June 11- ‘Coping with Extremes in Our Weather’

SOMETIMES when writing a gardening column or giving gardening advice we despair and at times feel a sense of hopelessness as to what to recommend. A fashion designer knows what next season’s hottest colour is going to be and an interior designer knows if wallpaper is going to be in or out! But what about garden designers, with our seasons becoming more and more unpredictable how can we give solid, dependable advice.

 This year the coldest winter for a hundred years was followed by the driest and warmest spring for a hundred years. As a result we all recommended planting drought tolerant plants such as Cordylines, Phormiums, palms, olives, Ceanothus, Pittosporums and Hebes .They’re fabulous for hot, dry summers and but then once summer is over you can watch them all perish during the next coldest winter for one hundred years! How can you win!

 The problem is coping with the extremes. The plants mentioned above will happily survive a long, hot summer but won’t tolerate the incredibly low temperatures that we experienced last winter. Conversely, other plants that will tolerate bitterly cold winters may be stressed by long, hot, dry summers. Many conifers become sad in very dry conditions as do ornamental cherries and Japanese maples.

 Of course we can take all the usual precautions, many to be honest some folk are probably being tired of being told about, fleece in the winter, mulch in the summer etc, etc. Most of us know this already but we’re probably too busy or often too late to implement these measures. But as always the absolute joy of gardening in the UK is the huge range of plants that we can grow that will always come up trumps. The despair caused by cyclical changes in our climate or by global warming, depending on your viewpoint, can always be overcome here in the UK. The way to do it is to once again look at some good, old-fashioned, dependable favourites. Going tropical in the garden is fantastic and pushing back the boundaries is fun but remember that nature will always eventually wrap us on the knuckles and put us back in our place.

 So what’s going to get us through bitter winters, and hot dry springs but won’t show off in a cool, wet summer. Starting early in the year think about flowering currant but not the usual red type try ‘Tydeman’s white’ and how about a white forsythia Abeliopyllum distichm’ and a great little Mahonia called Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ with fabulous shiny foliage and bright yellow flowers. As we move into late spring and summer try, Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink cloud’ and Philadelphus ‘Belle etoile’ or an amazing tree, Paulownia tomentosa with its gorgeous purple horse chestnut type flowers. Finally moving on to late summer and early autumn, nothing can beat the dark blue of Ceratostigma willmottianum or the amazing berries on Euonymus europaeus and for a real grand finale grow Nerine bowdenii f. alba . We’re not saying that any of the plants won’t wince in extreme conditions but they will pick themselves up and carry on quite happily once the status quo returns. They’re are many old favourites that will get you through no matter what the weather and many in colours you never expected, so go on give them a go.

 Tips for the month –  dead head regularly, check for pests under leaves, pinch back annuals to keep them sturdy and extend their flowering period, works great for Petunias, Nemesias, Verbenas and Impatiens, remove spring bulb leaves now and don’t weed or feed your lawn until the drought breaks!