Thursday, February 3, 2011

Plants that are a pain in the ... arm

I am ashamed of myself. I have a large phormium in my front garden, of which I'm very fond. It was a present from my sister when I moved in, at which time my front garden resembled the Gobi desert with a big bamboo in the middle.
The trouble with phormiums is that they flop. The leaves are easily bent - particularly under the weight of snow - and once bent, they will never stand upright again. This isn't so much of a problem when they are actually in the garden, but if they flop over on the roadside, they present a bit of a hazard to passers-by.

Indeed, if you are a very small passer-by, possibly in a buggy, you run the risk of having your eye poked out. And even for big passers-by, it isn't very pleasant to have to push a huge phormium leaf (which at this time of the year is invariably wet) out of your way.

I am aware of this problem, but (ahem) don't always do something about it. So I felt truly penitent the other day when I noticed a man outside the house taking pictures of my phormium. At first, I thought he was admiring it, but when I went outside to ask him what he was doing, he told me he was from the local council, who were about to send me a letter of complaint about it. I told him I would tidy it up pdq.
So why, if I was aware of it, had I not taken action before? Well, phormium leaves are tough and take quite a bit of cutting. You need a strong, sharp pair of secateurs or scissors. It puts quite a strain on your hand and your arm, and for the past two weeks, I've had trouble with a rotator cuff injury (sore shoulder).
I won't bore you with the details, but at one point, the referred pain was so bad I ended up going to casualty at 2am. (They gave me a huge handful of painkillers - the sort of dose I wouldn't dare take at home - and eventually, the pain subsided enough for me to go to the chiropractor.)
The prospect of hacking back a phormium was not, as you can imagine, an attractive one. So why didn't I get someone else in to do it? Well, because I don't trust someone else to do a decent job, I suppose. I like to cut the leaves as low down as I can, otherwise the "stumps" can give you a nasty jab the next time you come to do the job.
Anyway, I managed to tidy it up, and to resist the temptation to carry on cutting things back, which would have made my arm and shoulder flare up again. But I think I shall add phormiums to the lengthening list of plants that I will be wary of growing again.