Practical advice from our gardening expert.
Q I’d love to be able to grow a protea. Is it possible in this country or would the result be a disappointment?
A If you want to, go for it, but be aware that, although proteas are mostly evergreen shrubs and trees, many are only half hardy and will grow outside in the only mildest parts of the UK. Elsewhere, they are best grown in large pots and moved indoors or wrapped in fleece over winter.
The plants are named after the sea god Poseidon, who supposedly could change his shape at will; the protea flower comes in an enormous variety of shapes, sizes, hues and textures and makes up more than 1,400 varieties.
After that brief history lesson, it’s down to hard facts – most proteas prefer soils that are well-drained and acidic: they don’t like getting their roots wet.
They also thrive in the wild in soils that are low in nutrients, so they can be harmed by fertilizers that contain normal levels of phosphorus. And sunshine is very much appreciated.
A good mulch will help things and protect the plant’s fine surface roots. And the stems of dead flowers can be cut back to soil level.
The best varieties for gardens in the UK are said to include Protea cynaroides and the Protea scolymocephala/Thistle Protea. Protea subvestita and Protea grandiceps are probably also worth considering.