The Landscape Guide

20.2Weather, climate and gardens

Contents list

Links between an enclosed garden and the wide world can be observed in other ways: the effect of a hard frost; a midwinter spring; a drought; the rich downpour after an electric storm. Some plants need a position where their leaves dry quickly and roots can grow into peaty soil, as happens on an alpine ledge. The weather can lead one into a design.

Winds come from afar, light from an immense distance. Careful observation yields information that is both useful and interesting. In the south of England, I like to know that a particular wind comes from the steppes of Central Asia, from the western Channel approaches or from Southern Europe. Windvanes, like sundials, give a perspective on the planet. The smallest garden becomes a vantage point from which to contemplate the world. The vast dimensions of weather are surely one explanation of why "When two Englishmen meet, they first talk about the weather', as Dr Johnson observed. Gardeners need to be weatherwise. Seeds can be sown when warm damp weather is forecast. Plants that have been moved like a heavy shower after planting. The hoe works best when hot dry weather is coming. Tender plants need protection from icy winds. Gardeners have, therefore, been avid collectors of weather lore.

Pliny advised us not to "sow in a north wind, or graft when the wind is in the south'. Francis Bacon believed "wet weather with an east wind continues longer than with a west'. Most of the advice is anonymous:

  • When the wind is in the south, the rain is in its mouth.
  • In April, if there be a north wind, expect rain.
  • If the wind blow from north-east in winter, expect frost.
  • If the north wind remains steady for two or three days, it is a sign of fine weather.

Theophrastus had the caution of modern forecasters:

If there be within four, five, or six days two or three changes of wind from the north, through east without much rain and wind, and thence again through the west to the north with rain or wind, expect continued showery weather.