Updated: Jun 5, 2021
I am not really a fan of plants with big and brightly coloured flowers. I prefer the muted tones of an English country garden with its whites and pastels to the rather garish German look of contrasting deep purples and bright oranges.
It's a clear case of the devil you know, and there's no accounting for taste.
Also, in my book, there is little space for Rhododendrons. Rhododendra? I find them slightly vulgar. I'm not offended by them like I am strawberries, but they do give me a slight chill.
In the middle of the main lawn of the barracks, there is an absolutely gargantuan specimen. I have been told by someone who knows these things that it is a particularly old variety. I rather like it. The flowers are pink-tinged white and they are less flamboyant than the more highly advanced cultivars. It's not unattractive.
This year, as I may have mentioned, possibly at length, we had a ridiculously long winter. We got into our seventh months of cold. Last year was much more pleasant. April was warm, May was almost summery. All the fruit trees put on their bee-tempting flowers and started the process of blossoming. Especially the rhododendron. The flower buds start showing very early in the year, and then they wait for a little warm weather to start to open. Last year, they started to slowly reveal themselves while I was poncing around in a tee shirt at the end of April.
And then, two weeks later, we had two nights of super hard frosts. Minus 8°C (17F) two nights in a row. In the German speaking world, there are five days in the middle of May called the Eisheiligen - the Frost Saints. It is all but guaranteed that no matter how warm and pleasant the days either side of them, it will freeze on at least a couple of them.
And so it did last year. All of the flowers on all of the trees, all the nut and fruit bushes, all of the berries and all of the cherries froze in the night and dropped their flowers. No flowers means no fruits and no fruits means no dessert!
End result being that last year, the first full calendar year at the barracks, I saw a fruit harvest of six strawberries a handful of aronia berries, some gojis and a dozen under-developed apples.
This year, the fruit-bearing plants of the Barracks never got a chance to warm up. Not one of them got the crazy notion that it was a good idea to start flowering in March or April. It was definitely starting to be not quite as evil cold as December and January had been, but the temperature really didn't go above zero during the day until well into April.
The rhododendron flower bed remained resolutely shut and the orchard slept.
The Eisheiligen came and went, and since then we have been on an upwards trajectory of temperature. Today, we're expecting 24° (75F) and every tree and every bush which should be making flowers for the bees and fruits for the bellies is doing crackingly good work. Because the flowers were so late, not one of them is going to be lost to frost, and each and every one of them is likely to become a sweet, delicious fruit.
The rhododendron is the augury of the fruit garden. I've never seen it in full flower before. It turns out to be quite pretty. If a little overdramatic, but as a sign of the jams and crumbles to come, it is the best sight in the garden.