Spring blooms have arrived ahead of schedule – welcome news for people who used the bank-holiday weekend to get out in their backyards after two of the worst years for gardens on record.
The public flocked to garden centres over Easter with warm and sunny weather rejuvenating plants and animals across the country.
Plant sales at B&Q were at twice last year’s level – with sales over the long weekend that unofficially marks the start of the gardening season expected to be the highest for five years – and experts said things are looking good for the rest of the season.
“Looking out at my garden it’s looking like the end of April – things are a good week to 10 days ahead of the norm for this time of the year,” said Matthew Oates, a wildlife and nature specialist at the National Trust. “There are two types of Easter,” he added. “There is the gardening Easter and there is the decorating Easter. This has definitely been the gardening variety.”
“We’re about two to three weeks ahead of where we were last year, when things were very late thanks to the coldest March since 1962. This spring is really racing ahead of itself.”
“The last two years were probably the worst gardening seasons on record, but this year we’ve got a bit of an ideal storm,” said Joclyn Silezin, B&Q’s horticultural-category manager.
Last year, gardeners were hit by a series of extreme and damaging weather events, as an unusually cold spring gave way to a hot, dry summer – only to be followed by the wettest winter in decades.
By contrast, the weather in recent weeks has been ideal for wildlife: warm with a little rain and very little frost.
Ian Wright, a south-west garden adviser for the National Trust, predicted a “really great spring-flowering bonanza”.
“Bluebells feel like they’re out slightly earlier than normal,” he said. “It’s also been a really good spring for rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias and they seem to be flowering for longer.” He added: “Vegetable gardeners are also finally able to start digging over and planting out their crops now that soil conditions are improving.”
It’s good news for the animals relying on our gardens too. “Butterflies, hoverflies, moths are all ahead of the game – which is good news if you’re a swallow and have just flown 6,000 miles. Bumblebees are looking really good, there are a lot of ladybirds around. Things are shaping up really nicely but I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Mr Oates said.
Adrian Thomas, a gardening expert with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, added: “Birds are nesting early, especially robins and blackbirds. If the weather continues in a benign way many birds may get a third or even a fourth brood this year.”
This being Britain, however, it could all change quickly. Mr Oates warned that if the jet stream jumps south of its usual course, as it did last March, the “wheels could come off”, reducing temperatures and increasing rainfall.
Blooming lovely: In defence of the dandelion
National Trust nature and wildlife specialist Matthew Oates is excited about this year’s booming crop of dandelions – a weed that actually has a huge amount to offer.
We are midway through the annual two-week dandelion peak and Mr Oates is enthusing about the range of benefits they bring. First there are the health benefits – the plant is a diuretic, good for gallstones and liver problems and rich in vitamins A, C and K, and calcium. The leaves can be made into tea, the roots into coffee, the petals into wine, and it is probably the best all-round nectar source in early spring, he says.
They have aromas that can ward off pests and, in turn, diseases, crab spiders hide under their petals and turn yellow in the process and various moth larvae feed on its leaves, Mr Oates says. Also they are beautiful and not as difficult to control as people think.
But Mr Oates is not a defender of the dandelion at all costs – an avid cricket player, he says there is no place for the weed on the green and accepts they can cause problems if not taken in hand around vegetable plants and flower beds. Anywhere else, though, they should be encouraged, he said, so long as they are dug out as they’re starting to seed.