National Trust Garden teams in South West England have been busy recording flowers in bloom in this year’s annual Valentine’s Flower Count, with nearly all gardens showing an increase on last year.
In 2008, 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded in Devon and Cornwall (where the flower count first started), marking the earliest spring so far recorded during the count. This year, 2,644 plants were recorded in gardens across the whole of the South West compared to 1,622 in 2015.Matched by record-breaking amounts of rainfall in December, the very mild and dull weather this winter has caused confusion to plants.
Daffodils are appearing 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. Even summer flowering plants such as hydrangeas, fuchsia and agapanthus are flowering.
Not only have varieties of plants been blooming at the same time, but the growth in National Trust gardens has continued right throughout the winter months. Most of the conservation charity’s gardeners are still cutting their grass and plants such as hydrangeas still have their leaves, which could make for difficult pruning later in the year.
Ian Wright, South West Gardens Advisor for the National Trust, said: “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.
“Provided the high winds and storms we are experiencing this week don’t blow away all the blooms, it’s time to get back in touch with plants and enjoy this annual spectacular show. 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.
“Despite the mild weather, record levels of rain have made working in the gardens really difficult for our teams. Our borders are saturated with water so we could really do with some dry and sunny weather. But what we don’t want is a cold snap. With all the soft growth in our plants, a period of hard frost could potentially cause huge damage.
“After a long wet winter, we all want to get out there and enjoy the spring and luckily for us this year it seems to be even earlier this year, but 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.
“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.”
Gardeners at 35 National Trust properties across South West England took part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which first started in Devon and Cornwall in 2006.
“Comparing the number of plants across our gardens on a set day every year gives us a real insight into how our gardens respond to weather patterns, and is a useful ‘barometer’ for the season ahead,” added Ian.
The highest number of flowers recorded in the South West was at Saltram with 193 blooms; all gardens apart from one have seen an increase.
Many National Trust gardens are already open. For more information and opening times see www.nationaltrust.org.uk.