water at the ready. saucers under all tubs.
I had a Veronica on the garden which was quite unaffected by it, Balcony could get one of those, and
a Mahonia ditto. Then sit back and laugh.

18 Oct, 2018


that is sad Balcony. but the mock orange would have always struggled as it grows to about 2.5 metres. if the label says 2ft I would take the plant back and ask for a replacement /refund as you made the assumption it was suitable for a trough with it being so small.
I would leave the fuchsia as they often regrow from below soil level despite all the top growth being dead.

18 Oct, 2018


This has been an exceptionally hot Summer and I reckon lots of plants have given up the ghost. Our Alstroemerias sulked and it was only in September that we saw lots of bloom They are still going. Must say we thought we had lost lots. So, give the Fuchsias and other plants a chance.

18 Oct, 2018


Thank you all for your comments!

Stera, I certainly never thought of bubble wrap either! Maybe it would have worked, who knows!

Strange your Pelargoniums didn't grow well, mine loved the summer heat & grew & flowered very well! I shall have to try & remember to upload a few photos of them to my photos page.

Diane, my shrubs didn't die for lack of water! The troughs are all white plastic, I got them from the factory 17 years ago when I worked there! Obviously they couldn't have a deep root run as the troughs are only 12-15in deep. I believe it was the combination of heat, relentless sunshine for at least 10 hours a day & the fact that they hadn't had at lest a year to put down a good root system. If the summer had been a "normal" British summer I believe they would have had no problems adapting.

SB, you are right about the size but on the RHS page it says it takes 10 years to reach its final height. Anyway I could have kept it under control with pruning after flowering each year. In a trough it probably would never reach that height anyway.

As for leaving any of the 3 in the troughs well that's not an option, on the one hand I can't afford the wasted space, not even for one winter while I waited to see if they sprouted again the following spring. On the other I've removed all 3 & NONE of them had the slightest signs of life. I know Fuchsias will often resprout from below soil level so when I removed it this afternoon I made sure of examining very carefully the stems below the soil level but all was brown & very brittle. I shook all the soil off of the roots & looked closely at the base of the plant, scratching away at the bark but no hope of life in it. I've now thrown it away.

I examined all 3 plants before discarding them but there was no sign of life in any of them! ;(

Thanks, Eirlys, but I've discarded all three of the plants.

18 Oct, 2018


It now comes down to experimentation.
Definitely give a Mahonia space. They dont grow very big and are as tough as old boots. They are not very big so would be ok on your balcony. If one is happy invest in some more.

19 Oct, 2018


The other thing you could do is use a laundry tub as a dunking reservoir. As you are in a ground floor flat it would be easy to half fill , twice a week stand the pot with the Mahonia in in the tub for an hour to have a good drink, then discard the water. This way if the roots have dried up the water penetrates thoroughly.

19 Oct, 2018


Thanks very much for that advice, Diane. The problem with this plant however is the thorns & the spiky leaves - not something you want to have on a narrow (about 2-2 1/2ft wide) balcony & have to push past to get to other plants, etc.! Nor would it be very practical when you have grandkids running from one end of the balcony to the other! That is why I don't have roses, for example.

Do you know of a cultivar that doesn't have thorns or spiky leaves? If you do then perhaps I could get one for the balcony.

19 Oct, 2018


Oh how sad, I hate losing plants, but it was an exceptional summer, it was very hot, too hot at times..... I doubt we shall have another one, for at least 10 years!

23 Oct, 2018


Let's hope not, DD! But I think we are in for many more summers like this due to climate change!

23 Oct, 2018


Balcony there is indeed a small Mahonia cultivar with soft leaves..(not like other Mahonia leaves at all. I think its called Soft Caress. I tried it in full dry shade (in a pot) and it hated that - maybe it was too dry) so I moved it to shade in the afternoon (in the ground), but there it was too sensitive to the winds we get here and slowly gave up. There is a Goy member with a real beauty but sadly I can't remember who it was. As far as I can remember it was in a semi shaded spot alongside a low wall. They are sold a shade shrubs.

24 Oct, 2018


Thanks very much for that info, Stera! It's complete name is :Mahonia eurybracteata ganpinensis 'Soft Caress'.

I found it for sale at several nurseries for between £15 & £25!

It sounds ideal for our balcony! I shall have to put it on my Christmas list for Santa!

25 Oct, 2018

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