November 2022 – The rain it raineth all around

Wow is it ever raining now? Not that I’m complaining, we still desperately need the rain to top up water levels in the garden. Not to mention in the Beck and the Rye in Helmsley plus all the other rivers and reservoirs across North Yorkshire and the rest of the country with the possible exception of the Lake District.

I was truly shocked to see the River Rye a dry riverbed through Helmsley this summer from about July onwards. It only started to see water flowing back in October and that was a very low and sluggish flow initially.

Yet I still hear people questioning why the hosepipe ban is still in force. I’ll stick my neck out here and say I think we (and I include myself in this) have got into a bad habit of treating water as a commodity rather than as a resource to be treasured and not taken for granted.

As a business we were allowed to water our plants for sale but no other part of the garden and it was punishing on anything that was newly planted. We manged the situation in two ways.

One, we have a Victorian bowser that we filled and wheeled around the garden with a watering can. Or rather, others did, I manged to lose control of it when it bucked forward and I flew over the top landing heavily on the rim and handle (both cast iron). It made for some interesting bruising I can tell you.

The other solution we used for newly planted trees and shrubs was one that June saw on her study trip to Denmark and Sweden called prosaically, tree bags. They are sturdy but malleable plastic containers that you fill with water which slowly trickles out over about 12 hours.

They saved all our trees including the Prunus ‘Shogetsu’ (Blushing bride cherry) we planted for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee so I would recommend them. Not pretty but they do the job.

I confess I was surprised to see how much colour the garden retained as we went into October. The summer heat was relentless and you could see some things going over almost before they had flowered. But the first drop of rain and everything responded so fast you could almost see it happening.

Michaelmas daisies, red hot pokers and rudbeckias lit up the borders along with the dahlias which are still flowering their hearts out. In addition the autumn colours of things like the acers, Rhus typhina (Stag’s Horn Sumach) and Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood) are just amazing.

There is a scientific explanation for this. Sunshine on leaves provide energy which plants photosynthesise into plant sugars. As the leaves start to die back, the chlorophyll breaks down leaving the underlying colours visible. High levels of plant sugars lead to vivid reds in particular so you may well notice some leaves being even more brilliant than in previous years.

The spindle bush in my garden at home is the richest claret I think I have ever seen it. Now if only I had a red wine that colour!

So much as we might hate feeling soggy after being out in the rain all day, the thought that it will help the water table recover and fill all our aquifers and reservoirs is a very comforting one.

Going forward we all need to think of clever, more efficient ways of saving water. More mulching might be one way, also as the late, great Beth Chatto would say, by growing the right plant in the right place: plants that grow happily in the conditions we can provide. A lot of food for thought this winter.

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