I was recently reminded of the old English proverb ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’. I was walking home from work and, as is often the case in West Hampstead, kept bumping into friends and acquaintances who all commented on the rain and the dip in temperature. After several such encounters, I had to smile. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s observation that ‘when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather’ is as accurate today as when he wrote it over 250 years ago! It made me reflect on the incredible changeability of the UK weather. We’ve all left our homes in the morning dressed in several layers, equipped with an umbrella (just in case) and experienced extreme weather changes all within a few hours. When rain is predicted, we all cling to the hope that the Met Office is once again wrong (as it so often is!) and when sunshine is forecast we all hold fast to the promise of a pleasant day. Rain… it seems to be a constant bane, spoiling our weekends, picnics and holidays. When caught unexpectedly in a sudden downpour, how easy it is for us to forget the benefits of all that rain.
Although I was born in London, my family lived for many years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is 7,199 feet (2134 m) above sea level (Trivia: It’s the highest state capital in the USA) and experiences what is called a semi-arid climate with chilly winters and very warm summers. Due to the relative aridity and elevation, daily temperatures vary is between 25 °F (14 °C) and 30 °F (17 °C) throughout the year. In summer, the days are exceedingly hot, but you will need a cardigan or light jacket in the evening when the temperature drops. Lying at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe has snow and excellent skiing in winter and although it is cold, it’s easy to get sunburned while outdoors when the sky is clear. The ‘rainy season’ is in July and August with the arrival of the North American Monsoon. It will simply pour, often accompanied by thunder and lightning, for about an hour every afternoon, regular as clock-work. The dry ground is unable to absorb this amount of rain all at once, causing temporary flooding on the roads and a torrent of water in the arroyos (dry stream beds).
The landscape in northern New Mexico around Santa Fe is unique and enchanting; the pink-red earth and rocks which change colour as if by magic in the sunlight, the mountains rising out of the semi-desert (both famously depicted in Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings), and the absolutely spectacular sunsets created as the light catches the dust particles in the air. However, because of the lack of water, there is only limited vegetation; prairie grass, low piñon pines, juniper shrubs, cacti, and as the elevation rises, the ponderosa pines. Every once in a while, you’ll come across a thin stretch of green grass with small trees running either side of a rare river bed. Scattered around this charming, but somewhat barren, scene are beautiful gems of coloured flowers that brighten the landscape, all the more special because of the unexpectedness of their appearance; Sand Penstemon, Apache Plume, Chocolate Flower and Groundsel to name a few and of course Yucca, the State Flower.
One is struck by the almost total absence of the lush green grass we find all around us here in southeast England. Even in a city like London, we have so many areas of green, not only the great expanses of Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, but also the many smaller public gardens and greens such as Fortune Green and West End Green.
I remember flying from New Mexico to England to visit my grandparents in Wimbledon and looking down once the plane had cleared the clouds to see the green quilt-work of the English countryside. From up above, you can really see what a difference rain makes to the terrain. And the quality of the air is so different in the UK; you can feel the moisture in the atmosphere. It smells fresh and clean and alive! When my parents visited me they always commented on this. They loved everything about Santa Fe, including the desert landscape, but every now and then longed for a grassy garden. “I really miss all this green" my mother always said when she arrived. And most of us will agree that nothing can beat walking barefoot through the grass and the smell of a wet or just-mown lawn!
The next time you get stuck in an unexpected downpour or find yourself seeking shelter from the rain and before you start complaining, think about exactly what the rain means to a space like Fortune Green. Think of how much you enjoy lying in the sun or picnicking on the grass whilst watching one of the FoFG ‘Films on our Green’. Think of how much fun your dog has running after balls or rolling in the grass. Think of how much enjoyment your children have playing ball and how soft the grass is when they fall in it. Think of all the lovely daffodils, crocuses and tulips we had in early spring and of all the amazing summer flowers which are now beginning to bloom. Without the rain, Fortune Green would be a very, very different place. So just remember…
April (and May!) showers really do bring the flowers (as well as lots of lovely lush grass!)
- Nicolette Molnár (Guest Blogger)
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