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Wet weather woes

Published 05/01/2013




John Manley reflects on a disappointingly wet 2012 and hopes for better results in the year ahead UNLIKE our agricultural counterparts, we gardeners are not renowned for our whinging. If anything, gardeners are the opposite and often I even find some disconcertingly cheery and dotty.

Last year, however, was an exception as no matter where you ventured in Ireland you were never less than 50 yards from a disgruntled gardener. The reason? As if you needed reminding, was rain. Gallons and gallons of the stuff, all summer long.

While Irish gardeners will obviously acknowledge that they are accustomed to a fair amount of rain and that in moderation it can be a good thing for the garden, last year the sheer relentlessness of it overwhelmed most.

The high precipitation led to many problems, the most obvious of which was the inability to physically step out into the garden for fear of being soaked. This in turn precipitated (pun intended) a profusion of weeds, an epidemic of over-lush lawns and an abundance of slugs and snails.

On top of this, low light levels led to poor growth for crops such as sweetcorn while the moist conditions meant blight was more prevalent among potatoes and tomatoes. Weatherwise it was an annus horribilis and we can only hope that 2013 will be an improvement.

Yet for those of us who enjoy a bit of water gardening it had its upsides. 2012 was my first full year with a pond and while not exactly putting a silver lining on all the grey rain clouds it was a consolation of sorts.

The nymphea (water lilies), flag iris and horsetail all thrived - as did the duckweed.

There was no problem with the pond's water level, which due to the rainfall was always brimming at the edges. Consequently, the gunnera (giant rhubarb) in the adjacent bog garden which collapsed the previous year due to a lack of water remained turgid and upright throughout the summer.

Other plants around the pond edges untroubled by the rain were the Carex pendula, the Dierama pulcherrimum (angels' fishing rod) and the Crocosmia 'Lucifer'.

Unfortunately though, enjoyment of the novel water feature was rare because of the aforementioned wet stuff falling from the skies.

The summer's best view was from the shelter of the greenhouse where I could remain dry during a noisy deluge, contemplating the heavy droplets exploding on the pond surface.

The view outside the greenhouse was preferable, as much to my shame I neglected the plants inside - starving them of water in the midst of Ireland's monsoon summer. As I noted at the time on twitter, if tomato plants had social workers, mine would've been taken into care a long time ago.

The tomato plants - and chillies too - had been given to me by two card school friends.

Blokes of an older generation, they would frown - justifiably - upon my treatment of their plants.

A combination of apathy, procrastination and a new-found passion for playing cricket in my spare time led to the poorest tomato harvest yet. The chillies weren't quite as bad though the most promising thing they yielded was seed for this year.

Generally, the fruit and veg output for the year was poor. There were no apples to speak of and while the damsons promised a strong harvest, they didn't last long on the trees. The potatoes - Duke of York - were stunted but yield was better than expected and of good quality.

If I had to point to one success in 2012 it would be my ever-increasing collection of ornamental grasses.

Ideal for creating a wild atmosphere in the area leading to the pond, grasses such as Stipa tenuissima 'Pony Tails' and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' worked wonderfully among the prairie perennials like Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' and Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue'.

I'm always optimistic for the year ahead in January but if rainfall levels begin to match last year my spirits will surely be dampened.