I spent some of my weekend in the car, tootling around from one place to another (and yes, I even visited a Worcestershire garden centre during my time off!) I suppose it’s no surprise but I was also listening to BBC Radio Hereford and Worcestershire on my sojourns, taking full use of my license fee, with half an eye on the road and half an ear tuned to the vibrations that carried over from The Sunday Gardening Show. As with all such things when your journey is interrupted by frequent and short stops (getting petrol, then a quick dart into a co-op for some vegetables for my Sunday roast, then a quick stop at Halfords to get some winter window spray for the van), the radio show seemed to seep into me in peculiar osmosis.
I was left with recollections of a Scarecrow Festival, Mexican Marigolds planted alongside stinging nettles (they release their own herbicide that can help control the stingers), a custard cream eating society in Upton upon Seven (was I imagining that?), and a sunflower competition followed by a gastric treatise on coriander!
But one comment did strike me that is something I myself have experienced with previous warm autumns: and that is that some plants are still in flower and doing quite well, when in times of normal, colder weather, they would have died back. What this means for some gardeners is that they are hesitating to start the transition from summer duties to autumn ones: new plants are not being planted at the time they should be.
As a professional gardener, this is problem. I have managed the flora of Worcestershire all my professional life (admittedly not all of it!). One key skill is understanding how the weather affects the plants you lay down and what action you will need to counter any changes in the usual pattern of climate. This sounds like the first thing any gardener should know, but it is one of those skills that can’t easily be learned from a textbook or a lecture – it is a practical knowledge that comes about from working with nature through sun, sleet and snow (and the endless, endless rain), and understanding (almost without knowing), what to do. (I often think that gardening is like a physical sport: you develop a muscle memory that you start to use without any conscious thought).
The problem a delay in moving to autumn duties gives us when the weather is as warm as it is now is that the newly planted autumn generation won’t get the benefit of the warm ground – the soil temperature will fall off quickly over the next few weeks. This will put them at a disadvantage later on in the gardening year when you will expect them to bloom as they will have had to work harder to build up a good head of steam. And as it is November, the time of planting bulbs for the coming spring is now upon us – they really need to go down within the first two weeks of this month to be sure that they have a good chance to get going.
But the warm weather, in conjunction with rain, can also lead to other problems. We depend on November bringing in cooler weather to kill the bacteria in soils and to slow the fungal growth under dead leaves. If it goes on too long then diseases for both plants and animals can become more common (and the same principle extends to us humans too. The dreadful Zika virus, of which some cases have been reported in the UK from returning travellers, is carried on mosquitos. The best hope we have to delay its spread in Europe is the onset of a cold winter and hard frosts to make sure the mosquitos perish).
With sunshine forecast for the next five days, it’s an ideal time to get out and do those things in the garden that need doing – for it looks unlikely to last, and next week will subject us to more traditional November weather.