Autumn and spring have collided head-on and the garden’s all a-twitter with the aftermath. The birds are singing in a way that suggests they’re thinking of starting families. I want to run at the trees waving my arms and shouting “No! Wait! You’ll only regret it later!”
Indeed a friend of mine saw a twig-bearing coot in November, and as everyone knows, no good can come of a twig-bearing coot in November.
Twice since Christmas I’ve seen a large butterfly, a red admiral I think, fluttering around the front garden and trying to get in the front window.
A New Year audit of the garden reveals that the plants are equally confused. The flowering quince is, well, flowering. It just shouldn’t be. The buddleias are in full leaf, when they should be looking bare and shivering.
Last year’s angelica hasn’t died back yet. It’s just slumped, confused and dejected, neither dead nor alive, while new growth already spurts from the centre. The ferns haven’t died back either and the rudbeckias have started growing again.
The white camellia is flowering, way too early, while the bright pink splodges of an autumn-flowering hebe are illuminating another corner, way too late.
The grevillea, something you’d expect to see flowering in the Mediterranean in high summer, is at it too. And the last few leaves are still clinging to the plum trees as the daffodils come up to meet them.
The huge Sussex garden Wakehurst Place is reporting 50 different plants in flower, including roses, many of them six to eight weeks ahead of themselves.
These weird winters do throw up some beautiful plant combinations which are theoretically impossible. A couple of years ago I enjoyed the sight of rosemary and crocuses flowering next to each other.
This year we’ve had the odd frost, even a bit of snow on a couple of days, but nothing you could actually classify as winter. That doesn’t mean it’s not still coming. As my wise old mum points out, Easter is often colder than Christmas. There’s plenty of time for a cold snap yet.
Last year, of course, there was no mistaking winter. It stood as a great Berlin Wall between the seasons. The same garden that’s in growth now was under 18 inches of snow this time last year. The year then went straight from winter into summer, bypassing spring.
Maybe nature has decided to randomly drop one season per year, in some kind of austerity drive. No winter this year, no spring last year, no autumn the previous year. And no summers most years, now I come to think of it.
But plants are amazing at coping. They want to live, they want to grow and they’ll do their darnedest, even if they’ve been planted in the wrong place to start with. Some, of course, ultimately can’t take the confusion and will succumb. Even leylandii has been suffering and dying over the past year – so that’s at least one good result.
It’s hard to know how to garden with missing and extended seasons. A few years ago we were all supposed to be planting olive groves and vineyards for the Mediterranean climate that was allegedly coming our way. Since then we’ve had extremes of cold, spring drought and winter mildness that make it impossible to say any one form of planting is the smart way to go. As climate change bites, the British weather may or may not be warmer in any given year, but it seems certain to be prone to more extremes.
Climate change is a fact, whatever the cause (and I’m assuming we are). Global warming sceptics have created their own industry, and good luck to them, but whoever’s right it seems to me that we should treat the old planet with a bit more respect.
In the meantime, scatter-gun planting in the garden and on the allotment is probably the best way to outwit an ever-changing climate. I’ll plant a few things that love drought, a few that like a nice drink, and gamble on the odd tender plant among the frost-hardy ones. That way at least some things should always be happy, whatever the weather throws at them.