Unpredictable Posted on June 23, 2018

Total colour control at Woolton Hill

What precise algorithm of sun and rain, of isobars and daytime averages, gave the auxins their instructions and the roots their rations we shall never know, but the roses read it, and so did all the other plants that have made this spring the floweriest in memory – at least in the south. Most noticeable of all were the trees; the Indian horse chestnuts lining Kensington Road a wall of white flowers in June, lime trees gilded all over with flowers, their scent almost painfully powerful.

Gardeners’ memories of the weather are not exactly reliable; nor are accurate recent records easy to find. Go to the Met Office and all you find is forecasts (with the same proviso about reliability). Backcasts, as it were, are seemingly either binned or archived where access is awkward. We all remember a proper winter this year, after years of wondering whether that chilly weekend was supposed to count. Not a real old-fashioned one, but enough to make the headlines as The Beast from the East.

Six months ago I was speculating about the future of olive trees in London, which will be challenging Tuscany one of these days. I haven’t seen one tree damaged, nor even the Trachelospermum that has become the signature plant of Kensington and Chelsea. Hammersmith, too, I noted the other day, where the council has seen fit to plant a hedge of it in boxes down the middle of Hammersmith Grove by the tube station. Picture it, unprotected, when the Beast returns.

The effect, in any case, of whatever conditions attained in the garden in the past twelve months has upset all sorts of calculations, including my resolve to bring some discipline into our colour palette. Blue, white, a smattering of cream and a few daring moments of polite pink, even a glint of silver, was my thoroughly conservative intention (it’s a rather small garden). Then our neighbour’s startling red roses shot up above the wall, seemingly on stilts, flopped down into space I so primly regard as mine, and Eureka. The garden burst into calypso. Roses cabbage-size, moreover, tossing their petals over paths, hedges and beds. Discipline gone; control lost. When I get my breath back I shall look at those colour charts again.


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