Sandy’s Garden

Winter? What Winter?

The air temperature in my garden as I write these words is 12.6°C or 55°F in old money; the average midday temperature for east-central Scotland is 8°C, or 46°F. Last night, the temperature in my garden never dropped below 10.2°c, or 50.5°F; the average night temperature in this neck of the woods is 4°C … say, 38°F. I have known colder days and nights in June, although the Meteorological Office thinks there may be a cold douche of reality on its way, with forecasters predicting a high of 8°C and a low of about perhaps 3°C on Tuesday … the average for this season … before rather warmer weather reasserts itself for a couple of days, after which we are warned to look out the winter woollies, with both maximum and minimum temperature falling to just a little below the November average.

For myself, the weather can stay mild for as long as possible, for I am not over-enthusiastic about a cold climate, despite the assertions that a good touch of frost will kill off all manner of infections to which we humans are prone. Maybe, just maybe, when almost everyone worked out-of-doors some generations ago and when most people lived in draughty, ill-heated houses, there was reason to suppose that cold weather would kill off germs: but nowadays, when most of us live in well-heated homes, travel to work or go shopping in warm transport and work or shop in a cosy environment, I suspect that there is no longer any justification for claiming that cold weather is good for us.

But our garden plants have little option in their lives; yes, we can move some pot-grown delicate plants into a frost-free winter home, but most of our garden plants will have to stay where they are, rooted in the soil. And they are distinctly puzzled by what is going on. I watered a large fuchsia plant in a hanging container before I sat down to write this piece, for the plant not only still has some flowers, it has set fresh buds! My grass is still growing … as are the mosses and the weeds … and I wonder when green-keepers have last had to use their mowers in late November to keep bowling greens, lawn tennis courts and quality cricket pitches in good order. I have only a handful of rose bushes, and they have several gorgeous buds apparently ready to burst into full flower. My magnolia tree still has leaves, as do other deciduous trees in my own and in neighbours’ gardens, long after we would have expected them to be reduced to skeletal forms by the cold and the high winds of the autumn. And I still have a splendid display of geraniums.

No, I don’t believe that climate change happens so rapidly that we can actually see significant changes in our weather in just a few years … and I much prefer the term ‘climate change’ to the term ‘global warming’, for my understanding is that climate change is actually likely to make Scotland cooler as the Gulf Stream is diverted north or our west coast and we loose the warming effect of this current of water from the tropics. But I do suspect that we are just beginning to see the onset of the predicted movement of our climate towards more extreme conditions … hotter temperatures when it is warm, colder temperatures when it is cold, more rain during wet spells, longer droughts during periods of dry weather, stronger gales when it is windy and more days of flat calm when it is not. Gardeners will undoubtedly have to take account of these changes over the coming decades by planting more species of plants that are able to cope with more extremes of climate. But in the meantime, I shall water my fuchsia; I shall mow my grass; I shall enjoy my rose-buds; I shall continue to dead-head my geraniums; and I shall be happy to leave my winter clothes in the wardrobe for as long as I can say, “Winter? What winter?”

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society