One of the most powerful influences on both gardening and wildlife is the weather, and, phew! has this been one weather-filled week. The winds last Saturday seemed to cause the whole garden to thrash about, and then came the rains.
For me down here in the far south, the rainfall has been very welcome indeed. I have a rain gauge, and in March we had 49mm, in April 21mm and in May just 17.5mm. The English average for those three months during 1981-2010 was 64mm, 59mm and 59mm, which is over double my total. By the start of this June, my pond level had dropped by about 20cm, and I was beginning to think we were heading towards a major drought.
However, in the last two days I've had 46mm if rain, and this morning lots of the plants were dotted with fine droplets from the showers overnight, such as this Corncockle.
On the White Water-lily leaves the droplets were arranged as perfect beads.
Meanwhile, the Love-in-a-Mist was living up to its name.
A dousing in cold water can leave many of our insects rather sluggish, so a sunny morning after rain can see them sat out, drowsy and drying off, such as this bumblebee in my 'meadow' area on an Ox-eye Daisy.
Next door was another insect that looks very much like a bumblebee, but look how its antennae are no more than two little blobs on the front of its face rather than the long, wiry antennae of the bumblebee. That immediately makes it a fly, and the colouration and fur is just a costume, designed to mimic a bumblebee and ward off potential predators.
This is the Bulb-fly, a type of hoverfly, and very good the disguise is, too. It comes in various colour forms, all designed to mimic different types of bumblebee. It is common in gardens, as its larvae munch away underground eating your prize bulbs, such as daffodils. If one year far fewer bulbs come up in your garden, this may be the culprit.
Having now had rain, I expect the grass paths in my garden will green up and there will be a big flush of plant growth. Moth and butterfly caterpillars will have plenty to feed on, and hence so will the birds, and some of the moisture will get pulled up by plants to give a flush of nectar for pollinators.
Of course, the big question is how our year-on-year weather variables are turning into climatic patterns. The predictions are that the UK will get wetter winters and drier summers, but also more intense rain events when they happen. This is turn will have an effect on both what plants we can grow and what wildlife can survive in our gardens. We are likely to have to turn to more drought-tolerant plants, but without good drainage they may struggle in wet winters. Will we see more declines in the Song Thrush, unable to probe the hard summer ground for worms, or will some species actually increase here in the UK, better able to survive the milder winters?
It is absolutely true that the UK's weather has always been variable, hence our propensity for talking about it! But what we think of as 'variable' has always been within limits - we don't see 100-degree Fahrenheit summers, the sea's don't freeze, and we don't get monsoon-like rainfall. Those limits look increasingly set to be broken, and we - and wildlife - will have to cope with new extremes ahead.
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