Gardens teach us all
Did you see any butterflies this year? Just a few? Far fewer than in a ‘normal’ summer? Autumn has arrived; the hot weather subsides. Recent weeks of glorious heat and sunshine in August and September mustn’t obscure the fact that spring and early summer were a washout this year, with an exceptionally wet March (139% of average) and a cooler than average April followed by the wettest June on record. One can usually count on part of Wimbledon fortnight being wet—the weather-defeating roof of Centre Court again proved its worth —but Glastonbury’s dependably earth-soiled festival was proclaimed the muddiest ever, even before the music began.
To the puzzlement of many overseas visitors, Britons at play through the summer season take such things in their stride, brollies and wellies to hand (and foot). We can keep calm and carry on, but persistent rain at the wrong moment plays havoc with the balance of Nature in both town and countryside. A dearth of insects on the wing has disastrous effects on cherished birds such as martins, swallows and flycatchers.
Bees can’t forage in heavy downpours, reducing honey yields and productivity in hives, as well as limiting their ability to pollinate diverse farm and orchard crops. Butterflies, already beleaguered by long-term decline, are also hampered by wet weather, as it dramatically reduces their lifespan and potential for emerging, flying, finding a mate and egg-laying.
Suffice to say, there were also winners in all this, particularly slugs and snails, which devastated herbaceous plants and salad gardens. Such was their voracious, unstoppable feasting, they even munched their way through plants such as mint and Stachys, species not normally to their taste. As Charles Quest-ritson points out (In the Garden, page 48), sometimes, it takes rain to teach us how to be better gardeners.
And sometimes it takes the RHS, which has deftly widened its remit in recent years, to become incredibly successful in training a new generation to have green fingers. its Campaign for School Gardening now actively involves in horticulture more than 29,000 schools and educational organisations across the UK, inspiring young people to be curious about plants and to enjoy the simple pleasures and rewards that come with growing things. Through gardening, they learn more about healthy food and the environment, as well as life skills in teamwork and cooperation.
Gardening teaches children about the weather and how it affects living things, whether animal or vegetable. The interlocking dependency of one creature upon another can be explored and examined close to in a garden. The RHS (as well as the RSPB through its Giving Nature a Home campaign) is giving the next generation the tools to understand the web of life upon which we all depend.