ABC Wednesday 5: Z is for...

... Zonal Denial

For ABC Wednesday this time last year, my chosen Z was Zones, the way of broadly categorising climate into regions so familiar to our gardening cousins across the pond. However, it was only whilst reading Noel Kingsbury's blog the other day that I came across the term Zonal Denial.

I'm sure many of us are guilty of zonal denial, irrespective of whether we're guided by the zone system or the RHS hardiness classification used here in the UK. After all, it's all very broad-brush and as gardeners we know other factors affect what can be grown successfully, such as aspect, soil type and height above sea level. Besides, most gardeners also love to experiment, so why not try growing some plants which are borderline hardy?

I'm sure talk of climate change and global warming have also fuelled our desire to have something a little different to our neighbours, plus the concern that we may no longer be able to grow some of our best loved plants has led to us seeking out alternatives. For some, a tropical garden is the preferred garden style, or an ongoing experiment to see exactly what can be grown in our climate. For many younger gardeners, a hard winter has been an historical fact rather than a present danger. Despite all the 'how to protect your garden for winter' guides around, it's tempting to leave the taking of precautionary cuttings plus the garden fleece, straw and bubble wrap safely stored in the garden shed, because it's all a bit a faff and the results look rather ugly.

So yes, I'm guilty of zonal denial and like many of us I was caught out last winter. Luckily my Dahlia duvet still worked (though I do wonder if this year's will prove sufficient), but I lost a prized Echeveria and a tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica). Surprisingly, the tree fern which was languishing in a plastic pot for 2 years in the nursery area did survive to replace it: I think my laziness in not taking it out of its plastic bag may have been enough protection. And despite my initial fears, my Fuchsias just about recovered sufficiently to put in a rather late flowering.

I'm glad we had last year's warning, because in late October I diligently put fleece around my surviving tree fern, thoroughly mulched everything in the garden and shifted lots of potted tender plants to snuggle up together in my cold frames. These are permanently lined with sheets of polystyrene, so I'm hoping this is cosy enough for them this extreme winter. However, there's one exception: a vigorous Anthemis tinctoria 'E.C. Buxton' was left to fend for itself this year because my cold frames were full. As you can see, it hasn't withstood the effects of the icicles on my leaky gutter dripping down onto it :(

As with any extreme weather event we have, our month of very cold temperatures has left many questioning whether global warming is happening. But what we're experiencing is day to day, really variable weather: climate is the average of this variation measured over time (30 years at least) and the trend is resolutely on the up. However, this and last year's winter clearly show we can't afford to continue to be zonal deniers, without taking some precautions. Or when things do fail, perhaps it gives us an ideal opportunity to try something new instead?

For more in the way of Zingy Zeds, do head on over to the ABC Wednesday blog.


  1. What a good post, Veep.

    It's hard to say how much we suffer from zonal denial in London, what with living in the Heat Puddle and all that. Last year some aloes in our backyard turned to mush and we had some aeonium casualties. When I read Emma T's piece on death in the garden last year I felt quite guilty about it all. But on the whole, stuff survives, and if it doesn't, well, it's time to weigh up whether you should be to growing it.

  2. A very provacative post - my fear of globbal warming is not dimished.

  3. You have some pretty zingy zeds your self. Good informative post. Hope your duvet keeps you cozy and warm enough.

  4. yep another gardener in the grip of zonal denial here. Actually I think I'm in national denial and simply refuse to believe I live in damp grey chilly Britain, instead insisting it's actually the south of France.

    (if only that really worked...)

    But then I'm feeling particularly Eeyore-ish at the moment as it's started snowing again. Bah humbug.

  5. Hi VP, it's hard to know what zone we are in anymore, in order to deny it. We only wrapped one thing, the little fig tree, in a cage filled with leaves. The dahlia babies, Bishop's Children might come back, they seem hardier. As for the rest, more space for new plantings. :-)

  6. I think all gardeners are guilty of zone denial at times. I know I would love to try some of Fairegarden's Muhly grass some time even though it's not hardy in my zone. I just have to find the right place for it, a little microclimate of warmth. Lately, I've had so much sympathy for Southern gardeners in the U.S. who are experiencing unusual temperatures. I can't imagine seeing my garden turned to mush one morning after a big freeze!...I need to retract that statement--my garden always does that in the fall, but I am used to it as are my plants.

  7. Yes, me too. I am guilty of zonal denial. I plant things I like and hope for the best. LOL!

  8. Thankfully I don't have zone denial ^_^. I know that here in Michigan in winter we are always covered with snow that is expected. But we are thankful though that we got our first snow last December compare last year we had our first snow on the month of October so I could say not that bad.
    And if our temperature will go up above freezing point that we are happy already hehe! It is kind of warm to us ^_^ And 2 or 4 inches of snow is easy for us we are used to knee or waist high of snow thankfully this year we don't have. Thanks for sharing your post!


  9. thanks for the reminder that of the difference between 'weather' & 'climate'. i'm in sun denial--'full sun'-that means, like 2-3 hours of afternoon sun, right?

  10. I hope that your October preparations ensure that your tender treasures survive VP. You might be interested in this post on the same subject:
    Sorry but I don't know how to do live links in comments. Must investigate.

  11. I admire people who can live in zone denial. I'm way too conservative with following zone recommendations. (That's just about the only way I'd ever apply the term to myself.) It's good to push the boundaries occasionally with perennials, which aren't as painful to replace as woody plants.

  12. Everything coming up roses. And I planted snowdrops. Now wonder they sulked. They are called snowdrops, because they expect to come thru snow. Zonal denial flourishing at 39C too!

  13. Excellent take on zones and weather changes. Thanks for the good information!

  14. I wish you had posted this before Xmas with a stern reminder about last years snow! Having always left my aeoniums happy outdoors overwinter I lost my best last year. I did bring those that could be easily lifted into the greenhouse but left anything that would require too much effort. Now I think when they all thaw out I might be sorry.

  15. Y'all have really been socked by the winter weather this year. We have, too, but can look brightly on it as extra moisture for the ground. I don't suppose that's an issue with you in your part of the world, however. In any case, I hope it thaws out soon. I'm ready to get back out in the garden and start grubbing around.

  16. I'm a vocal proponent of right plant, right place... I don't like to coax or baby things along if they're not right for my zone or location... but I do have a few exceptions, my Hesperaloe parviflora being a prime example. Also a Scuttellaria... it doesn't help our zones were changed a few years abck...s ome people use old zones, some new. I used to be 5b and am now 6A... If a plant is labeled 6 (that I bought in CO) I don't know do they mean old or new 6?? It's all a bit confusing.

  17. Recently I have been sticking more to plants that are happy in our climate instead of trying to force things so I was hoping this long clod spell won't have caused too many casualties for me but I forgot about all the lovely pots I have around the house which will not have tolerated this much cold. Already I have seen several cracked and broken.

  18. Colleen - I could have added so much more, such as London's 'heat island effect', but I see from other bloggers that many London gardeners have equally been taken by surprise this winter.

    Roger - nor mine :(

    Photowannabe - yes thanks :)

    CG - Eeyore-ish is just the right expression!

    Frances - interseting what you say about some Dahlias being hardier than others. I remember CG saying that D. merkii was a much hardier soul in her garden.

    Rose - I have my eye on that Muhly grass too. I don't think it's hardy here in the UK either :(

    Jay - I think we all do!

    Manang Kim - I bet you're laughing at us Brits making such a big deal out of the amount of snow we've had ;)

    Petoskystone - I felt I had to say something on the subject! Full sun might need a bit longer - 4-5 hours maybe ;)

    Anna - that's quite a coincidence, especially as I also have a post on Latin in the pipeline!

    MMD - whilst I'm making a serious point here, you're also right - plants are much more 'plastic' than the books would have us believe. I'm sure a low altitude, southerly facing, well-drained zone 9 garden could have a good attempt at growing tender plants which the labels say they shouldn't go near.

    Elephants Eye - that's made me chuckle, even though I'm worried that in a couple of decades time snowdrops will be really struggling in my garden.

    Tumblewords - you're welcome!

    Arabella - I did throw out some reminders when the first severe frosts came in, but sadly not on't blog :(

    Susan - I'm desperate to get out into the garden. Fingers crossed it happens this weekend.

    Monica - crumbs, I didn't know the zones had been re-drawn, but I suppose over time they would wouldn't they? I suspect I'm working off the old version when comparing the UK with the US. Perhaps they need to give them version numbers, then the plant labellers could say which version they're using...

    Joanne - I'm dreading what's become of some of my pots. There was solid ice in a number of them, so I'm expecting a few casualties and plant rescues needed as a result a bit later.


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