Derek – Friday 8th October 2021
It rained hard in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with thunder and lightning too. I came into the garden in the late morning to find the rain barrels full. The pond could take no more, and was noticeably a little lopsided, the water its spirit level, the westerly end filled to the brim, and the easterly end (or fence end) about two inches lower.
The wildflower bed has been flattened in the downpour. It will not recover; it is too cold for that. There’s a few flowers hanging on, here and there, such as the Japanese anemone and the ever blooming marigolds. Their petals must be more firmly attached, as some flowers are shattered in the first rainstorm, many tulips for example. Daffs fare better. It’s a difficult balance for the plant breeder, enhancing colour and fullness, yet keeping the flowers weather-bearing.
Looking out for colour, I come across the bathtub of violas, bright and cheerful, reminding me of the flowers in Alice Through the Looking Glass, as their flower heads are like dolls’ faces. Alice has just come out into the garden having gone through the looking glass, and is finding it hard to get out of the garden. She needs help.
“O Tiger-lily,” said Alice, addressing herself to one that was waving gracefully about in the wind, “I wish you could talk!”
“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”
Alice was so astonished that she could not speak for a minute: it quite seemed to take her breath away. At length, as the Tiger-lily only went on waving about, she spoke again, in a timid voice—almost in a whisper. “And can all the flowers talk?”
“As well as you can,” said the Tiger-lily. “And a great deal louder.”
A little later, the Viola has its single line, where she is rather rude to Alice:
“I never saw anybody that looked stupider,” a Violet said, so suddenly, that Alice quite jumped; for it hadn’t spoken before.
The Viola is then admonished by the Tiger-lily and that is that. But violas can take windy wet weather a lot better than tiger lilies, who break easily in a storm. The violas, low to the ground, are out of the way of the wind, in spite of their large petals, like the hats of Edwardian ladies, as they head off on their bicycles to smash Whitehall windows.
There are several limiting factors on plant growth. I am not referring to genetics, which determine whether a plant is short or tall, whether it has tubers or bulbs, or whether it grows upwards or creeps along the ground. No, I mean the factors which determine if the plant will grow at all.
Lack of water is obvious, though not one affecting our garden currently. There’s temperature, and that is certainly having its effect. We are having a few warm days now, but previously, the temperature barely managed the mid teens, what with the longer nights, eating up the morning as well as the evening.
Which brings us to light, a third factor. Some plants, like sunflowers, barely grow without full sun, but ferns, bergenias and ivy, foliage plants, are happy in the shade. But we will get to a point, in a month or so, where, never mind what plant we have in mind, low light levels halt growth.
Herbaceous plants die back, deciduous trees lose their leaves. Their evolutionary route has been for leaf fall; strict economics, profit and loss. Like a mill owner, the tree has gone through the accounts. It is just not sound business keeping on all those useless leaves, now that low light and temperature have stopped photosynthesis. Lay them off.
Carbon dioxide levels are a limiting factor on plant growth too, but we can discount it, at least in our garden. Not in the wider world. The gas is only 0.04% of the atmosphere but is highly effective at trapping the sun’s rays, the so-called greenhouse effect. We need this to some extent, or the earth would be as cold as the moon which has no atmosphere. But increasing CO2 is causing the planet to heat up with all the consequent damage for humanity, which we’ll be hearing much more about at Glasgow’s COP26 summit in November.
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