As in ‘Life’, amongst garden plants there are winners and there are losers. And then there are those who diligently graft away in the background until circumstances collude to give them that moment to shine – their Gareth Southgate moment, their Diving Rescue Team moment.
So it has been this summer in my garden. There was a moment at the end of May when the living was easy. Warm and wet, the garden bounced back from the grip of the beast and everything seemed almost preternaturally luxuriant, more like a digitally enhanced garden theme park. But global climate change had another trick up its sleeve (punishment, surely, for my own pathetic inability to ever remember to take my own plastic bags for the weekly Tesco run) and racked up the temperature and withheld the rain. So which plants stepped up to the mark and which withered by the wayside?
In pots, where you can at least provide the water part of the equation, it has been the sub-tropicals that have revelled in the heat- Agapanthus this year is stunning, and it has probably been the first year that my frangipani plants, Plumeria rubra, which I saw a few years ago on a hot holiday and knew on impulse I had to seek out as soon as I got home (could have been worse, could have been a neck tattoo of a palm tree) have actually looked like they were glad to be alive – you never know – they may even flower later this summer.
Out in the garden, things are not so forgiving. Any water supplied is quickly sucked away into the parched hinterland and only the inherently immoral (Caroline?) would waste this precious commodity by turning on a sprinkler. But perennials, by definition, have perennating organs in the form of robust root systems and these plants will rise again from the ashes once the drought has passed. So it is best just to avert your eyes from the sorry wilted mess that was your Rodgersia clump, or your bog sage, Salvia uglinosa, and instead celebrate the tenacity of previously unsung heroes such as the humble Saponaria officinalis. This Asian native whose main claim to fame previously was that its leaves produced a lather when crushed in stream water giving rise to its common name of ‘soapwort’, has laughed in the face of the drought at the very front of my gravel garden, looking like a supercharged glossy phlox with fresh green, fleshy leaves and sparkling shell pink flowers (see our featured pic at the top of blog) whilst the real phloxes are wilting in ‘poor me’ diva breakdown mode, asking to speak to HR about their working conditions. For real star quality, just take look at Louise’s stunning drought lover in her Great Plants this Month.
It is hard to think of another occupation so dependent on the weather as gardening. I suppose perhaps snowboarding might have a good claim, or competitive kite-flying… So what, in my garden, is coping with these hot dry conditions with a thicker skin than Donald Trump at a summit on Diplomacy? Well, I haven’t had to turn to anything as fancy as Laura’s blooming frangipani, for goodness’ sake! (which, in fact, hasn’t EVER bloomed !!) Most of the herbs are looking very happy, and those hot border favourites Crocosmia are sizzling both in colour and form. Eryngium (sea holly), Echinops ritro (globe thistle) and Heuchera are all looking right at home in these unfamiliar conditions.
Our so-called lawn has amazing drainage due to a particularly industrious army of moles and voles creating a vast network of holes and tunnels (you lean back in your deckchair only advisedly at our place). I don’t water anything at all except the veg patch and a couple of pots so the grass has been quietly improving its tan and now only the shaded areas and the lawn weeds have any semblance of health about them – hurray for clover and daisies!) The ornamental grasses though, such as Stipa gigantea – happy as pigs in shit.
All the grey-leaved things are fine too – Artemisia (lad’s love), lavender and so on, as is the Abelia – I know Laura bought one of these recently. But I was surprised to see that an Exocorda macrantha (pearlbush) has gone brown and crispy just when I thought it was finally happy with its lot in life. But come to think of it, its pretty white spring flowers were rather sparse this year, so maybe the cold or the wet dealt it a mortal blow before the scorching weather hit? What confusions we gardeners have to try to answer!? Perhaps with Caroline, plants are a great deal more likely to die by drowning than drought, though…..
Yes hosepipe bans don’t sit too well here in Scotland where it literally ‘hoses’ down most of the time, blessed as we are to receive the North Atlantic’s entire rain delivery. However, against all the odds, it’s been hot and dry here too, this summer. If you believe in karma, my husband’s insistence on setting up a sprinkler has been repaid by its complexity and thus the shockingly sodden state in which he returns.
I’ve great sympathy for the plants. I know what it’s like to feel parched particularly before dinner (do they make G & T sprinklers?), but one thing I’ve never quite worked out is why it’s those slightly thick leaved plants – sedums, knifophias, osteospermums, hebes etc – that seem the thrive in a drought. They look as though they need MORE water than most? If it’s because they are storing water in their plump leaves, why then, do the papery, wispy plants with next-to-nothing in their leaves like my lavender and poppies also look so upbeat?
My sisters will point to the botany behind a plant’s provenance of course, but botany just makes me think of The Botanist – a lovely gin from the Scottish island of Islay. You often see its bottle stuffed with fairy lights and made into a table lamp but the original contents take a lot of beating on the terrace at 7.30pm. Frankly I’m loving this weather.