Green and pleasant again

Winner: Once parched and drought-hit, our gardens have sprung to life again
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The Independent Online
Britain's gardens have emerged lush and blooming compared with the hardened, parched slabs posing as lawns this time last year.

Although flowerbeds have been frozen, fried and flooded this summer, holidaymakers are returning this week to find their gardens have not only survived but prospered beyond their most optimistic expectations.

Christopher Bailes, curator of regional gardens for the Royal Horticultural Society, said: "The season's been very curious and topsy-turvy. The average lawn must be somewhat confused by now, but as autumn turns in it's looking pretty good."

Lawns have had a confusing season with drought warnings being issued as June was declared the wettest this century. Waterlogged roses suffered "brown ball" rather than blooming and sweetpeas resembled straw as they shrivelled in the July heat. But lettuce, beetroot, cauliflower and strawberries sat resplendent on the plate.

Veteran gardener Fred Downham, who defected to Classic FM's Classic Gardening Forum in 1994 from Gardeners' Question Time, said many people have been flummoxed by the erratic weather. "Usually the weather runs a pattern, but this summer one day it could be torrential rain and the next, as sunny as you like," he said.

"We had a good crop of cauliflower ... It's been a good year for butterflies too which is now disastrous for the likes of cabbages. They are riddled with caterpillars."

At London's Kew Gardens, one of the world's premier botanical gardens, the schizophrenic season has deterred visitors. In June, attendance was down by 25 per cent. The marketing manager, Roger Joiner, said: "It bucketed down in June and was pretty dismal. July was so-so and August not a lot better. But our shops and catering facilities did well." For the National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust, which opens 3,500 mainly private gardens to the public to raise money for charity, the unpredictable weather has produced mixed results. In Nottinghamshire, organiser Gillian Hill said: "If it's wet in June then it's a disaster for us. Takings here can be as high as pounds 30,000 but we fear this year they may have fallen to pounds 24,000."

But her colleague in Barnstaple, Devon, raved about the downpours. Mervyn Feesey, who specialises in growing ornamental grasses, said: "Our gardens have never looked so lush and full of colour. We've had lovely rain and warm spells too, it's been fantastic. In our area we've made about pounds 50,000."