The strange fruits of sum­mer

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Steven Desmond Steven Desmond is a free­lance land­scape con­sul­tant, spe­cial­is­ing in con­serv­ing his­toric gar­dens

ONE of the eter­nal mys­ter­ies of gar­den­ing is the fact that ev­ery year has its dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. Cli­mate is one thing, but weather is an­other. This sum­mer was surely one we will never for­get, when many of us were obliged to keep out of the gar­den in the mid­dle of the day, only emerg­ing in the morn­ing and evening, as if we lived in the Trop­ics.

Two months of un­bro­ken warm, dry, sunny weather were bound to gen­er­ate some un­usual ef­fects in the gar­den, and so it has proved.

This was brought home to me when I was judg­ing a vil­lage show in early Au­gust. The ex­pected poor show of root crops was more than com­pen­sated for, in my view, by the novel ap­pear­ance on the bench of su­perb dis­plays of figs and aubergines.

The last time I saw a good dis­play of the lat­ter in a pri­vate gar­den was on my fa­ther’s fence in about 1972, along­side the pas­sion fruit and gre­nadines. That was in ru­ral Zam­bia, so some­thing dra­matic was hap­pen­ing in Hampshire, and surely else­where in Bri­tain.

If ex­otic edi­ble fruits were flour­ish­ing this year, I rea­soned, it seems likely that or­na­men­tal shrubs that sel­dom set seed in this coun­try might do so, per­haps for the first time since the fa­bled sum­mers of 1975 and 1976.

Cer­tainly, the hebes are cov­ered in what look like ripe seeds and I was in­ter­ested to see that lit­tle black bunches of ap­par­ently ma­ture seed dec­o­rated the shoot tips of the cean­othus that hangs over a neigh­bour’s gar­den wall. I say dec­o­rated, but, in truth, they were barely per­cep­ti­ble ex­cept to a plant bore like my­self.

I im­me­di­ately be­gan to pic­ture the in­ter­est­ing seedlings that might crop up in gravel drives and paving joints next spring. There are treats in store for the sharp-eyed.

For those in search of some real vis­ual drama, visit your near­est spec­i­men of Cor­nus kousa. Ev­ery­one ad­mires this thing of beauty in flower, but, this year, it has ex­celled it­self as an or­na­men­tal fruiter. It’s a big shrub, one of those that thinks it might be­come a tree one day, and one I saw re­cently was com­pletely cov­ered from head to foot in red seed­heads, like glob­u­lar rasp­ber­ries. Hil­lier’s Man­ual says straw­ber­ries—you de­cide. It’s the most mag­nif­i­cent sight and, if you live within reach of one, do pay it a visit soon. It might not do it again for 40 years.

An­other startler to look out for is any mag­no­lia nearby. These sel­dom fruit much in Bri­tain, but any­one who’s seen the fab­u­lously grotesque scar­let growths that cover mag­no­lias in au­tumn in South­ern Europe will thrill to their ap­pear­ance this year in this coun­try. Be care­ful with your hoe next year, as your shrub might have spawned prize prog­eny.

Both these gen­era come from China, where win­ters are cold and sum­mers hot, so, at last, they have had a taste here of the sort of weather they pre­fer.

Not all fruits are so spec­tac­u­lar, of course, but some are al­ways a source of com­ment. The lit­tle ap­ple-like growths on camel­lias some­times cause de­spon­dency among their own­ers, who fear some grim dis­ease. This year, these fruits have ripened prop­erly and split open to re­veal ripe seeds. It some­times hap­pens in a dry, warm sum­mer like ours that seeds ap­pear out­wardly ripe, but fail be­cause of lack of wa­ter to fill them out— for­tu­nately, the rain came just in time to save the day.

Other sun-wor­ship­pers that have en­joyed this year in­clude Koel­reuteria pan­ic­u­lata, the yel­low-flow­ered In­dian tree that quite en­joys liv­ing in Eng­land, but sel­dom as much as this year. Its branches are presently laden with puffy, brown seed pack­ets. It would also be worth in­spect­ing eu­cryphias and enkianthus for ripe seed, which I’ve cer­tainly seen re­cently.

No­body knows whether the sum­mer of 2018 will be re­peated soon or whether it was one of those phe­nom­ena that stick in the pub­lic mem­ory for­ever, like the win­ter of 1947. If we do get an­other scorcher next year, look out for even greater fruit­ing fire­works, be­cause the ef­fect of prop­erly ripened wood and ideal con­di­tions over two years is al­ways spec­tac­u­lar.

On the other hand, we’ll prob­a­bly get back to the stac­cato change­abil­ity of our fa­mil­iar bands of show­ers al­ter­nat­ing with sunny in­ter­vals, which would suit me just fine. It is, af­ter all, the kind of weather that’s made us a na­tion of gar­den­ers. Next week: Med­lars

A Cor­nus kousa I saw re­cently was com­pletely cov­ered in red seed­heads, like glob­u­lar rasp­ber­ries

The fruits of the Chi­nese dog­wood (Cor­nus kousa) sel­dom ap­pear in Eng­land, but put on quite the show when they do

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