Gardens teach us all

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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.

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