GARDENS: Frost, wind and drought...and maybe some summer sometime

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In March I wrote of the dangers of late frosts and the damage they cause.

True to form we had a severe frost well into April which took all the plum blossom and completely ruined the Wisteria in my garden.

Dave Darwent

Dave Darwent

Despite the very pleasant weather in March and April, and the very mild winter, as we moved into May the wind got up and the temperature fell. Thus there has been wind damage as well as the frost. To complete the picture we have had hardly any rain and so now – mid-May – many things are suffering from drought as well as wind and frost damage.

Water harvesting can be quite a simple and highly satisfying activity for gardeners. In my small garden a 750 gallon water tank – quite cheaply available from garden suppliers – is quite easily accommodated and collects the rainwater from just the back half of the house roof. When it does rain this fills up in less than one night of modest rain: you might be surprised just how much rain does fall when it starts. A 50 gallon water butt – very cheap from DIY stores – gathers rainwater off the shed and greenhouse (and also fills very quickly when the rain comes) and feeds a 15 gallon water butt which supplies the greenhouse tap.

In total that’s over 800 gallons of stored water in the garden at any one time. By using readily available “water butt pumps” I can use a hosepipe from these sources and in really dry weather I can thoroughly drench the whole garden three times before I empty the large tank and I can’t remember the last time the greenhouse tap ran dry. Although I am not on a water meter and grow tired of the water companies’ asking us to save ever-more water, I do find it highly satisfying to be able to use so little mains tap water in the garden.

Rhododendrons are often in full bloom by now, but this year they are a little late and so there is a wonderful show of flowers only just starting to open.

Pinks and Carnations are old fashioned but so simple and easy to grow, heady with scent and provide phenomenal colour in the garden around this time of year and for a very long period. The Hawthorn flowers are profuse in number and glorious in delicate detail and Dicentra (especially the wonderful puce-flowered “Spring Gold” variety) are now in full bloom. Alliums and Lupins are just coming into flower too, each with their intricate, brightly coloured, blooms. And when it does start to rain, look out also for the beautiful patters and enhanced colours which the water brings – such as the marvellous jewels of water on Lupin leaves, and the beautiful sheen on the leaves of Hostas

My garden next opens for the National Gardens Scheme on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Spring Bank Holiday weekend – May 27, 28 and 29. I am open from noon until 6 p.m. on each day and as always there is a plentiful supply of home made cakes (including gluten free and savoury) and endless tea and coffee, plus traditional Afternoon Teas if you fancy a little treat.

It is 90 years this year since the farmland on which this house and garden stand was sold to Arthur Belton, the builder, and to mark this milestone I have written a book detailing the history of the garden (and including many of my cake recipes) which will be on sale for the first time at these three open days – all profits are being donated to the National Gardens Scheme to support nursing charities such as Macmillan and Marie Curie. Other NGS gardens are opening in the coming weeks too – you can find full details at www.ngs.org.uk . I hope you will come to an open day soon.