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Spring in February – good or bad?

March 5, 2019
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On Tuesday 26 February the temperature in our garden touched 20.3C, near the highest recorded anywhere in the UK on that day and only a degree or so less than the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK during the three winter months (December-February).

Needless to say, on a personal level it was fabulous to have such lovely warm days, but as one who used to lead research on the impacts of climate change on native fauna and flora and their interactions it was much less gratifying; where is it all leading one is forced to ask.

What is clear is that climate extremes that would until quite recently have been regarded as most unusual are now becoming almost commonplace, but that does not mean that the prognosis for all our futures based on their increasingly erratic patterns is any less alarming, rather the reverse. But how are such perturbations affecting our plants and gardens now, and how will things work out going forward?

Well, we all know that all sorts of unusual growth patterns are occurring with some plants much more obviously affected than others: camellias are almost a month earlier in full fower here while rhododendrons appear to be pretty much on cue to flower at their normal times. Tulips seem to be promising to flower well ahead of their usual times but in my garden at least snowdrops (about 40 kinds) have flowered more-or-less as normal.

I can offer a little story about daffodils: when I was still gainfully employed (pre 2001) I used to have to look around the garden to try to find a few daffodils to put on the desks in my office and that of my PS on St David’s Day (Patron saint of Wales, 1 March) and sometimes it was difficult. This year I could have picked a sackful in several varieties, some of which don’t normally bloom until early to late March. But again, some varieties, including forms and hybrids of  Narcissus poeticus, seem likely to flower in mid-late March as usual.

Some plants (Lithodora zahniiFibigia triquetraChrysaqnthemum hosmariense) that normally take a break from flowering for at least two or three months have continued unbabated throughout the winter. Tender young peony shoots, pregnant with their swelling buds normally expected to produce blooms in March – June are already well advanced and I fear for what will happen to them should we suffer a spell of freezing temperatues from now on. Presumably similar things of which I am unaware are happening in the largely hidden world of fungal and bacterial diseases and insect pests, in which interactions are ever present and often crucial in determining the potential for disease and pest outbreaks.

I, probably like most of you, feel pretty helpless in trying to do much about the environmental damage that we increasingly see all around us, but feel that I must try to at least bring it to the forefront of attention of as many people as possible, including my gardening friends, hoping that pressure on policy makers will build to take more concerted action to try to halt and reverse it.

Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and Galanthus nivalis ‘Howick Yellow’

Fibigia triquetra

Galanthus ‘Augustus’ and Ikariae subsp. ikariae

Having seen and enjoyed several hundred different snowdrops in a fine collection belonging to Pamela Harris at Llangernyw (near Abergele) recently, I am more sure than ever that I was right to stop actively collecting at about 50 distinct varieties and that G. ‘Augustus’ (a very old sort named for Edward Augustus Bowles) is my favbourite late flowerer; only just beginning to fade here. Running it close is a fine form of G. ikariae subsp. ikariaae which is also just coming to an end. IMHO there are far too many indistinct named forms which merely serve to confuse and dispirit rather than enlighten most gardeners, me included!

Galanthus graecus

Finally for this snowdrop season, and only just coming into full flower, another of my ‘almost’ favourites, G. graecus, kindly given to me many years ago by Chris Brickell. This is growing in very dense shade under a large camellia bush, which I have to try to remember to trim now and then to keep the ground clear, and it revels in these conditions.

Hyacinthella libanotica

This wee muscari-like bulb is spreading freely but not too aggressively in the Mediterannean bed so it clearly likes the conditions. It is only 3-5 cm high so it’s a question of getting down on creaking knees to get a reasonable photograph…

Hedychium gardnerianum

Only slightly ‘scorched’ by the ‘winter’ weather…

Hedychium gardenrianum is a splendid late-flowering ginger but a thug if not frequently reminded of who is boss. Generally the winter weather, even here on the mild N. Waes coast, is sufficient to reduce the top-growth to mush, but as you see, this season it has hardly been troubled at all. Of course, we may get a belated ‘Beast from the East’ to rival that of last March but until now winter here has been a non-event.

Narcissus  ‘Surfside’

As I am completing this report on St. David’s Day I will finish with another daffodil, a real favourite of mine that I have shown you several times before, but nonetheless beautiful for that.

Image of John Good John Good

John Good is a retired research forest ecologist with a lifelong interest in all aspects of the observation and cultivation of plants, alpines and woodlanders being of particular appeal. He has lived in North Wales for more than 40 years and he and his wife, Pam, have lived in their current hillside home and garden overlooking the sea for 27. He is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Forestry at Bangor University and maintains a strong interest in all matters related to land use in general and the balance between agriculture and forestry in particular.

He has been a member of the AGS for more than 50 years and a judge at our shows for half of these, as well as being a member (now friend) of the RHS’ Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee. He has travelled and lectured widely on alpines and written many articles and several books on the subject, the latter leading to his having served as AGS Director of Publications and Assistant Editor of our journal. He has also always been heavily involved in his local North Wales Group.