There’s been strange goings on in Heworth this summer. While gardeners and the plants they look after have been wilting in the heat some things have been quietly preparing for a bit of a show.
Take this incredible, eye-popping acacia for example. It’s not one I look after, but has sat for decades in the garden next door to a client’s producing lovely foliage, losing some of its new growth each year in the winter frosts but otherwise not doing much else.
Then for the first time that anyone can remember it’s flowered. Not only has it flowered it’s entirely transformed into a mass of soft yellow sweet pea like blooms that cascade to make a beautiful canopy. The whole tree buzzes with bees who probably think they’ve just arrived in heaven. There’s a reason why Acacia Honey sells at a premium.
I’m unsure as to the variety. I’m fairly certain it’s not the more common Acacia dealbata or mimosa which is a relatively common sight in English gardens. I’m currently trying to get an ID and will of course report back when I get the definitive answer.
I’m also waiting for the seed pods to appear so I can nab a few and attempt to germinate some of my own.
Acacias are native to Australia where they are often known as wattles and grow practically as a weed. After Eucalyptus they’re one of the most likely forest species to be found in those sun baked parts. They’re also common in the Mediterranean where their foliage is often used by florists. They require lots of heat to put on such a good display as this one which really does underline just how extraordinary the first half of our summer has been.
The reasons the flowers look pea like is because they’re part of the legume or Fabaceae family (as too is wisteria) as too is the Robinia pseudoacacia which as the name suggest goes around pretending to be an acacia when it actually isn’t. There are a few giveaway clues that mark them out, the shape of the leaves being one of the most obvious.
That said, should someone come back and tell me that this is indeed one of those pretend acacias acting up I’ll take this news in the correct manner and chalk up a bit more hard won horticultural knowledge.
Working outdoors I’m perhaps more aware of the weather than most. My ‘summer timetable’ began on the tail end of The Beast From The East’. Usually in March there’s enough glimpses of sunshine to complement the first flowers and to suggest that Spring is well underway. This year it was cold, the ground was sodden when it wasn’t frozen and working in it was sometimes a challenge. But you plough through the worse of March knowing that April will bring some sunny days, shirt sleeves and better weather. This year it didn’t. It was still cold well into the middle of the month and at times it felt like it would never stop raining. I lost count of the number of times I came home looking like a drowned rat. I remember talking to clients about the similarities with 2012 which was famously wet and cold throughout. There were weird goings on elsewhere however with the London Marathon being run in the middle of an unlikely heatwave. The Met Office this year has had to issue warnings for serious snow, flooding and heatwave.
May began with a continued wet theme before the weather began to settle into the dry and increasingly hot pattern we’ve seen over the last few weeks. My plans for this blog post were originally going to include something about helping your garden to cope with the lack of water but that now feels superfluous following the Biblical deluge we’ve had over the past few days. Organisers of summer events who were gleefully anticipating perfect conditions for this weekend just gone were instead tethering down gazebos or issuing cancellation notices.
It’s hard not to think that something is going on. It is, but perhaps not quite how we imagine. The weather in March was actually not particularly unusual for that time of year we’ve just adjusted to milder winters. The earlier arrival of Spring across the Northern Hemisphere is a well-established phenomenon, and one that has been linked to the changing climate.
What’s happened over the past few weeks, not just in the UK but globally however is much more alarming for climate watchers. The planet is getting hotter. There were times over the past couple of weeks when places in the Arctic Circle were as hot as southern Spain. The consequences for communities across the globe have been clear to see.
In our own country we might not face quite such extreme consequences (but the people living near moorland areas that have been ablaze recently might disagree) but a warming climate will have profound consequences for how we live our lives, not least how we garden. Should dry hot summers become the norm lush lawns will become a thing of the past, some of our much loved plants which thrive in a temperate climate may have to become history replaced by tougher sun lovers.
Now thankfully I’m not spending as much time watering as I have been and the ground is thoroughly soaked. As older born and bred Yorkies have been telling me over the past few weeks we’ve never had a hosepipe ban in York as our water comes from the rivers Ouse and Foss but you can’t help but worry about indiscrimate use of water on our gardens.
We might be a nation that obsesses over weather but this year has given us much to think about. I really wouldn’t want to predict what the second half of the summer into autumn will have in store but I do know that we all need to make changes to prevent unavoidable climate change becoming a global catastrophe. It’s one very big reason why I’ve elected to be a cycling gardener rather than a man with a van.