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Driest May on record spurs desert plants into flower at RHS Gardens

·5-min read
Photo credit: RHS / Jonathan Webster
Photo credit: RHS / Jonathan Webster

From House Beautiful

The unusual British weather in May and June has brought some surprising flowers into bloom at the RHS Gardens.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, a series of heatwaves interspersed with bursts of rain have created the perfect conditions for garden favourites, such as roses and hydrangeas, to thrive.

And that's not all – the RHS has seen plants more usually found in the desert regions of Mexico coaxed into flower by the hot conditions too.

So while coronavirus lockdown saw a two-month closure of the four RHS Gardens and left the nation with limited access to nature, those who missed out on seeing the best of spring in the public gardens this year can actually look forward to a glorious summer season. With the gardens now reopen under a new pre-booking system, it is hoped that visitors will be able to enjoy these special new sightings too.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex

In what is a first for the RHS, a Dasylirion wheeleri has produced a 3m-tall flower spike in the Dry Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall, where the desert plant lives outside all year round. The Dry Garden is an area designed to survive solely on limited rainfall, which is flourishing in the current conditions, and this agave-like plant (known as spoonflower or sotol) is a common sight in its native habitat but rarely seen flowering in the UK. Fun fact: in Mexico it's used to make an alcoholic drink similar to tequila.

Photo credit: RHS / Robert Brett
Photo credit: RHS / Robert Brett

'Even though the Dry Garden is never watered and all the plants have evolved to grow in arid conditions, it still needs a top-up of rain every so often for the plants to really thrive,' says RHS Garden Hyde Hall curator, Robert Brett. 'We’re thrilled by the flowering of the Dasylirion as it’s not often seen in the UK, so we hope people will come and see it as an example of what it’s possible to grow in some of the most extreme weather conditions we see in this country.'


RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey

At Wisley, a 30-year-old royal agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) has flowered for the first time, along with two Furcraea parmentieri and an Agave parrasana, which are all more often grown under glass in the UK.

The Mexican plants, which are located at the garden entrance and on the terraces surrounding Wisley’s Glasshouse, have been happy to lap up the sunshine in the heatwave sweeping the country. The soaring temperatures in late spring and early summer have also prompted a growth spurt for tree lilies in the Exotic Garden.

Photo credit: RHS / Joanna Kossak
Photo credit: RHS / Joanna Kossak

Wisley’s curator, Matthew Pottage, says the mixed weather conditions in recent weeks have been ideal for the garden’s collection of hydrangeas, which are set to have their best flowering season in years.

'Hydrangeas are always reliable performers, but recent dry springs have brought the stress of drought in the early part of the growing season – the rain we’ve had this year was very welcome and the developing buds already look magnificent. We’re expecting them to be a sight to behold come July,' Matthew explains.


RHS Garden Rosemoor, Devon

The two rose gardens at Rosemoor are relishing the current heatwave with hundreds of varieties in full bloom. And the nearby Cool Garden, with its rippling water features and soothing pastel colours, will enjoy its first full summer since opening last year.

Photo credit: RHS / Jonathan Webster
Photo credit: RHS / Jonathan Webster

Curator of RHS Garden Rosemoor, Jonathan Webster, says visitors have been grateful to be able to return: 'It hasn’t been easy keeping the gardens in shape with reduced staff levels and other restrictions in place, so hearing our members say that they’ve noticed the hard work we’ve put in has really boosted morale amongst my team. We’re very happy to have visitors back in the gardens again, and we hope that with the further easing of restrictions next month we’ll be able to welcome people travelling from further afield who are coming to Devon on holiday.'


RHS Garden Harlow Carr, North Yorkshire

With the timing of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the team at Harlow Carr were unable to complete the creation of a new heat-loving Sun Border, however, visitors these coming months can enjoy a temporary display of colourful bedding plants, salvia and rudbeckia, before the permanent planting in autumn.

Exotic planting of pineapples and ginger lilies by the Learning Centre bring a taste of the tropics to North Yorkshire, and visitor favourites such as colourful candelabra primulas and striking Himalayan blue poppies on the Streamside continue to delight visitors. The famed Main Borders are set to reach their peak in the next few weeks too.

Photo credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth
Photo credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth

Harlow Carr’s curator, Paul Cook, comments: 'We’re still operating a pre-booking system to ensure that the garden doesn’t become overcrowded, but if the good weather continues throughout the summer we expect slots to be booked up very quickly. We hope that as many people as possible will be able to enjoy a safe visit for some much-needed fresh air and sunshine after the "lost" spring.'


All four RHS Gardens – Wisley, Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall and Rosemoor – have reopened under a pre-booking system. All visitors – including RHS Members, must pre-book in advance. Visit for more information.

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