That describes both me and the garden. If you know a good rain dance, please share it with us. According to the SF (resident statistics expert), July was the driest month since we began recording the rainfall 16 years ago. Only a measly 3.5 mm managed to fall in the whole month, which is nothing. The last appreciable rainfall occurred five weeks ago, when it bucketed down during a summer thunderstorm.
The thermometer topped 38 C (100.4 F) here during the last two days of July. Fortunately, we are due a respite from the heat for a few days.
When driving through French villages, you might have noticed that the shutters are always closed, and nobody is about. This is because everyone is indoors sheltering from the heat. In the depths of winter, they are sheltering from the cold.
I have to say, we don’t close our shutters. I can’t bear being indoors without natural light. We do keep the doors and windows shut, though, which keeps the heat out. Stone walls and tiled floors downstairs help.
In parts of southern France, the shutters have sections that open independently, letting in some air and a bit of light.
A climate of extremes
After 23 years here, we are used to the climate, which is quite different from the UK. We have seen record low temperatures of minus 18 C and record highs in 2003 of 43 C. Recent winters have been milder, but we spend more on heating here.
The fact that there are seasons is a good thing, although it can be decent or dire weather at any time of year. In winter, when we are huddled in front of the wood burning stove, we can’t understand how we dipped ourselves in the pit of water outside. In summer, when the canicule (heatwave) bears down, we can’t fathom how we could ever sit in front of that red-hot metal appliance.
But you can ricochet from one season to another with little in between: from damp spring to blistering summer in a day. And long observation has taught us that the weather can get stuck in a rut (a technical meteorological term) for weeks on end, as it has this summer.
All this, of course, has implications for the garden. No good planting an English cottage garden here or investing in plants and shrubs that can’t cope with drought or extreme heat or cold. Even those that are resistant are suffering just now. They need sustained rain on the leaves, not just well water at the roots.
However, it’s surprising how resilient nature can be. The lawn only needs a sprinkling of rain to green up again. In the legendary long hot summer of 2003, the trees found their own survival method. They dropped their leaves, thus conserving precious water. Successive droughts will weaken them, though. The walnut trees are particularly susceptible.
I went around the garden today and made a mental inventory of the plants that don’t seem to need any water at all, those that are hanging in there and are worth saving, and the ones that we may lose.
Unfortunately, a liquidambar tree, which was a present to the SF on a significant birthday from the association restoring a local chapel, is showing distinct signs of distress, and is probably dying from the top down. It was very pot bound when we planted it, and we were unable to disentangle the root system, so it has probably never been able to push its roots down to the water table. Lesson: plant bare-rooted trees in future.
Having said all this, the SF informs me that the rolling twelve-month rainfall (i.e. from August 2019 to July 2020) is still over a metre. This is more than the average rainfall here. The trouble is, it either comes all at once or not at all. In October, November and December last year, it hardly stopped. And in June this year it rained almost twice as much as normal.
During an unexpected shower in the furnace of 2003, we ran outside and danced in the rain. We may well do that this year when it comes. A good thing we are not overlooked by neighbours.
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