Blossom four weeks earlier than usual

According to the National Trust, the (likely) warmest February on record has led to flowering trees and blossom emerging four weeks earlier than usual.

Magnolia Soulangeana

Pockets of blooming trees and shrubs are already starting to emerge in National Trust gardens across the south-west and south-east of England and Wales, which the conservation charity interprets as an indication of a (hopefully) long spring flowering period.

At Glendurgan in Cornwall, the earliest to bloom is the 6o-foot campbellii ‘Alba’ which last year reached peak flowering in late March, whereas this year, it has started emerging and reached optimum flowering four weeks early. The Cornish red rhododendrons in Trellisick are also in full bloom, having started flowering early in November last year. And, at Trengwainton Garden, the first of its 39 varieties of gigantic magnolias is laden with blooms, far earlier than usual.

John Lanyon, National Trust Garden Manager for Trelissick, Glendurgan, Trerice and Bosloe in Cornwall said: “Due to Cornwall’s unique microclimate, we haven’t been hit as badly by the heavy rainfall that has been persistent across many areas of the country since the autumn. It has been so mild that some of the varieties of rhododendrons that we care for have been blooming since late November, and not properly ‘shutting’ down. Throughout the winter, the bare trees monitor day length and temperature through their bark, helping to keep the flowers safe until the conditions are right for them to flower. But we have been very surprised to see some of our notable magnolias already at their peak, particularly those at Glendurgan which are four weeks ahead of their typical blooming schedule. This is the earliest I’ve ever known them to bloom, a sure sign of our changing climate.”

At Coleton Fishacre in south Devon, the azaleas are also flowering early and some agapanthuses have continued to flower throughout the winter due to the milder conditions. At Knightshayes near Tiverton, both the magnolia and quince are already reaching their peak. In Wales, Bodnant Garden’s renowned collection of magnolia is also blooming several weeks ahead of last year, and species whose blossom is normally staggered have emerged at the same time. Similar sights have been reported at Llanerchaeron in Ceredigion and Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Chris Flynn, Head Gardener at Dyffryn said: “Across our garden, the warm and wet weather has really turned up the dial, with our Magnolia Campbellii already showing their best spring ‘dress’ and our Magnolia denudata, liliflora and soulangeana are both out three weeks ahead of the norm. Similarly, the apricots with their soft pink blossom are already out, and even the apple trees in our orchard are starting to bud up, which is exceptionally early. On the plus side, this early emergence of blossom means there is plenty of food for our white-tailed bumblebees, of which we have seen quite a few flying around already, coaxed out of their hibernation by the promise of spring. We are very conscious however, that any late frosts could be disastrous by damaging the blooms they rely on for food – so we have actively been planting a wide variety of flowers, shrubs and trees to ensure all of our insects can rely on a rich succession of flowers coming into bloom, as we adapt our gardens to a changing climate.”

In the south-east early blooms include peach and almond blossoms in the kitchen garden at Ham House and at Nymans in west-Sussex the magnolia campbellii are currently flowering, whereas the magnolia stellata, a variety which usually flowers later, is just about to pop.

Andy Jasper, Director of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust said: “Some of the early flowering we’re witnessing in our gardens is absolutely spectacular – and certainly brings welcome cheer – but these blooms are also a very visual sign of how our seasons are shifting, and the consequences of a rapidly changing climate, especially over the last decade. This year’s weather patterns are a stark contrast to last year, where we had the driest February in thirty years and repeated cold snaps into March. The blooms we are seeing now are partly a direct impact of those weather patterns – together with increased daylight hours which triggers the chemical reactions causing buds to bloom. That dry start to last year followed by the prolonged period of largely wet and mild weather for many areas of the country, has meant our trees and plants haven’t really stopped growing or had a particularly long period of shut down. As long as we don’t now experience any prolonged sharp dip in temperatures, we should be able to look forward to a very drawn-out blossom season with ripples of blossom spreading across the country, from the south-west and Wales through to Northern Ireland, north-east England and Scotland, followed by a bumper year for fruit harvests. With these changing weather patterns, it is becoming ever more important for our talented gardeners to plant for the unprecedented conditions we are experiencing. This means helping the nature in our gardens adapt to the changes while ensuring that our visitors continue to delight in well thought out planting schemes throughout the year.”

Blossom more typical for this time of year is also starting to put on a show with clouds of billowing white blackthorn blossom gracing hedgerows across parts of England and Wales.