It has been a rare year: snow and frosts lingered into April, and the first week of May was greeted with torrential raining and flooding. Until yesterday, it has been hot and dry ever since, and not just hot for England, but actually, really, hot. For the last three weeks, the temperature in my garden has been 28 degrees Celsius/82F by ten o’clock in the morning; there have been evenings when it was still 30C/86F at ten o’clock at night. It has not felt like England. On the edge of the demesne, there are mature trees in distress. Some beeches, Fagus sylvatica, are in their autumn coats, whilst some limes, Tilia cordata, have been dropping leaves. In time, I expect they will present with other underlying problems – a fungal infection, most probably, perhaps root or bark damage; they were already weakened in other words, and unable to cope with the drought. I walk the boundaries twice a day with the hound, expecting to see large boughs on the ground, but so far, nothing. Yesterday, it rained, and it rained persistently. It seems to have rained through the night and it is raining now. The petrichor rose from the earth like a prayer ascending. I breathed it in and filled my lungs with moist air like balm. I, the gardener, have withered under the unrelenting sun as much as the plants have, but there is always work to be done.
Fortunately, the English garden is catholic, and the English climate, being habitually temperate, allows the cultivation of plants from across the globe and many different habitats. Some tolerate the English weather and will live rather than thrive, whilst others grow more vigorously than they do at home. The majority of these postcards, to date, have, as their subjects, plants which are native to other lands. This week’s is no exception. Scabiosa caucasica is native, as the name suggests to the Caucus regions of what we now call Turkey and Iran. Its common name is the pincushion flower, but there are others who are better suited to that nomen, such as Knautia macedonica. It may not have rained for more than forty days and forty nights, yet these plants in the garden are show-stoppers. Our unusual summer must be more akin to the temperatures they enjoy and they are thriving. The catalogues list it as reaching 70cm/28″, but this year they are pushing 1m/36″. The flower, fully 5cm/2″ in diameter is a beautiful lavender hue which simply adores the brightest of sunlight. It gives throughout the day, in truth – it is wonderful at noon, and lovely in a different way at dusk. There is also a white form of the ‘Perfecta’ cultivar, although I have never needed it. If I had one complaint then it regards its relative scentlessness. The pollinating insects have no such qualms – the flowers are often weighed down on their long stems by fat bumblebees feeding deeply.