I spoke with my friend Alessandra in Verona one day recently.
I learned, among many other things, that, “It is like winter here; the temperature when I got up this morning was only 10°C although the day is improving as the hours pass.” It is more common for Alessandra to tell me that the July temperature in Verona has climbed into the low 40s and it is too hot to even think of basking in the sunshine. But on this occasion I was able to assure her that she should be in central Scotland, where we have been enjoying a delightful spell of consistently warm weather, with afternoon temperatures regularly in the mid-20s.
I have been happy with our recent weather, even though it has entailed rather a lot of watering of container-grown summer bedding plants; and I much prefer working in my garden wearing a sun hat than happed up in a windcheater and a cap. However, it has to be said that, while many of the plants share my delight in being permanently warm, not all of them are over the moon with the almost-daily sunshine. I might start with what passes for my lawn … ‘front grass’ would be a much more appropriate term … where the fescue grasses which are found in most contemporary lawns do not appreciate being baked. All things being equal, they will recover when the current hot spell subsides: but right at this moment the fescues are looking badly sunburned, desiccated and brown; and there is a chance that the stress caused by what they regard as excessive heat will do them no good in the longer term. (Why is it that grasses gardeners wish to cultivate suffer in conditions where unwanted grass weeds thrive?)
My few azalea bushes are also showing signs of excessive exposure to the sun. No, they have not turned lobster red with peeling skin: but their leaves are looking prematurely tired and ready to drop, victims of this wonderful … in my eyes … summer. And the less said about my primulas, the better. Limp and listless, they perk up when newly watered: but they quickly subside in the solar glare, their foliage wilting almost as one watches.
I don’t usually use the term ‘global warming’, preferring to call it ‘climate change’. And, as regular readers know, I do accept that most of the scientific evidence points to climate change at a much faster rate than would be expected in the course of the natural cycle of warmer and cooler periods; and I accept that our dependence on fossil fuels is contributing significantly to this process. I can admire the Scottish politicians’ wish to occupy the moral high ground by seeking to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions: but, while every little helps, I do not believe that we can make any noticeable difference to the relentless increase in such emissions as developing countries emulate our past and present reliance on coal and oil.
So, while I might choose to make a miniscule personal contribution to the cause, I suspect that the cause is lost in the short to medium term. And that suggests that I might be wise to consider replacing heat-exhausted plants in my garden with plants from parts of the world with more extreme climates – hotter, drier summers and wetter winters with occasional spells of intense cold. That favourite shrub of my many Italian holidays, oleander, might be a good choice to replace my struggling azaleas. I did see oleanders for sale in a local garden centre just the other week and I don’t recall seeing them there before. Lavender likes hot weather and tolerates damp winters better than many plants; and hardy outdoor fuchsias will enjoy the different climate which seems to be advancing on us. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the sun while we can!