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Simon Smith Garden & Landscape Design


18 February 2020

According to scientific records spring is getting earlier and autumn is getting later. Phenology is the study of natural cycles and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to our climate, plant and animal life. It interests climate change scientists because of the indications about global warming. Earlier and earlier appearances have been taken as evidence of a warming world.

One plant that is responding to climate change is the snowdrop. We can contrast the appearance of snowdrops on the 14th January this year (2020) with the 18th Century record from the same date when snowdrops appear eight days later on January 22nd.

The recorded weather for January the 14th in the 18th Century, is of interest too: ”Rugged, Siberian weather. The frost, where a grave was dug, appeared to have entered the ground about 12 inches”.

The author of this centuries old report is Gilbert White. He is widely regarded as Britain’s first ecologist. He was born on 18 July 1720 in his grandfather's vicarage at Selborne in Hampshire. He wrote to friends about his observations and these writings are collected in the Natural History of Selbourne. This book records a lot of information about climate, emergences of plants, appearances of migrating birds, their nesting activities and the seasonal behaviour of other animals. It is a good and easy read at bedtime!

What to look for in the garden

February is a good month to start watching out for changes in the garden. Hazel catkins discharge pollen. When tapped gently with a finger you can see the yellow pollen in the air. Snowdrops will be in full swing along with Aconites. Daffodils will be pushing their leaves up and crocus will appear. All British amphibians hibernate during the winter months on land and migrate to their breeding ponds in spring. Data from between 1970 and 1994 shows that newts are getting to ponds earlier and earlier and may now show as early as Christmas day. The Common Frog may appear later in February. Newt predation on frog embryos is increasing as a result.

Applying Phenology to your garden

Gardeners like to provide a succession of blooms in the garden. It is good to plan flowering so that there is colour from January/February right through to the end of the year. Flowering can kick off with bulbs including snowdrop, crocus and daffodil. Perennials might start with the primrose, cyclamen and hellebore. Things might progress with flowering shrubs such as lilac and mock orange. Fruit trees can chip in with their blossom and the promise of beautiful fruit later in the year. Then plan for summer with lavender, irises, clematis, geraniums and roses. Aster, buddleia, rudbeckia, echinacea, sedum and some ornamental grasses could follow these. The foliage of grasses can add winter interest right up to the end of March when they can be cut back when new shoots appear. Finally try to extend the flowering season into the last few months with something like autumn flowering cyclamen and argentinian vervain.