In many ways 2013 has been a very good year. After a long cold spring we finally had a summer to remember. Our native spring flowering plants benefited from an extended flowering period. For the first time in two years there was an abundance of butterflies. Many of our fruiting trees and shrubs produced a bumper crop. We even had memorable fungi filled Autumn
Much like now, last January was incredibly mild temperature wise, until the final week brought a flurry of snow which some forecasters have been predicting again. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) have long been associated with the heralding of spring. Last year, we noticed Snowdrops as early as January 2, before winter had begun.
Kew gardens has been keeping a watchful eye on the flowering times (phenology) of British flowers. In the 1950s, Snowdrops commonly flowered at the end of February. It is only since the 1990s that they have been flowering in January. Just by paying attention to what is happening in your garden, you get sense of how the climate is changing.
Although late, we had a proper winter, with March being the coldest since 1962. A harsh winter followed by a dry cold spring provided a long flowering season for many British natives. This particularly benefitted; Primroses, Bluebells and the rare Pasque flower, which was able to bloom before the grasses grew. It also meant that many of flowering trees and shrubs did not set flower until after the danger of frost had past. A stunning blossom was followed by a bountiful harvest in Autumn.
Summer actually arrived this year. After two disastrous years for butterflies, they managed to bounce back. In London Buddleias are reserved for verges, green ways and train tracks. But if you so happened to come across one in August, it would have been aflutter with species such as the Red Admiral, Peacock and Brimstone.
Image courtesy of Butterfly Conservation
However, we saw few in London gardens, something that designers need to think about when they decide to plant yet more swathes of box hedging. If Buddleias are too cumbersome, there are plenty of other butterfly seducing plants.
This autumn really enforced the importance of planting trees and shrubs for Autumn colour. The gardens that stood out in October and November were those with fine displays of either leaf or fruit. For us, it was the year of the crabapple.
Crabapples offer a fantastic blossom in late spring, there are varieties that have great autumn leaf colour and once all other leaves have fallen the miniature apples provide pearls of inspiration on a drab November day. They are a source of nourishment for many garden birds, and make great jelly to accompany a roast dinner. If you don’t have a crabapple in your garden, get one. There are many cultivars so do your research. One of my favourites is Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel.’
The John Downie Crabapple
Like last year we will have another late winter. A late winter means a late spring. It also means we have a rather mild insipid pre-winter period of nothingness. There is nothing happening in the garden. If the mild weather confuses trees into leaf it only causes us panic, we know frost is imminent.
But winter comes into its own on a beautiful frosty morning, when you can feel the crunch of the grass underfoot, and get excited by the chance of snow. While this is still to come, what do we have to recommend now?
There are two things that have brightened our 2013 dreary December, both commonly found in hedgerows. The drooping grey spider webs of Old Mans Beard (Clematis vitalba) and the bright red hips of the majestic Dog Rose (Rose canina). While most would argue cultivated varieties of both are far superior, I challenge you to find cultivated a rose or clematis that offers quite as much right now.