With the Benefit of Hindsight
A year can be
a long time in the life of a garden and for even the
most renowned gardeners, like Christopher Lloyd, the
learning never stops.
It is human nature
to give the past year a disgusted kick and to welcome
the new one through a haze of optimism that this time
everything is going to be different. But was last year
really as bad as all that? I didn't think so.
It was an early spring
again. That always arouses anxiety, because of the damage
that would result from frost in April. But this time
we escaped without those frosts. Blossom was terrific.
I've never seen such a showing of magnolias as there
already was in the second half of March. Daffodils flowered
But there were heavy
rains in April and May, at least where I live in the
southeast, and daffodil foliage rotted prematurely.
Where this happened, it will mean a poor showing of
bloom this spring.
The summer was inclined
to be chilly and overcast. Lots of moans from human
baskers, but these conditions admirably suited many
of our flowers, which lasted in good condition for much
longer than usual. You know how roses that are unlucky
enough to open at the start of a baking hot day, turn
limp within hours and are a frazzle by the evening?
This year, they didn't come under these pressures except,
I am told, on one day in mid-June, which I escaped by
being in Scotland at the time. The gardens there were
However, being away
at that time meant that we were late in planting up
our exotic garden with all the exciting plants that
we had overwintered under heated glass, not to mention
the lively floral elements of cannas and dahlias. They
came into their own in due course, but later than they
should. By mid-August, Fergus, who is our severest critic,
remarked that he'd never seen the garden looking better.
The wall apricot,
now some 90 years old, bore an enormous crop (we did
thin it), which the blackbirds tired of eating, leaving
most of it for me.
The tail end of the
year was so fantastically wet that it is hard to recollect
anything else. Our rainfall measurements, recorded since
1913, broke all records. Hard luck on those who live
low down. We, around 1460, were sited on the southwest
slope of a hill and have an excellently scenic view
of floods below us.
How will the past
affect plans for the future? I have always taken risks
over the hardiness
of plants that I grow. All self-respecting gardeners
do that. If you expect a frost or a hard winter round
every corner, you'll never enjoy yourself. If there
really is a greenhouse effect (by no means proven, in
my opinion) gardeners should be taking advantage of
it. If we are punished, we can soon forget; if not,
what fun there is to be had on our off-shore islands
with winds blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico.
I shall not be taking
my holiday in June. Fergus and I have marked in our
diaries that no engagements shall be taken on from 10th
to 17th June, and we shall use that time to concentrate
on planting up the exotic garden (once the rose garden).
We grow a lot of
but poor timing last year meant that many were ready
to be planted out before their places were ready to
receive them. So they were often spoilt or wasted. Timing
of this kind is tricky. There is always the temptation
too early. We know that, but still do it sometimes.
To an extent, the
difficulty can be overcome by moving the annuals that
are being kept waiting into larger pots and giving them
more space on their standing ground. But, in a way,
that is time wasted when better planning could have
seen the plants in their flowering positions earlier.
We make things difficult
for ourselves by planning successions to keep the borders
lively right to the end of October. But that is exciting,
too, and satisfying when it comes off.
See also the related workshops:
to ensure year-round interest
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com