Apres le deluge

James Alexander-Sinclair looks beyond the floodwaters and advises on the next steps for gardeners

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Pictures: Petra Hoyer Millar

It will not have escaped many of you that we have had rain the like of which has not often been seen since mankind so offended the Old Testament God that he sent a flood of grand proportions to wash everybody from the face of the earth. Except of course a brace of every living thing and Noah with his extended family. I always rather liked the names of Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Although not so much that I was ever tempted to name one of mine after them. In fact the whole genealogy of Noah chucks up some great names: Gomer, Magog, Sabtechah, Phut, Arpachshad and Mash for a start.

Anyway the point is that the ground is very, very wet. Our sympathy goes out to those of you with flooded and ruined properties but the purpose of this little dissertation is to tackle the problem of our flooded gardens. Looking outside now at squelchy borders, silt stained and muddy lawns and waterlogged hedges you would be forgiven for feeling a bit down.

Fear not for nature, as has often been said, is a great healer and most things will cope quite happily even after such long and serious immersion. Most herbaceous plants are still kipping so will be fine, bulbs will be beginning to sprout but will also be okay, trees will revive and grass will recover.

There are a few basic rules to follow…

  1. This is the number one rule and everybody whom I have consulted on this subject has said this: it is VERY IMPORTANT. Once the waters have receded try very hard not to walk on the soil. It may be satisfyingly squelchy but each footfall compresses the soil. This compaction makes it much more difficult for the newborn shoots of plants to push through to the light.
  2. The great Matthew Wilson (he with the determined chin worthy of an Arctic trawler man) of Gardeners Question Time fame has some wise words (which is unusual). “If your garden is underwater it may seem like an impossible situation, but I’ve met keen gardeners in places like Upton on Severn who manage to find ways of dealing with flooded gardens.¬†Again, keep off the soil until it’s clear of water and drying.
  3. If you have any food crops, dig them up and compost them – they will not be safe to eat.
  4. Go over borders and lawns with a sharp pronged fork and aerate the soil. Flooding of more than a week or so can destroy the structure of the soil, so aeration can help to restore it.
  5. Once the soil has dried out, get some life back into it with the help of garden compost or well rotted manure. “
  6. Mark Diacono also has few sympathetic words “After any wet weather in winter, I’d suggest covering any fruit with an insulating layer in case a freeze follows; I scatter a layer of straw or similar over Chilean guava, and around shallow rooting trees such as cherries”.
  7. Some plants react very badly to sitting in cold water for a long time. The most obvious of these is Taxus baccata, the Yew. If you have yew hedges you will notice that they are probably browning a bit and losing their lustre. Not much you can do right now but when the place dries out a bit then cosset your hedge and feed liberally with good mulch and a handful of bonemeal every metre or so.
  8. Other plants that will react bvery badly are the mediterranean plants. If your Lavenders, Rosemary or Santolina has been underwater then I am afraid they may not get through. Sorry.

One thing I can promise you unequivocally – it will stop raining and there will, at some point, be a moment when we will all be looking at the sky wishing it would rain.