Right plant in the right place

From small beginnings – Olearia traversii cuttings

Anyone who gardens on the coast or on a wind swept hillside will understand the shelter belt catch-22 – how can I establish a shelter belt when the plants need a shelter belt to get established?  The obvious answer is to protect the plants with a physical wind break, which is feasible if the prevailing wind is from one direction but more of a problem when your position is so exposed that the wind comes from all points and can be in excess of 70mph at times. The problem is compounded on coastal sites where plants have to be able to withstand salt laden air and light sandy soil usually with a high pH.

This was the subject of one of my first posts and it has taken us 5 years to solve this particular garden dilemma –  what to plant and how to get it to survive. It has been largely trial and error, hard work, a little application of science but hardly Vorsprung durch Technik, and some damage to the bank balance.

The key element was the discover that Olearia traversii, the Chatham Island akeake  or  tree daisy, would tolerate our climate and soil conditions. Chatham Islands is an archipelago in the Pacific about 680 kilometers southeast of New Zealand. The climate is cold, wet and windy with average high temperatures between 5°C (41°F) and 10°C (50°F) in July, the southern hemisphere winter, very similar to the Outer Hebrides. It tolerates the wind and the salt and seems to thrive in our poor sandy soil, growing over 30cm (12 inches) a year.

As the soil is very light, we have discovered that planting at high density provides adjacent plants with support and helps prevent the plants from being torn out of the ground. However, even if the plants start to rock or develop a list to starboard, provided that the ground around the base of the trunk is heeled in, or in severe cases eroded soil is replaced, the plants will continue to grow.

This winter we have also increased the width the of the shelter belt beds. Ultimately the increased depth of the planting should increase the effectiveness of wind filtering and even if the outer plants are damaged the core of the “hedge” will be protected. The original plants are now over 1.5m (5 feet) tall and in theory could reach 3m or more, but I suspect that wind pruning will limit their height.

Oleariia traversii is attractive shrub, even though the flowers are insignificant and it bears no fruit. The leaves are a rich glossy green with a silvery underside so when the wind ripples the foliage the whole hedge shimmers and shimmys like a green and silver ribbon. It is also a wonderful refuge for the garden life – ever seen a flock of 60 House Sparrows disappear in a twinkling!

7 thoughts on “Right plant in the right place

  1. You have done your research so well. I haven’t grown Olearia but we find Griselinia seems to like it in Pembrokeshire. Would Tamarix or Escallonia survive up there.

    • I’ve not tried Griselinia and it’s not widely grown here. As we have no nursery and mail order for plants is horrifically expensive (victim of the courier surcharge)I will have to hunt down a plant and beg some cuttings. Similarly I’ve not tried Tamarix. Escallonia was one of our first major casualties (planticide?). The small-leaved varieties loose all their leaves, struggle for a year or so and then die. I’ve had more success with macrantha large leaved varieties, these survive and flower but tend to sprawl (wind pruning). I persist with a few plants just for the flowers. They grow extremely well in more sheltered sites and also away from the coast where the soil is better. Fuscia magellanica also grows well elsewhere but doesn’t like my soil, similarly Olearia macrodonta (New Zealand Holly). So I’m content that I’ve found something that grows and even though my garden is tree-less and devoid of shrubs I am enjoying the challenge of making a garden and slowly learning to love herbaceous plants.

  2. Really interesting. I find it fascinating what will grow and what will not up here. I suspect we might be able to grow olearia from your description. Our winds are not as ferocious as yours but our thin stony soil defeats a lot of things. I have found that eleagnus does well. So do holly and yew started off very small. In fact anything which comes in as a fair sized plant, be it herbaceous, shrub or tree, is likely to die I have learnt. It probably makes me a better gardener to have to propagate but I wish the damn stuff wouldn’t take so long.

    • I’m sure Olearia (both species) would grow for you. Eleagnus sulked and died with me, and i have one of my remaining holly seedlings from my last garden which is now 6 inches high after 4 years! My garden is teaching me patience, but it can be hard when everything has to be started from seed and cuttings, 50% die the first year and most of the rest the next year but the survivors are tough cookies. Natural selection!

  3. It’s great to see your progression with the olearia and reading your comments illustrates the conditions some gardeners have to put up with – i realise I am very fortunate with my soil, good deep agricultural land I suppose, on top of shallow coal seams and probably sandstone.

  4. Hey Croftgarden!
    Great article, can i ask whats the best time to take cuttings of the Olearia is? and best practice in doing so?
    We have a huge one on our farm in cornwall and I want to grow me more
    Thanks Jay

    • Sorry, it has taken so long to respond.
      The time to take cutting is September – October. Semi-ripe, about 6 inches long. Remove the lower set of leaves and insert into a pot containing a gritty compost mix. Over winter is a shelter spot, don’t over water and inspect in April. They usually root very easily and can be planted out in May.

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