Heatwave Posted on July 10, 2018

I looked at the greenhouse thermometer in trepidation last night. The day had reached 32 degrees; surely the greenhouse would have been hotter still. Miraculously it showed only 28 degrees – only five more than the one in the ‘cellar’. The garden’s habitual shade, plus a canny adjustment of vents and blinds, has kept the plants inside from cooking. Sadly the space under the front doorsteps where the wine lives has no such options.

The plants would be outside if we had space – but then they would be less air-conditioned. Despite two daily doses of ten minutes dribbling, in the open garden the sheer heat has produced odd signs of stress. Splendid trusses of roses, instead of fading in the usual way, have dried into pot pourri on the branch. Hydrangeas are fine, though, agapanthus that suffered in the winter are looking much better; at the moment the unexpected star is phlox. P. ‘White Admiral’ is sending its warm spicy breath all over the garden.

It is a different matter in Hampshire, where the trees we planted last winter are in trouble. In the winter of 2017 our autumn plantings suffered from a serious spring drought. Winter 2018 was splendidly rainy, but now there has been no rain to speak of since early April, and young roots are dying. Worse, the little springs feeding the water garden have dried up. The fine days are here alright, but where are the thunderstorms? An enormous zone of high pressure fills the whole of the north Atlantic from the Carolinas to Norway. Now we hear of a tropical storm off the Carolinas. Could it become a hurricane? And have the energy to cross the Atlantic? I fear it will look at the great splodge of high pressure and dump in the Caribbean.

I have spent weeks of my life standing with a hose, or carrying cans, to save the lives of infant trees. For several summers in the Auvergne I was the one moving figure in a parched landscape, the Englishman in the midday sun when even the mad dogs headed for the shade. My rule is to water if necessary for three seasons before giving up. There are hundreds of young(ish) trees in Kent, Hampshire and France that justify my policy. But this year I should be out with my watering can in Wales, too. The hottest spot in Britain the other day was Porthmadoc. In Wales we take rain for granted, but this year thousands of tiny trees need TLC.

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Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

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Rosa ‘Chapeau de Napoléon’

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