Well, what can be said is that the last 12 months of weather have been interesting.
Thinking back over the last year, in London, where I live and garden, Autumn 2017 didn’t arrive until well into November. The warm weather going on and on. There were frosts before Christmas but nothing that did much damage. Even early new year and the weather seemed to be following the same pattern as recent years. And then the cold descended, lasting until the beginning of May. Life sapping cold followed by months of searing heat and no rain and the spectre of hosepipe bans. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the long, cold winter was just what nature wanted and needed. Proper hibernation for long-suffering trees and shrubs as witnessed by huge amounts of blossom (and consequently fruit) when finally, overnight, May turned glorious.
As a gardener this has been a challenging summer. Even though June, with it’s hot days and cool evenings, was perfect summer weather, it became clear to me that we need to make our gardens resilient to the vagaries of the more extreme weather conditions we are starting to experience. Right Plant, Right Place for absolute starters. Rainwater harvesting systems incorporated into gardens so we don’t use mains water.
When my water butt ran out, the lack of rain for over two months had me filling buckets with shower water to nurture the new borders planted last autumn. Exhorting the family to do likewise. London didn’t have a hosepipe ban and July’s hot days and nights meant I twice resorted to giving the garden a good drenching over those long, hot, 50 days of no rain. But when water is such a precious commodity, to be spraying it around the garden to keep my plants from dying felt wrong. I am contemplating creating a much bigger rainwater tank under the terrace that would collect the fantastic free resource, when it does fall, that can then be used for all my gardening needs and perhaps even more. At the very least get a couple more butts.
I let the grass grow longer as I had read somewhere, at some point, that to leave it uncut stressed it less. My dad always said don’t worry about the grass, it will always recover. It looked a bit messy but, by and large, stayed looking greenish. There was also the added pleasure of seeing bees buzzing around the clover flowers that would normally be cut before flowering. After that long-awaited first downpour arrived on the 27th July the grass began to grow a few days later. I think, though, that eventually I will dispense with the grass altogether. It’s propensity for weeds and the time it takes to keep it looking good are slowly leading me to where I want to be – a grassless garden.
Even with my shower-bucket watering the garden started to look rather shabby in July. I decided to cut back certain early-flowering perennials. This left some gaps for a while but plants that were cut back have now put on neat, new leaf growth and some are even gracing me with more flowers. It also allowed me to assess what was working and what not.
I realised as summer wore on that my irises were by and large planted in completely the wrong place. Hidden by taller and more vigorous plants. At the beginning of August I decided to move them into positions that would afford them more space and where they would be seen. Ditto the Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ which is much shorter than I thought. With a large amount of soil round their roots I dug them all up and put them in their new homes. The water butt now replenished, I cut the top growth back, gave them a good watering and next year will be able to enjoy them in their new positions.
One of the joys of this long, hot, dry summer has been the abundance of wildlife. The garden has been awash with bees and butterflies and myriad other insects. At times the garden has shimmered. If we are thoughtful of planting the right plants in their preferred positions even in more challenging weather conditions our resilient gardens can be beautiful, thriving havens for nature as well as humans.