What's happening in South West gardens this spring?

Ian Wright, Gardens Adviser, South West Ian Wright Gardens Adviser, South West
Counting flowers

The results of the National Trust 2016 Valentine's Day flower count are in and there's a 63 per cent increase in plants blooming this year.

With high rainfall and mild temperatures, 2016s winter’s weather caused huge confusion in South West gardens. Many flowers and plants appeared together at the same time or much earlier than normal.
 
" Spring is my favourite time of year and after a long wet winter, I think it’s just about here albeit in a slightly confused way."
- Ian Wright, Gardens Adviser

The 2016 flower count results

Gardens in the South West are usually the furthest advanced in the UK with early spring blooms and in 2016, thanks to the relatively mild weather, we saw a total of 1,022 more blooms across the South West - an increase of 63 per cent.
 
  • In 2016 1,983 plants were recorded in 18 gardens in Devon and Cornwall compared to 1,345 in 2015 and 1,205 in 18 gardens in 2014
  • In 2008 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded, marking the earliest spring so far recorded
  • 2,644 plants were recorded in gardens across the whole of the South West in 2016, compared 1,622 in 2015
  • In Cornwall 897 blooms were counted compared to 545 in 2015
  • In Devon there were 1041 blooms this year compared to 800 in 2015
  • The highest numbers of flowers recorded in the South West were recorded at Saltram with 193 blooms
  • All gardens apart from one have seen an increase in the amount of plants in bloom
 
For the third year running we asked our supporters about their favourite spring flowers. The snowdrop came out on top followed by the primrose.
 

Unseasonal blooms 

Daffodils appeared with snowdrops and even a bluebell or two has struggled to the surface boosted by mild weather. 
 
Varieties of magnolia which usually flower over a period of months are appearing together and much earlier than usual.  
Magnolias out in bloom at Glendurgan Garden
Magnolias out in bloom at Glendurgan Garden
Magnolias out in bloom at Glendurgan Garden
 
Even summer flowering plants such as hydrangeas, fuchsia and agapanthus were flowering, as gardeners found while counting blooms as part in the Trust’s 11th annual Valentines Flower Count.
 
You can almost map the progress of spring as it travels from West to East/ South to North by way of the flowers in our gardens.
 

A mild, wet winter

Despite the mild weather, record levels of rain have made working in the gardens really difficult for our teams. 
 
Our borders were saturated with water so we really needed was some dry and sunny weather. With all the soft growth in our plants, a period of hard frost could potentially cause huge damage.
Cyclamen flowers at Killerton
Cyclamen flower at Killerton
Cyclamen flowers at Killerton

The extremes of weather we are experiencing from drier hotter summers to mild wet winters are a major concern for our gardens and what the long term effects will be if they continue. 

 
Not only have varieties of plants been blooming at the same time but the growth in our gardens has continued right throughout the winter months, most of our gardeners are still cutting their grass and plants such as hydrangea’s still have their leaves, which could make for difficult pruning later in the year.
 

A growing challenge

The changes in our garden can be seen as a clear indicator of climate change and poses the single biggest conservation challenge to our gardens and places we care for.  
 
How we all garden whether in a National Trust garden or at home, what plants we grow and where, may need to change.