Blooming October heads for the record books

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"I really don't know what it's doing," said Kate Haywood, at the Royal Horticultural Society's garden in Wisley, Surrey, puzzled by an even more confused mauve rhododendron in full bloom. "It's not just early, it's out of season."

Nearby, among the pale camellias, the time is also out of joint. In 12 years as the garden's plant recorder, Ms Harwood has never seen camellias blossom so early, three months ahead of schedule. The earliest snowdrops are already out, a month early. But the rhododendrons are the most precocious; they would not normally appear until spring.

With little or no sign of frost, it is the same story in gardens all over the country. Vegetable patches are still full of summer produce and in flower beds and borders, busy lizzies and geraniums are still going strong.

If Mike Hulme, climatologist at East Anglia University, is right, this is simply a taste of things to come. July and August this year, the warmest high summer in 300 years, were followed by an average September. But October is set to take 1995 into the record books once again with an average daily temperature in central England so far this month of 16.1C.

With a week to go it is set to be the warmest October in Britain since records began. Forecasters predict the warm spell will continue into November. Dr Hulme said last November was the hottest in 300 years. It is hard not to conclude that global warming is to blame, he argues.

The Indian summer is also affecting animals and birds. At Wisley the sorbus and pyracantha shrubs are festooned with berries, unravished by birds still able to feast elsewhere. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said insects were still plentiful so some birds were delaying migration.

The mild October continues to embarrass water companies with hosepipe bans still operating in Cornwall, Devon, Sussex and parts of the North- west and Yorkshire. A spokeswoman for the Water Services Association said: "We are in need of lots of rain to fill the reservoirs, especially in Yorkshire."

The British Resorts Association said prolonged tourist seasons meant seaside towns were set to earn 15 per cent more than last year's pounds 3.2bn.