This may not seem like much of a drought to you but in the U.K. we always have an umbrella to hand. If there are no puddles underfoot, then rain is expected presently. This is why we are a nation of gardeners; the weather suits it and we’re making the best of what we’re given. Sunglasses do get sold but since we don’t have many gangsters or much sunshine, they are little used. This week has been a shock to my system. After seven days of unrelenting brightness, some bits of my patch are drooping and other parts are parched. Without precipitation for forty-eight hours the earth turns to dust, the bird bath evaporates and the water butts are empty. The sparrows sit in the trees panting and the cats sprawl in the shade looking irritable, too hot and tired to molest them.
Iris versicolour (blue flag)
Some plants need no additional irrigation; with Semper vivum (houseleek), the clue is in the name, the Latin translates as always living. Achillia, Anthemis and varieties with silver leaves are resistant to dehydration and need little attention. I have been larding the beds with home-made compost, in an effort to improve the structure of the soil and thus boosting its moisture retaining qualities. I try to stick to tougher specimens since climate change is a real thing. Sooner or later, we are going to see that rare phenomenon, an Englishman with a natural tan. I am unable to resist roses and lilies, which need a quick spritz before they start to wilt. High maintenance types require watering daily, including hanging baskets, vegetables such as courgettes or tomatoes and exotics; Brugmansia, I’m scowling at you. Tote that barge, lift that bale, Old Man River is not coming to the rescue. Form a chain gang if you have the manpower, ready, steady, watering cans standing by, go.
Crinum x powellii ‘Album’ (White Powell lily)
I’ve been using grey water from kitchen and bathroom, since a little diluted detergent does no harm and conditioner makes the leaves silky and manageable. Garden water storage is not yet used up but we’ve only just embarked upon July and there could be more desiccation to come. Despite the metered supply, I have unwound the hose and topped up the pond, splashing about like a cross between a water nymph and a hippopotamus.
The red garden
On the plus side, I thought that the expected conjunction of Jupiter and Venus was going to be visible. I’ve been getting royally pissed off with meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses and other celestial events being held without me, behind a thick bank of British cloud. On Wednesday morning I unpacked my house, hunting for binoculars, thinking that I was on a promise. By lunchtime the heavens opened, which meant that I had to scuttle to retrieve all the contents of the attic, thrown on to the front lawn during the course of the search. Did I get an invitation to the planetary party? No, I didn’t get a look in. Instead I went down to the beach and witnessed the lightning tap dancing across the waves, while the air bursts from surrounding storms filled the sky with eldritch light. When we got home I opened the window and listened to the hammering of the rain. I’m not complaining, since apart from the gurgling of downpipes and the smashing of thunder, from the garden I could hear a prolonged and heartfelt sigh of relief.