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Gardening: Unusual happenings

February 16, 2014

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‘Weird’ is the only way to describe some of the ‘happenings’ in my own garden over the past few years so, as a point of interest and as a severe reminder that climate change is very real and certainly ‘now’, this week I am going to share some of this ‘weirdness’ with you.

Take last summer for instance — actually I’m still waiting for it to arrive — it seemed to do nothing except rain from May through to almost the end of September. This has never been the case before, even when summer monsoons are heavy, in the 18 years of living at 6,000ft in the Murree Hills, This prolonged, extremely wearing, rain, came hard on the heels of a winter, the last one not this one, which extended well into spring. This, naturally given the associated low temperatures, delayed planting/sowing time by a good six weeks. This, in the case of ‘hot weather’ species such as members of the capsicum family, did not then allow for the plants to grow and develop as they should. The awful, endless rains, kept temperatures down and I even had to resort to lighting the fire for warmth in the house at the end of July and into August.

At the same rainy time though, all that was green — spinach, comfrey, horseradish, beans and a wild variety of leafy herbs — grew and produced amazingly well. The parsley, which usually takes a summer break, just went on and on and on, and self-seeded all over the place to the point where it was necessary to start adding it to the compost heap as I couldn’t dry it. Fruit trees had never been so leafy green and, while fruit crops were far less than ‘normal’, the fruit that managed to develop was larger and juicier than average. And, except for the late crop of ‘Banki’ apples, fruit escaped the plague of mildew as wet as it was, there was little heat to create the warm humidity that mildew adores.

Surprisingly though, despite the strange, distinctly cool and prolonged wet, the oranges — yes I know that they are not supposed to thrive at this altitude but I have been growing them here, along with lemons, for years — fruited like never before. But the fruit did not, as usual, ripen until January by which time it had withstood temperatures as low as minus 9C with a wind-chill factor reducing it further to minus 15C, plus, it was snowed on. Citrus is not, according to the ‘experts’, supposed to survive in temperatures less than minus 4C to minus 5C, but whilst the Chinese lemons do vociferously object and often get frost burnt back to the ground, popping up again at some point the following year, the large, Peshawari lemons take it all in their stride. The main problem with citrus, both oranges and lemons, is that their frozen branches are highly susceptible to breakage in heavy snow.

With weather conditions increasing upside down, a lengthy, warm autumn with blazing sunshine resulted in some apple trees to blossom in November. This has happened before in recent years but, for the first time ever, one of them also decided to set some fruit despite heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures.

A plum tree decided, for the first time and also in November, to bear a little blossom too but that fell, without setting fruit, fairly quickly.

Something else which is not supposed to thrive at this altitude is loquat but the trees, some of them now six years old, flowered in late autumn and set fruit like never before, although, to be honest, I have my doubts as to whether or not it will manage to ripen. My carefully grown pineapple plants — a new experiment — were doing so well that I decided not to take a chance and gave them to someone living down in the plains rather than risk losing them here. This year, I will grow more — from pineapple tops — and will attempt to over-winter some just to see how much they will take.

The roses, of which I have both imported and indigenous varieties, are proving to be a lesson in life for all of us. They have now, some taking turns, others having a brief rest before resuming, been in bloom for over the 12 calendar months of the year with, as one variety fades, its place being taken by another. They have been excessively wet for months on end, frozen solid, snowed on and simply allowed to go their own way. And decided to cope with the vagaries of climate change in their own way, without any assistance — not even pruning. Whilst flower heads are bowed right now —as a result of being heavily snowed on — they are fighting back like the champions they have proven to be.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.