Friday, 31 August 2012

UK suffers from wettest summer in 100 years! Where did the drought go for British gardeners?

"Bridge over Troubled Water" - the winning garden at the shower-soaked Hampton Court Flower Show this year
We all know that the British are good at queuing and talking about the weather, but as August draws to a close, it's official. It's been the wettest summer (June, July and August) since records began in 1912. No wonder our roses are looking battered and our gardens are looking sad. And as for the queues - they simply haven't been there this year - not in the gardens, nor at the NGS openings, nor at the numerous flower shows around the country. Most of us saw a little sunshine at RHS Chelsea, but got soaked at Hampton Court and perhaps the Best Show Garden should have been called "Bridge over Rising Water" if we'd known what was to come!
Ian Hamilton Finlay's extraordinary garden at Little Sparta looks wonderful in rain or shine
Events were cancelled all over the country because of the rain and local councils nationwide stopped cutting the verges, although I'm assured that this was part of the cutback plans during the recession, rather than anything to do with the weather. Reports state that both umbrella and wellington boot sales are up, and wet weather gear has enjoyed a real boom, which is hardly surprising when you consider that we've had 366.8 millimetres of rain across the UK of rain since the beginning of June, just 18 millimetres short of when records began in 1912. But this is a very different story to the one we were told earlier in the year, when the dread was in the threatened drought.
Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire has had a .... million makeover and looks wonderful in all weather
I've certainly spent more time with water running down my neck than ever before! And as the relentless rain has poured down and I've looked out of my window in search of a tiny bit of blue sky, I've sat glued to the Met Office weather forecasts and set out in search of sunshine when it promised to appear. Although it has to be said that on a few occasions, the wet weather paid dividends, like the day I visited Little Sparta in Scotland, arriving at the end of a huge downpour and enjoying the garden there in the aftermath of rain, where every leaf sparkled. The same was true at Hidcote, where there wasn't a soul to be seen in the sodden, but glorious garden.
Tatton Park - one of many gardens I've visited in rain this year, but been unable to publish due to poor photographs

This was the year where we started out with a heatwave in March, and ambled into April listening to dire warnings about drought; yet the moment we were threatened with hosepipe bans the rain started; and it never stopped. The countryside soon turned into a sodden landscape, where car parks closed and those of us who ventured out to visit gardens had to don our wellingtons to squelch across soaking lawns to view muddy borders. I've ventured north, south, east and west in search of new gardens, but rarely managed to take sufficiently good photographs to include with my entries. Most were rain speckled and grey, as was the author at the end of many of my visits.
Villandry, which has put the "P" in potager worldwide - visited in clear blue skies earlier this month
I've had better luck in France this year, where I've had the incredible fortune to visit some of the great topiary gardens, including Eyriganc and Marqueyssac, the incredible potager at Villandry, and to strike lucky with a sunny days at Giverny (where the head gardener is English) and Le Bois des Moutiers (the famous Lutyens house and garden). But even though I love the French gardens, I'd rather be at home, writing about our own. So as August draws to a close, I'm hoping for sunny September days so I can catch up on some of those gardens I've missed this year, as they don their autumn mantels in preparation for the winter.

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  1. Looking great! Thank you for taking this time to share with us. This summer has certainly has been an adventure in the garden during this crazy weather, we in the Northeast USA have had the hottest summer on record. Scientists predict more of the same for out future. Time to adjust our practices.

  2. Yep you're right there.. I visited Hampton Court kitted out as thought I was going into a rainstorm and that was possibly the only way to visit it. So disappointing!! Mind you all my shrubs have grown like crazy... so more pruning- which can't be done due to the weather !!!!A, well :-)

  3. Such a shame for all those gardeners who open for charity when it rains and they don't get the numbers they deserve. Still, it wouldn't be Britain if the weather was predictable...