Clouds overhead? Never mind: there are still plenty of reasons to feel positive...
Sunday 24 June 2012
Gardener or not, I find it difficult to welcome so much rain. To start with, I find myself in conversations with other soaking-wet people uttering platitudes such as, "Well, the garden did need it." Later, moister, we meet again and indulge in fantasies of a world without hosepipe bans. But in general, in the crocodilian layer of brain beneath the conscious mind, my thoughts are, "Stop raining: I need sun so I can plonk my big reptile tail on the muddy riverbank and get all hot."
While some plants are ruined by rain, others come into their own. The worst sufferers are soft annuals such as poppies, cosmos and daisies, which can suffer a sort of rain-sponsored colony collapse. Others are just spoilt by association; if you have set out a field of lavender in the hope of evoking a special holiday in the South of France, it is galling to see it drowned.
Roses, on the other hand, look delicious in rain. There's something pristine about the surfaces of their petals dotted with tiny, curved pearls of water. Particularly pink ones; one highlight this week was seeing a combination of one, bright-pink "Gertrude Jekyll", and another, paler, "Mortimer Sackler", growing through each other, covered in fresh raindrops.
By chance it was also the moment a new book, Creating Rain Gardens by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and Apryl Uncapher (Timber £14.99), plopped on our soggy doormat. The authors have a very particular ecological mission: to create basin-like gardens that conserve water fed directly by downpipes or chains from roof runoff. These basins are then filled with plants that respond directly to a heavy downpour by putting on a flush of flowers. Water is not wasted in the sewers, causing fewer flooding problems; hosepipes are rarely used; and birds, insects and amphibians all benefit.
The most impressive thing about this persuasive publication is the record of a broad range of community projects currently involved in rain-conscious landscaping, including one beautiful scheme by Nigel Dunnett and Adrian Hallam for a factory site in Coventry, where increased Tarmac for car parking was causing flooding problems. A rain-garden design saved money on a huge proposed redrainage scheme and earnt the company PR eco-credentials.
The book also features three projects by fishing communities using rain gardens to clean up contaminants running off into rivers, including one oyster restaurant hoping to cultivate its own molluscs.
Yet it's not all totally eco – there's lots to interest lovers of the JCB, too: many of the schemes require a small digger at the least to carve out a suitable rain basin. Other plans use shallower channels to transport water away from floodable patios towards growing areas, making attractive, snaking, stony paths. There are also cunning tips on how to create rain defences in a sloped garden, as well as tempting plant lists for species that will flourish with occasional drownings (see box, right). And now I'm focusing all my hopes that, having begun to see the good side of the rain, we can have a nicely timed drought for August.
Plants for soggy spots
Cornus alba 'Sibirica'
Flowering right now, this shrub is most highly prized for its bright-red winter stems – a strong feature in a cold, empty garden. £8.99
An elegant grass that can tolerate flooding, bearing a delicate, silvery cloud of flowers. £8.99
Lythrum salicaria 'Blush'
The traditional purple riverside plant Loose-strife, in an unfamiliar and rather beautiful soft pink. £7.99. All from crocus.co.uk
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