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RHS Summer Spectacular as Heatwave Causes Flush of Desert Blooms


The Royal Horticultural Society is predicting a superb summer spectacle for visitors to its four gardens, after the unusual weather patterns in May and June brought some surprising flowers into bloom. People who missed out on seeing the best of spring in public gardens this year due to the coronavirus lockdown can look forward to a glorious season, as a series of heatwaves interspersed with bursts of rain have created the perfect conditions for garden favourites such as roses and hydrangeas to thrive.

Two RHS Gardens have seen plants more usually found in the desert regions of Mexico coaxed into flower by the hot conditions. In a first for the RHS, a Dasylirion wheeleri has produced a 3m-tall flower spike at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, where the desert plant lives outside all year round. The agave-like plant, also known as spoonflower or sotol, is a common sight in its native habitat but rarely seen flowering in the UK, and in Mexico is used to make an alcoholic drink similar to tequila. Hyde Hall’s specimen is found in the Dry Garden, an area designed to survive solely on limited rainfall, which is flourishing in the current conditions.

“Even though the Dry Garden is never watered and all the plants have evolved to grow in arid conditions, it still needs a top-up of rain every so often for the plants to really thrive,” says RHS Garden Hyde Hall Curator Robert Brett. “We’re thrilled by the flowering of the Dasylirion as it’s not often seen in the UK, so we hope people will come and see it as an example of what it’s possible to grow in some of the most extreme weather conditions we see in this country.”

Meanwhile, at RHS Garden Wisley, a 30-year-old royal agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) has flowered for the first time, along with two Furcraea parmentieri and an Agave parrasana, which are all more often grown under glass in the UK. Located at the garden entrance and on the terraces surrounding Wisley’s Glasshouse, the Mexican plants have been happy to lap up the sunshine in the heatwave sweeping the country, while the soaring temperatures in late spring and early summer have also prompted a growth spurt for tree lilies in the Exotic Garden.

Wisley’s Curator Matthew Pottage says the mixed conditions in recent weeks have been ideal for the garden’s collection of hydrangeas too, which are set to have their best flowering season in years. “Hydrangeas are always reliable performers, but recent dry springs have brought the stress of drought in the early part of the growing season – the rain we’ve had this year was very welcome and the developing buds already look magnificent. We’re expecting them to be a sight to behold come July.”

RHS Garden Rosemoor’s two celebrated rose gardens are relishing the current heatwave with hundreds of varieties in full bloom in North Devon. A firm favourite with visitors who come from across the country to see them, the scent this year will be particularly sweet for those who were unable to visit the gardens while they were closed for more than two months in spring at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The nearby Cool Garden will enjoy its first full summer since opening last year and its rippling water features and soothing pastel colours will appeal to those looking for respite from the heat.

Curator of RHS Garden Rosemoor Jonathan Webster says visitors have been grateful to be able to return: “It hasn’t been easy keeping the gardens in shape with reduced staff levels and other restrictions in place, so hearing our members say that they’ve noticed the hard work we’ve put in has really boosted morale amongst my team. We’re very happy to have visitors back in the gardens again, and we hope that with the further easing of restrictions next month we’ll be able to welcome people travelling from further afield who are coming to Devon on holiday.”

Even the most northerly RHS Garden has been making the most of the heatwave, despite the timing of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown meaning that the team was unable to complete the creation of a new heat-loving Sun Border. Visitors to RHS Garden Harlow Carr can enjoy a temporary display of colourful bedding plants, salvia and rudbeckia this summer before the permanent planting in autumn. An exotic planting of pineapples and ginger lilies by the Learning Centre is bringing a taste of the tropics to North Yorkshire too, and visitor favourites such as colourful candelabra primulas and striking Himalayan blue poppies on the Streamside continue to delight visitors.

With the famed Main Borders set to reach their peak in the next few weeks too, Harlow Carr’s Curator Paul Cook advises those hoping to catch the garden in all its glory to book soon. “We’re still operating a pre-booking system to ensure that the garden doesn’t become overcrowded, but if the good weather continues throughout the summer we expect slots to be booked up very quickly. We hope that as many people as possible will be able to enjoy a safe visit for some much-needed fresh air and sunshine after the ‘lost’ spring. ”

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This story was published on: 26/06/2020

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