Sandy’s Garden ... A Windy Pain

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Once upon a time there was a pantomime joke which went: “Doctor! Doctor! I’ve got a terrible windy pain!”

“Don’t try to fool me – I can see right through you.”

(Boom, boom!) They don’t write them like that any more – but I won’t offer any comment on that. However, last week’s winds were a real pain to me in respect of what they did to my garden. The Meteorological Office (Met Office) website tells me that, and I quote: “Eastern Scotland is one of the more windy parts of the UK, being relatively close to the track of Atlantic depressions. The strongest winds are associated with the passage of deep areas of low pressure close to or across the UK. The frequency and strength of these depressions is greatest in the winter half of the year, especially from December to February, and this is when mean speeds and gusts (short duration peak values) are high.”

We all knew that winter winds are usually stronger than summer winds – and it is not only humankind that knows this. The entire natural world has evolved to cope with this. Many trees and shrubs shed their leaves in winter to reduce their resistance to wind and so to reduce the risk of damage from gales; and those that don’t have needles in preference to leaves and have more flexible branches than their deciduous relatives. The foliage and stems of the majority of herbal perennial plants die back in preparation for the winter, again reducing the chance of unwanted gale damage to the plants. Annual plants, of course, die by definition, leaving seeds or small seedlings to survive the winter and appear come springtime. But plants are not designed to cope with winter-like gales in high summer; and some of my taller garden plants took a real hammering last week.

I am again indebted to the Met Office for the following figures, which are for Leuchars, near St. Andrews, which was a Royal Air Force Fighter Command air base for the better part of a century before its recent transfer to the Army and was a place where there was a particular need to measure wind speed and direction continuously throughout the day and night. Gusts of more than 70 knots … which is more than 80 miles per hour (mph) … can be expected in both December and January, when the average wind speed hovers just above 10 knots or 11½mph. In the summer months of June, July and August, the average wind speed falls to marginally over 8 knots, or a bit over 9mph: but the strongest gusts seldom exceed 50 knots, or 57mph.

Contrast this with a report on the BBC website dated 7th August: “High winds have caused disruption in many parts of Scotland on what the Met Office says could be one of the windiest summer’s day on record. … Weather stations from Lanarkshire to Kinloss have noted unusually strong gusts, with speeds of 68mph recorded at Loch Glascarnoch in the Highlands. … Train services have been disrupted and energy supplies affected. … Homes in Broughty Ferry and Dundee have also been affected by a power cut. Met Office meteorologist Stuart Brooks said the wind speed on top of Cairngorm in the Highlands had so far reached 115mph and the weather station there was on track to note the highest gust ever recorded in summer.” Well, we didn’t have any gusts approaching 115mph and I don’t think we equalled Loch Glascarnoch’s 68mph. But we assuredly did have gusts which were sufficient to topple some large, heavy pots in my garden and to wreak havoc with my much-loved perennial sweet peas; and I shall never know why, despite every expectation that we would not have a severe gale in August, I had previously moved several pots into more sheltered positions. Aye, indeed, last week was a windy pain for gardeners!