According to the National Geographic Society, a drought happens when: ‘Below-average precipitation affects the amount of moisture in soil as well as the amount of water in streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.’ Alternatively, the United States Government says it is ‘a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time (usually a season or more), resulting in a water shortage’. Then again, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology takes the view that ‘there is no generally accepted definition of exactly what a drought is’, and helpfully explains why. All I know is that there is definitely a drought in my garden (and indeed in the rest of East Anglia). The last time it started to rain, about three weeks ago, I rushed out to bring in the washing: the rain had stopped again before I had finished doing so.

I have two water butts (above), which we use to top up the pond (which is either evaporating in overdrive or has a leak which I so far have not been able to detect), and for Him Indoors’s carnivorous plants, which must not be sullied with tap water, but both are nearly empty. I am restricting other watering (though we don’t yet have a hosepipe ban) to those pots which have not already succumbed, and to the plants which I would be heartbroken to lose, in particular my Photinia ‘Red Robin’ (grown to five feet from an adventitious seedling many years ago), my four-foot Torcello acacia (grown from seed collected there and almost certainly illegal), my two grown-from-seed pomegranates (now six years old, and I have every confidence that they will flower next year!) and worst of all, my two magnolias, M. stellata and M. ‘George Henry Kern’, the latter a US cross between M. stellata and M. liliiflora, named by its breeder after his son, who died in in train crash during the Second World War. The latter is of unutterable sentimental value to me: here it is (below) in happier days:

So we have brought down and erected Professor Hedgehog’s Christmas Gazebo (roof only) in an attempt to get some shade, I water nightly, and I hope. On the plus side, some things are flourishing in the general aridity. My Erigeron karvinskianus, for example, is reaching an unparalleled spread, seedlings of the local hollyhocks are springing up everywhere, while my white Echinops have been magnificent, and attracted all sorts of varieties of bees.

E. karvinskianus: the hole for my clothes-drier is in there somewhere.
Random hollyhock seedlings in gravel – my ‘normal’ colour is peach …
… but these flowers are well into setting seed.
The Echinops are tumbling forward because they are shaded by the hazel (which I foolishly left in the ground 30-odd years ago after it was buried by a squirrel, and is now overdue for its five-yearly pollarding).

But the most startling flourishing has been in the roads and pavements: cracks between pavement and wall, cracks between paving stones and between kerbstones, and in the road gutters, where no significant rain has fallen for the last eight weeks at least. I have the useful ‘Picture This‘ app on my phone, and I use it a lot on walks for identifying wild plants: in the last few days, I have felt obliged to explain to various neighbours why I am crouching in the road or trying to take a photo under their car, but it has been fascinating.

New adornment for a residents’ parking sign …
… and a ribbon of plants against the kerb

Starting off with the most obvious examples, here are dandelion and grass:

followed by petty spurge, sow-thistle, and plantain. (There is also lots of pellitory, which I will not encourage with a photo.)

Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus)
Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
Plantain (Plantago major)

There are some garden escapees, like the hollyhocks and this seedling of Verbena bonariensis:

Purple-top vervain (Verbena bonariensis)

New to me was prostrate knotweed:

Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare)

and I failed to recognise black nightshade:

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

There are two types of willow-herb:

Fringed willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum)
Hairy willow-herb (Epilobium hirsutum), on the right

as well as wild chamomile:

Wild chamomile, or pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea)

as well as a rather pretty Persicaria (terrible picture, which also reproves me for not having done a local litter-pick for a bit):

Lady’s-thumb (Persicaria maculosa), not shown to best advantage.

As always, I could go on (in fact, I found a whole lot of seedling buddleias on my way to my exercise class just now: the mature plants are flowering even earlier than they did last year), but I’ll finish with perhaps my most surprising discovery. According to ‘Picture This’, the seedling below is of the Japanese ‘tree of heaven’, Ailanthus altissima.

The tree of heaven???

The tree is notoriously invasive, and can grow to fifteen metres in twenty-five years – though I doubt if this one will survive that long. I’m now looking in the local streets for the parent plant which would have produced the seed which fell in the bone-dry gutter … unless of course my faith in ‘Picture This’ is misplaced? I do hope not …


Ailanthus altissima
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