The patience of every gardener has been tested to the limit this year by the rollercoaster of weather we've experienced.
Following a winter of relentless downpours, a few weeks of mild weather hoodwinked us into believing the bad weather was behind us when Cornwall was hit by the 'beast from the east'. The easterly wind was dry and couldn't hold much moisture so although the snow was deep, it was lightweight and plants didn't splay under its weight. Thankfully, our unique setting in this sheltered ravine protected us from the constant withering wind and the damage we did experience was both short term and superficial. Some of our Tree Ferns were browned off but soon regenerated as the warmer weather followed.
The summer heat wave, caused by the stalling of the jet stream wind bought with it the drought. In June 2017 our rainfall was 73.5 mm, in July 2017 61.1 mm compared with June and July this year just a meagre 5.6 mm for each month.
Most of our trees have long tap roots that go deep into the soil and locate water deep underground and were mostly unaffected. Magnolia roots, however, grow horizontally and stay relatively close to the soil surface and are much more drought sensitive. In a garden of this scale we are unable to water overall, and as a result, we watched some of the Magnolias responding to the drought stress by shedding leaves to conserve resources.
New plantings of Azaleas towards the lower part of the garden had to be watered every day by the gardeners carrying jerry cans up the banks first thing in the morning at 7.30am.
So how do other plants cope with extreme drought conditions? Drought tolerant species have either small thick, waxy or hairy leaves that minimize water loss. Silver or grey leaves reflect the sunlight, thus reducing heat and evaporation. Cacti and succulents only open their stomata (tiny opening or pore used for gas exchange, mostly found on under-surface of plant leaves) at night when temperatures are lower. Interestingly, wilting redirects the leaves, reducing the amount of solar heating they intercept. All clever stuff!
Another result of the drought was the browning of the lawns at the top of the garden; hence a prolonged period of no mowing. Grass, despite its delicate appearance, is a very durable and resilient plant and has virtually fully recovered when the rain eventually returned.
Who knows what next year holds in store?