A year can be a long time in the life of a garden and for even the most renowned gardeners, like Christopher Lloyd, the learning never stops.
It is human nature to give the past year a disgusted kick and to welcome the new one through a haze of optimism that this time everything is going to be different. But was last year really as bad as all that? I didnít think so.
It was an early spring again. That always arouses anxiety, because of the damage that would result from frost in April. But this time we escaped without those frosts. Blossom was terrific. Iíve never seen such a showing of magnolias as there already was in the second half of March. Daffodils flowered abundantly, too.
But there were heavy rains in April and May, at least where I live in the southeast, and daffodil foliage rotted prematurely. Where this happened, it will mean a poor showing of bloom this spring.
The summer was inclined to be chilly and overcast. Lots of moans from human baskers, but these conditions admirably suited many of our flowers, which lasted in good condition for much longer than usual. You know how roses that are unlucky enough to open at the start of a baking hot day, turn limp within hours and are a frazzle by the evening? This year, they didnít come under these pressures except, I am told, on one day in mid-June, which I escaped by being in Scotland at the time. The gardens there were looking great.
However, being away at that time meant that we were late in planting up our exotic garden with all the exciting plants that we had overwintered under heated glass, not to mention the lively floral elements of cannas and dahlias. They came into their own in due course, but later than they should. By mid-August, Fergus, who is our severest critic, remarked that heíd never seen the garden looking better.
The wall apricot, now some 90 years old, bore an enormous crop (we did thin it), which the blackbirds tired of eating, leaving most of it for me.
The tail end of the year was so fantastically wet that it is hard to recollect anything else. Our rainfall measurements, recorded since 1913, broke all records. Hard luck on those who live low down. We, around 1460, were sited on the southwest slope of a hill and have an excellently scenic view of floods below us.
How will the past affect plans for the future? I have always taken risks over the hardiness of plants that I grow. All self-respecting gardeners do that. If you expect a frost or a hard winter round every corner, youíll never enjoy yourself. If there really is a greenhouse effect (by no means proven, in my opinion) gardeners should be taking advantage of it. If we are punished, we can soon forget; if not, what fun there is to be had on our off-shore islands with winds blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico.
I shall not be taking my holiday in June. Fergus and I have marked in our diaries that no engagements shall be taken on from 10th to 17th June, and we shall use that time to concentrate on planting up the exotic garden (once the rose garden).
We grow a lot of annuals but poor timing last year meant that many were ready to be planted out before their places were ready to receive them. So they were often spoilt or wasted. Timing of this kind is tricky. There is always the temptation to sow too early. We know that, but still do it sometimes.
To an extent, the difficulty can be overcome by moving the annuals that are being kept waiting into larger pots and giving them more space on their standing ground. But, in a way, that is time wasted when better planning could have seen the plants in their flowering positions earlier.
We make things difficult for ourselves by planning successions to keep the borders lively right to the end of October. But that is exciting, too, and satisfying when it comes off.
See also the related workshops:
How to ensure year-round interest
Using exotic plants