2012? IT WAS A FUNNY OLD YEAR…

What a year. No sooner had a drought been declared, it hardly stopped raining. It wasn’t a proper drought like the one of 1976 when I went swimming every evening at Castle Ashby lakes. The lakes were usually so cold that you only stayed in for a few minutes. By August 1976 you could float vertically and your feet were only just brushing the cold water below.

No, 2012, as it has already been said, ‘Was truly was the wettest drought on record!’

It was a very bad year for the vegetables and flax at Prebendal Manor. Most of the early vegetable seed didn’t germinate because of the very dry period and then the later seed rotted before germinating. I am glad that our vegetables are mostly for display as if it had been medieval times we would have been starving and lucky to survive until the new year. Thank goodness for the supermarkets and modern life.

One plus side to the wet summer was that the plants grew so well that the weeds didn’t get much of a chance. The negative side was that he grass went mad and didn’t stop growing. Mostly it needed cutting twice a week. It still hadn’t stopped even in November.

The roses had a good year. I was initially worried that the rain would cause the buds to ball and not open. Instead they flowered later than usual, not even beginning to bloom until June; the time of the year when they are often over, which was good for the visitors. The bushes smothered in blossom for ages and only stopped flowering in early October, which isn’t bad for non-repeat flowering roses!

Rosa Alba on the Tunnel Arbour.

The grapes suffered badly. It was too dry early in the year and there was a late frost. Then it rained and barely got warm enough for the plants to come into leaf. The flowers came too late and the grapes never formed and the plants ultimately succumbed to mildew.

The apples and pears also failed as a crop. A cold spring has meant no pollinating insects to fertilise the flowers. The Quince (Cydonia oblonga) and Medlars (Mespilus germanica) both produced poor crops. There were quite a few Quince but the fruits, which often weigh over 500gms each, were hardly larger than a peach. The mulberries rotted on the trees.

Our biggest disappointment was the cherries. The twenty foot high trees have showed signs of disease over the last two years, but his year the sap was bleeding and branch tips began to die over most of the trees except at the top. The foliage cover was nearly non-existent and there were only a handful of cherries, which the birds ate. Last year we had so many we didn’t know what to do with them. We made a few bottles of cherry Vodka, which is very warming when you are huddled over a cold fire.

The garden has had lots of birds, including dramatic fly-pasts by the Red Kites, but the swallows failed to return. Insects of any kind were few. Hardly any bees hummed amongst the lavender flowers and you could count the butterflies on both hands. But the slugs and snails are another matter. They had never had such a good year. My seedlings stood very little chance with hordes of the slimy creatures searching for food.

The other insect that was noticeable in the earlier part of the year was Lily Beetle. I killed record numbers in March, as many as 26  a day, but rarely saw one once the rains began. In that respect the Madonna Lilies were one beneficiary from the poor weather last year, although overall they performed badly as far as flowering was concerned.

The Glastonbury Thorn was very confused as to the time of the year. Instead of flowering Christmas and spring it flowered four times during 2011 and three times during 2012, with another flowering expected for late December. Unfortunately the Christmas flowering was a single spray of tiny flowers that barely opened and the snow and hard frosts killed off the other buds.

Glastonbury Thorn flowering during late summer

The one plant that excelled itself recently is the Borage. Plants sprang up in Henry the Poet’s Garden and were in full bloom from September onwards.

We had the best flowering display that I had seen for years. The borage continued to flower until the frosts transformed the plants into a black sludge; but what a way to end  the year, and from the least likely plant too!

SAM_3467

The pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) did very well, with one plant producing a flower  nearly 4 cm .

The large Pot Marigold flower.

The coppice also benefited from the rain. The willow grew madly and I knew that there would be a problem pruning all the trees before they became too big for me to cut by hand, but that will have to wait for another blog entry.

So, after the snows and floods, it is now February. The sun is shining brightly in a brilliant blue sky.

I wonder what Dame Nature has in store for our medieval garden for 2013?

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I am a garden historian, but a practical one. I resarch how gardening was carried out in the past, rather than just researching gardens. It can be very interesting. Some things that I learn seem to be rather unbelievable. Some other methods are still very practical. Visit my web site- www.historicgardener.co.uk

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