PHIL CALVERT: Drought or monsoon? What does the summer hold for us?

Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert
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For months, while we have heard reports of drought-stricken Britain, I have been going out with little Monty in filthy wet weather, with paths little better than mud baths, gazing across valleys characterised by vast areas of standing water. There has certainly been not a hint of drought in these parts.

It is very easy to forget just how wet it has been. At the end of February, Wifey and myself (and of course little Monty) were walking in the Silverdale area. The higher ground was reasonable enough, but the lowlands made for grim going. If I had organised the expedition, there is no doubt Wifey would have “rebelled” and given me some serious earache about the state of the ground underfoot, which at times was more than ankle deep in standing water and with a generous coating of slurry-like mud.

At one point my brother actually got stuck in some boggy ground and I had to pull him out, though I did consider abandoning him to his fate given his route planning.

How different things became in March. My lawn yielded a half decent crop of rice last year and had become a no-go area, but the sunny weather of the last couple of weeks has delivered a transformation.

The ground has firmed up and it has received a first cut. The long vegetable border which was dreadful to work has now dried out, has been dug over and is now ready for spud planting, which hopefully I will have completed by the weekend. My enthusiasm for working out there has started to return, although most daylight hours are spent working down at Reedley.

The temperatures have, of course, been quite amazing, with 20˚c routinely breached as the sun burns down from blue cloudless skies. Worrying for those in the drought-stricken south-east, but a delight for us so-often rain battered Lancastrians.

In such conditions, trees, shrubs and plants have switched from a state of grimly hanging on in frozen ground to a carefree life in a land of milk and honey. Early cherries are flowering, the camellias are magnificent and magnolias are now coming into bloom. Everywhere shrubs are bursting into leaf and fresh leaves are emerging from the warmed soil, as life returns to recently dormant perennials.

It is a wonderful time of year as a fresh beauty returns to our landscape. But could it last? Three wet summers have driven a justifiable level of cynicism into many people. Last year we had a marvellous stretch of dry weather, similar to our own recent sunny days and as May approached it looked like we were in for one of those classic summers of the early 90s, but the heavens opened and our hopes and dreams of a sunny summer were quickly washed away. Is the season following the same pattern?

To a point yes, but be clear, past weather patterns do not determine what will happen in the future. Cool weather has returned after an excellent dry run, but this does not mark the end of summer. There is plenty of time yet and if you are a gardener you have to retain an air of optimism. It would be great to have permanent warm sunny days, with perhaps night time rain (ideally between 2 and 3 a.m. so the patio furniture is dry by breakfast time) but this is simply not going to happen.

The important thing is to grab every opportunity to get outside when weather permits and be ready for the really good weather when it returns. A barbecue summer? It would be nice, but frankly we haven’t a clue. Anyway, you know what happened the last time they predicted one of those.