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Heed the warning of an early arrival of spring

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Gardening on the Edge by Diana Wayland

The daffodils that were in bud when the Ice Blast hit us now opening with a few that had opened destroyed by the cold winds.
The daffodils that were in bud when the Ice Blast hit us now opening with a few that had opened destroyed by the cold winds.

It would be nice to say that spring has arrived. Unfortunately, following a very cold February, March did not warm up much. But increasing day length did start plants into growth, although slow due to the only gradually rising temperatures.

Then April, and Easter, arrived. And with them a present from Greenland. Its weather.

Burningly icy and continuous blasts of wind, often gale-force, brought horizontal sleet and snow, much of the latter falling as tiny light, white balls like expanded polystyrene. This is called graupel, or soft hail, and forms when supercooled water droplets collect and freeze on falling snowflakes.

A generous salting of, well, salt, and this 10-day long jamboree of arctic weather seared, scorched and blasted all the new growth and any spring flowers in its path. Plants like yarrow and comfrey, including tuberous comfrey which grows wild not far away from here, Rosa rugosa, even the cautious regrowth of Fuchsia riccartonii, flowering currant and variegated Hebe, all shrivelled and withered.

Even in more sheltered spots wallflowers went limp and brown, the wild garlic leaves got bruised and angelica retreated back underground. The willow slips we had cut in late March and stood in water in a more sheltered area ahead of planting now stood in solid ice. Our cheerful daffodils, which line the drive in massed ranks, and had only just started to open, suffered too. The open flowers quickly hung limp and lifeless from their stems.

It was depressing and disheartening.

And yet, only a few days later, the Rosa rugosa shoots have greened up, and the yarrow and comfrey are growing again. It will take the other shrubs a bit longer, but, apart from one dead Fuchsia, I think they will come back. And the daffodils that were still in bud when the ice beast blew in have now opened undaunted.

But two plants, both in the embryonic herb garden, full in the path of this icy monster barrelling in, barely noticed! One, my perennial rose root, bore not a mark. As it grows in the geos, I was unsurprised.

The other, a herbaceous plant called Opopanax chironium, had started coming up in January. While still low, I was astonished that its leaves bore barely a scorch mark.

This plant coped better than the comfrey. And it comes from Greece and Turkey!

This beast from Greenland was prolonged and exceptional, and affected a much wider area of the country than just our exposed and challenging locality, but late cold snaps are common and do come with a warning, especially in areas further south than ours that actually get warmer before the cold swoops in again.

Many people buy lots of spring bedding in late March and plant it out, then have to go back to get more after a sudden cold spell has killed it. Many large more southerly garden centres count on this to boost sales. It is better to be cautious and wait.

Start vegetable and flower seeds off indoors, or cover those sown outside to protect them. All we have planted out is the bare root stock we got before the ice beast arrived, and heeled in, and the willow slips.

Providing we get no more ice beasts they should be perfectly all right, as they are only just beginning to come into leaf.

Now, all we desperately need is some rain!

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