A change is as good as a rest, as the old saying goes and this week although we've been making lots of changes to our Oasis garden, we've certainly not been doing any resting. We currently have nearly a dozen very large and mature phormium plants spread about amongst the many beds within our garden. Their common name is New Zealand Flax and they're a clump forming, jungle looking grass with very long, tough leaves. The largest of our phormiums is around 6ft high and at least the same in diameter, but they're not the most attractive or vibrant of plants and they don't change their appearance at all throughout the year. They also have no maintenance needs at all and give nothing in return for our care and attention. They don't add any colour to the garden, being the same shade of green all the year round. They don't die back in the Winter or produce flowers of any note, they're inedible and produce no fruit either, so all in all they really are neither use nor ornament. In fact they don't do much at all to the garden except for robbing it of sunlight and nutrients and valuable rainwater. Being a grass type plant it has long 'v' shaped leaves which fan out from the centre in all directions. Whenever it rains, the water is channeled along these 'v' shaped leaves and taken directly to the centre of the plant, feeding it's hungry roots and depriving it's neighbours of any liquid nourishment and leaving the surrounding soil completely dry and barren, a fact which hasn't been lost on the local slug and snail population.
Last Summer, our ever helpful volunteer gardeners must have dispatched thousands of slugs and snails. Every time that it rained, we were out there, armed with pairs of strong rubber gloves, picking them from our vegetable and flower beds by the bucket load. No matter how many we killed, there always seemed to be another batch ready to take their place and .......thinking about it now, it was probably our phormiums which were the main reason for the explosion of slugs and snails in the garden last Summer. They do seem to act like a hotel and maternity home all rolled into one for these pesky molluscs. Not that the slugs and snails eat the phormiums at all, you can tell that by the fact that they're totally devoid of the tell-tale signs of slug attack, but they do hide in the tightly packed centre of these plants where they can live in peace, rest during the daytime and breed and reproduce almost as quickly as we can catch and kill them. Squeezing into the centre of these New Zealand imports, they hide away from any predators during the hot, dry Summer days, only to make good their escape whenever the rainclouds gather or the sun disappears below the horizon. This thought was borne out last week when we began removing the phormiums from the garden. At the centre of each plant were dozens and dozens of the pesky blighters, asleep, hibernating until the weather warms up a little bit with the onset of Spring.
We're going to replace the phormiums with fruit trees and create ourselves a mini orchard within our community garden. We've already got a pear tree and a fig tree in the garden but they're both too small to produce any fruit for us yet. Last week we bought two 'Discovery' apple trees from Wilko's in Bull Ring Lane in Great Grimsby town centre. They were only £11 for two 6ft trees which will flower every Spring, giving us lots of beautiful white fragrant blossom, followed by a crop of delicious red fruits. The leaves then change to an orange colour with the inevitable onset of Winter, before the whole cycle starts all over again.
We intend to plant around these trees with a selection of flowering perennials, that we grew from seed last year, in the hope that we can attract lots of insects, which will in turn, attract some songbirds to the garden. Phormiums are all well and good in the right setting, but in our compact garden they are, unlike native fruit trees, neither use nor ornament.