A couple of years back, I had the interesting experience of being in the UK during what was, officially, the wettest-spring and summer ever recorded. I say 'interesting' because that's what it was. Ground-nesting birds failed to raise chicks in nests swamped with water. Butterflies went into decline as, month after month, the wild flowers that are their main food source either failed to bloom or lay drenched and flattened on the ground. Bees were in serious trouble and crops failed to grow. Hardly a day went by when the newspapers didn't carry some riveting tale of the environmental consequences caused by the extraordinary weather conditions.
I, of course, had my own stories to tell. I was on a walking holiday! In Scotland, I waded through ponds where there should have been bird reserves. In Suffolk I ploughed along muddy trails where there should have been tow paths. In the Cotswolds, where fields had turned to lakes, and even the stoic Brits were spending most of their hiking hours in tearooms, I finally called it a day and took refuge in a B & B where the owner kindly dried out my tent in her garage. But although I wiped off my 'to do' list, visits to some of the greatest gardens in Britain (what was the point of paying pounds to see destruction in the rain?), I did notice something fascinating about the everyday gardens I passed in the streets each day.
In almost all of them, the plants were still upright, and the colour was still there! In fact, they couldn't have looked prettier. Living in a region of New Zealand that experiences more rain days than any other part of the country, I took careful note as to why this was and returned home to rebuild my own ornamental garden along similar lines. This year, in what is the one of the two wettest springs and early summers in the 30 years of my having lived in The Catlin's, I am happy to report that I am still enjoying my small flower garden.
Sturdy lupines in deep velvety reds, pink and purples are thrusting up their colourful spikes despite the leaden skies. Foxgloves in delicate shades of apricot and pink are happily flowering in the endless rain, and the tiny lime-green flowers of lady's mantle dance above crinkly water-filled leaves that turn to sparkling jewels at any hint of a break in the clouds. Hardy geums and wallflowers produce colour whatever the weather, aquilegia ask only a modicum of support, and even the delphiniums are happily drinking in the endless supplies of moisture. And as for the mock orange blossom, the cooler the season, the longer it's gloriously perfumed flowers will last.
Do I miss the bearded irises I once tried to grow and which turned to slush after the second or third week of rain? Do I yearn for the bright pansies I used to cosset, and which succumbed to black spot in a spring and summer without sunshine? Never! Gone are the dry-loving dianthus, the little rock garden ground-covers. Gone are the verbasom (love them though I do) and the colourful yarrows. My garden is now what it should be – a cool spring and summer display of hardy no-nonsense moisture-tolerant perennials that keep on keeping on whatever the weather conditions throw at it. My motto is: 'grow what my region grows best' and save the rest for a visit to another part of the country. Though if the rain continues for too much longer, I may look more closely at a lily pond!