At this time of year it is no surprise that there are lots of posts looking back over the previous year and I was trying to avoid the same here. Today however was a glorious day, one of those lovely crisp winters days, with blue skies and some winter sun. It was a balmy 14 degrees in the garden and 20 degrees in the cold frame and shed. It was this that got me thinking about 2011 as it could not be more different than this time last year.
Many people will think of last winter as a terrible one, we had the earliest snow on record, and almost a month of cold weather before christmas. But with the new year came a change it warmed up and London had almost no cold for the rest of the winter. We then had a very early spring with a hot (by UK standards) March - May. Then of course the summer arrived and it was a true English summer, cold and wet. I mentioned before how cold the summer was, the nights especially with only about 4 over the entire summer when you cold sit outside without needing to wrap up. With the end of summer came the sun, who would have thought it. We had an amazing Autumn; hot, lovely warm evenings and it went on and on. So long in fact that even in November when we should have been into winter, it was still lovely and warm. So into winter and the end of the year, the warm weather continued with only one or two nights below freezing. So all in all it was extremely mild and had a LONG growing season.
2011 more than any year showed why growing succulents in the UK is so problematic. Compare us to the rest of Europe (and world) we do not get any real cold (or at least I don't) yet plants tend to struggle more in the UK than else where. The reason comes down to two things; the fact that summer can be a total non event and the wet. Most countries may have the odd colder or wet patch in summer, but in general manage at least one extended period of hot dry weather. This year we had no period in the summer with more than one or 2 days of hotter weather. As for the wet, it is not the rain in the summer, but our snow being so wet that does the damage. (Strangely this time the problem is because we are not cold enough to keep snow frozen).
The strange year did continue teaching me about growing succulents in the UK and confirmed some of my theories. The main ones being:
1) Most agaves and aloes do not grow without summer heat. I have kept a close eye on my plants over the year and noted which have grown and which have just sat there. Most just sat there, many only started growing in the Autumn when they should have been slowing down.
2) Using fleece to keep the snow out of the crowns of plants was enough to avoid the damage I have seen in warmer winters. This only works given that my minimum temps are only around -9, but the difference between plants that I cover with fleece before snow and those I don't is huge.
3) As I have said before, watch your plants, both for problems and how they grow. For me part of the fun is experimenting, learning and letting the plants show me how far I can push them.