Friday 8 November 2019

The year in the gardens

Top to bottom, left to right: Hellebores; Allium 'Purple Sensation'; Paeonies; Heuchera 'Palace Purple' with Erigeron karvinskianus; Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku' with Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf Ball'; Achillea millefolium 'Cloth of Gold' with penstemons and clematis; Rosa 'Rhapsody in Blue'; Dicksonia antarctica; Salvia 'Amistad'.

It's been an unsettled year for gardening in London, with frequent unseasonal changes in the weather, although nothing like the challenge of last year's three month drought. An icy January gave way to a very muddy February, neither conditions ideal for getting early planting underway. Then came a long dry spring characterised by continued cold nights which inhibited growth in new plants.

Some plants thrived in the conditions: tulips came late, but very strongly once they were in flower; hellebores loved the long start to the year and paeonies were the best they've been for many years across several gardens. Acers suffered in the cold winds (and probably some waterlogging in some specimens) - I was called out to inspect and assess several Acers with withered branches - in some cases affecting as much as half an established plant. Those in sheltered sites in dappled shade seemed to fare the best.

Roses also had a good year, especially climbers heavy with blooms from June onwards. Other summer reliables such as Agapanthus and Hemerocallis had a steady, if not showstopping, year.

As summer gave way to a wet and sometimes windy autumn, leafy ferns came into their own in the damp conditions and trees showed their autumn colours early. Hylotelephiums (formerly sedums), dahlias and the tall Salvias such as 'Amistad' and 'Black and Blue' brought dramatic late colour to many gardens.

As I write this, the Nerines are just coming out, and we have the delicate blooms and sweet vanilla scents of Hamamelis, Sarcococca and Daphne odora to look forward to over winter, along with bright berries and the glossy green leaves of many evergreens.

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