Oh, to be in England Posted on April 27, 2011

It is a comfort to read that there have been years like this before, when summer arrived before the cuckoo. 1893 broke all records for a racing start. In the South of England there was no rain from the end of February to the middle of May. Record temperatures telescoped spring into summer – and summer went on in the same spirit. 1893 was followed by seven years of drought (and 1894 saw record low winter temperatures). But what can you learn from a mere decade or so of seemingly consistent patterns of weather?

This year there have been only a scattering of drops since the last days of February, and April has been the hottest since heaven knows when. One record has been broken which I expect never to happen again: our champion crab apple, the Malus baccata from Siberia that crowns the churchyard gate from our front park with a dome the size of a small Orthodox church was in full flower on Easter Sunday. Only the latest Easter possible (this year it coincided with the Orthodox one) married to the earliest spring we have ever seen could bring this off. Village brides timing their wedding for the crab apple reckon on mid to late May for the photo among its enfolding white boughs.

I set out on Easter morning to list all the flowers in the garden, but soon gave up. It meant listing almost everything that flowers in spring. The back-marker, to my surprise, is the hawthorn in the hedges, just breaking its flower buds with the promise of a deluge of foamy white to follow the magnolias, the cherries and even the crab apples.

Climbing roses have been slightly delayed, it appears, by the long cold winter. The Banksian rose is on schedule, though; a thick yellow blanket around our bedroom windows on the west wall. Gloire de Dijon is tentatively opening on the same wall and Maigold’s first flowers, a bit anaemic compared with its usual brilliant orange, are just appearing. Rosa moyesii is also firing up.

Never has the ash been so far behind the oak. The elm, too, which in Browning’s April is in ‘tiny leaf’, has held back. The oak apart, it seems, our native trees have been less impressed with the premature heat wave than the exotics of the garden.

Hugh’s Gardening Books


Trees was first published in 1973 as The International Book of Trees, two years after The World Atlas of Wine….

Hugh’s Wine Books

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

I wrote my first Pocket Wine Book in 1977, was quite surprised to be asked to revise it in 1978,…

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