This is the new weather
THE sun has certainly had his hat on this past month and it’s cheered us all enormously. Sunday lunch out of doors; picnics in the park; chilled rosé, Pimms and Prosecco; barbecues, cold meats and salads—if only we didn’t have to work.
The people we’ve really felt sorry for are the Brits who booked sun-seeking holidays abroad and had to go! To pay good money to miss out on long, hot days in an English summer is indeed tragic. It’s been simply idyllic, especially in the early morning and as dusk begins to fall—where else could you possibly want to be?
However, in the garden, the grass has started to get decidedly brown and the dust more pervasive; watering is becoming a real chore and the lettuce has bolted, all reminders that this is indeed the new weather—not only an occasional treat, but more frequent, particularly in the East and South of England.
What the RHS warned last year seems to have been borne out. They were right: we gardeners need to brace ourselves for real change as the growing season starts earlier and the dry weather continues uninterrupted. East Anglia is designated a semi-arid region and five out of the seven hottest years ever recorded in the world have occurred since 2010.
All this is really going to make a difference to the way we garden. The traditional English layout may well become a thing of the past. It’s not only that lawns will be too difficult to maintain, it’s that some of our favourite flowers will find these new conditions too stressful. Delphiniums, lupins and quite a lot of cyclamen will not easily adapt; almonds and olives, grapevines and even pomegranates will grow more easily as frost becomes a rarity. Seed packets that suggest we only plant out when ‘danger of frost is past’ will seem rather old fashioned.
Of course, there will be the odd year when we’ll be caught out, but, in general, the issue for the South and East will be drought, not frost. In the North, it’ll be wetter and wilder. The experts are pretty gloomy about the need for gardeners to prepare for more flooding and for downpours rather than showers, although the northern weather will be noticeably warmer. Over in the West, the extra rain and longer growing season will prolong mowing so that many people will give up on lawns and plant shrubs and trees instead.
As we bask in the sunshine, we should, therefore, spare a moment to consider how best to cope with the changes that are already upon us and that will only grow in intensity. The need to conserve water is a priority in a band from Norfolk to Kent; a major preoccupation of the RHS’S Essex garden, Hyde Hall, is finding ways to use water more sparingly. It’s difficult to see how these counties are going to avoid more stringent licensing and hosepipe bans and, as the soil transpires less and less and the rainfall diminishes, aridity and soil erosion will become serious challenges.
Every gardener in the UK will face profound underlying change at the same time as coping with the continuing vagaries of the English weather. It’s not that we’re moving from one fixed state to another, but more that, depending where we live, the variety of weather with which we have always lived will be hotter and drier, more stormy and much more prone to floods. We’d better get on with it because there’s nowhere else to go!