Is it thirst? Posted on September 18, 2009

Moaning about drought doesn’t get you anywhere, especially among friends who have just spent two weeks on Mull without a single dry hour. With 360 millimetres in the pot, moreover, we have had a fair proportion of our expected 500 mm annual allowance. So why are my arms so long from carrying cans, and why are my recent plantations so desperate for a drink?

Most of the rain fell, it is true, last winter and in July. The longest sequence of rainless days was in June and August, when the other side of the island was being soaked, but never more than 12 days or so without some dampening shower. The truth is that watering individual plants is never a substitute for

a good hou of rain. Even putting the rainmaker on is a pis aller. I suppose the reason is that competition among the congregation of roots that fills the soil. It is easy to think of plants that you can pull up with a neat tuft – but they are the minority.

Most plants insinuate their roots into as much ground as they can, whether others are occupying it or not. My can of water is the invitation to beat up the poor new boy in the class.

Is this the reason my salvias have been so slow to perform – the ones I scrounged in Scotland last summer? We paid a call to Powys Castle last weekend to see Wales’s great window-box at its most floriferous. Powys is famous for overflowing pots and vases of tender things in daring combinations, and by September all its hanging terraces, stacked below the red stone castle, bubble and froth with exotica. I drooled over it all – but especially over the salvias, in varieties I had never dreamed of, pouring down, rearing up, infiltrating their neighbours with their predictable but still somehow surprising pouty flowers in every colour from scarlet to searing blue to black and
green.

What did I do wrong? By the time mine are flowering in earnest the frost will be getting them – or even, fingers crossed, serious rain.

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