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May – The Weather Effect

'May is the month of expectation, the month of wishes, the month of hope'.

Clearly Emily Brontë hadn't had the soggy, mild winter we've just had, as here at Gasper Cottage it’s safe to say we're well past this early swell of promise in the garden.

"The garden is as big and lush as I've ever seen it in May", remarks Gasper gardener Jack. "In the meadow, some patches of grass are already starting to flop over – something not usually seen until midsummer".

Caused by a wet winter and spring combined with the recent few weeks of warmth, this early explosion of growth has seen Jack having to trim the meadow edges far sooner than he would normally expect to. The ‘sculpting’ of the long grass is to prevent it collapsing over the path when it rains, and is done several times over the course of the growing season.

Although using a strimmer would be the easiest approach, Jack finds a hedge trimmer gives better results. Harder on the back, but well worth the effort we think you’ll agree!

No doubt many of you will have noticed what a good year it is for meadow buttercups, currently seen covering fields and pastures in their thousands. While these adaptable wildflowers cope just fine with drought, give them a bit of moisture and they spread and bloom like mad, explaining why, after one of the wettest and mildest 18 months on record, they’re having such a bumper spring. The meadow at Gasper Cottage is no exception, and while there’s too much competition for them to gain the same foothold as in grazed pastures, there’s still far more than usual.

Buttercups enjoying the moist ground

Not limited to the meadow, this turbo-growth can be seen throughout the garden – the cardoon and angelica already towering presences in the New Ambition area.

The Angelica archangelica at the back (with the rounded, creamy green umbels) is actually three plants grown close together to give the impression of one large specimen


The lawn is also putting on staggering amounts of growth, needing to be mown at least twice a week.

Jack occasionally gives the grass a pre-mow raking over, to get it standing upright for a sharper cut

Just around the corner, the Front Garden is having something of a moment. Four years on from being almost completely renovated, the planting has reached a lovely stage of maturity and is currently the vision of perfection.

Has there ever been a more inviting garden path?

The warm, wet conditions have encouraged the planting to thicken quickly, filling almost every available space and creating a feeling of dense abundance

Of course, while this luxuriant growth is all very lovely now, it does give cause for concern in terms of keeping things going later in the season. Staking and supports are being considered for plants that haven’t needed help in previous years, and a widespread 'Chelsea chop' is underway to keep things compact and upright.

Campanula lactiflora, mid Chelsea chop

The oregano edging the path having been given the same treatment

There have, of course, been casualties. In the New Ambition area with its notoriously poor drainage, the sodden ground caused many salvias and nepetas to rot off this winter. As both were major players in this part of the garden, replacement planting is currently a top priority. More damp-tolerant perennials such as Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘JS Purple Spear' are going in, with an emergency mix of annuals to fill the gaps.

Holes in the New Ambition planting. Far too much bare earth on show for this time of year!

Fast growing annual grass Panicum miliaceum ‘Violacea’ (purple millet) to the rescue. This will fill the void for a year while the replacement perennials (such as the persicaria, also seen here) find their feet.

Another drawback has been the explosion in perennial weeds, which frankly couldn’t have been happier with the weather conditions over the past 18 months. Vetch is attempting a takeover bid in the New Ambition area, as bindweed mounts an invasion in the Railway Garden. It’s going to be a busy year…

Vetch: lovely in the surrounding lanes and fields, less appealing in the garden. Unfortunately, it's proving surprisingly difficult to overcome this determined interloper.

Having said all this, we are aware that these are minor issues compared to those who garden on heavier, clay soils and will be experiencing far greater problems after the endless months of rain. With the exception of the New Ambition area, the soil here is largely free-draining, and this year's weather can, on the whole, be considered more of a boon than a disaster.

"The high rainfall has made things such as spring planting and divisions much easier", explains Jack. "For the past few years spring has been much drier, and we've struggled to get these established".

While the exceptional amount of early growth has created extra work in the garden and will undoubtedly continue to do so, it certainly bodes well for a spectacular summer display. Unless, of course, the weather has other ideas...






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