We had a wedding in the garden on May 31st 2003, a day that turned out to be the hottest on record for May in the South East. Kitty, the bride, glowed in the sunshine, and so did all her friends. Her garden-obsessed father was probably the only one looking round in vain for flowers, let alone roses. Not even the precursors, the yellow Cambridge rose or the Maigold on the south wall were out.
Last Sunday was May 31st, and the puzzle was finding a rose that was not in full bloom, or even going over. The borders were brimming. Campanulas, the first daylilies, to my surprise anchusas from last year, startlingly blue, oriental poppies, geraniums, aruncus, valerian, catmint, pinks, speedwell, deutzia and indigofera, tradescantia, alliums, iris sibirica, philadelphus and honeysuckle, phlomis and penstemons were all flowering or beginning to flower. And as for the roses, the trusses on generous Floribundas (are you still allowed to call them that?), were stooping to the ground.
Felicia, Iceberg, Cornelia, Buff Beauty, Danae and Autumn Delight all need heavy-duty support. Comte de Chambord and Jacqueline Dupré, Chapeau de Napoléon and William Lobb have sprawled into thalictrums and goat’s beard and a forest of macleaya. A week of warm weather has brought us from a promising spring to high summer without passing Go.
What conditions conspired to give us this feast? Mainly, I think, the steadily rising temperatures and timely rain since February, when we had our only, and brief, cold spell. In January the thermometer went down to 21° Fahrenheit, in February (on the 10th) to 29° F, but the last time it fell below 40° F was at the end of March. In April it reached 65° and the range in May was from 40° to 70°.
There was plenty of rain. I’ll do it in millimetres (the more accurate measure, just as Dr Fahrenheit’s scale is for temperature). There was 60 mm in January, another 60 in February, 40 in March, 20 in April and 30 in May. At the beginning of June, in fact, we had had half our annual average: not an exceptional score, but judging by the results exactly the right amount. No one can say what combination of temperatures and moisture makes the winning formula; this one worked, though. I’m inclined to believe the secret is lack of extremes – just as it is the secret of our British climate. Yet many flowers are conceived, as it were, by conditions in the previous year. Did generous summer rain help?