One swallow doesn’t make a summer which is particularly true this year with such erratic spring weather. The beautiful sun through the start of April pushed the garden forwards into a riot of flower almost three weeks ahead of schedule. I remember looking up when I heard that distinctive chatter and seeing the first swallows, circling over the croquet lawn, feasting on insects after their long journey. Tulips flowered all at once, trees burst into blossom and bluebells seemed to make an especially good display. Just as I was about to start hardening off our tender plants to plant out in the early sun, the cold came.
A biting north wind with several cold nights and even a few frosty mornings were enough to cause concern. The effect on our apple crop, which was in full flower, is yet to be seen and our first potatoes in the kitchen garden have been scorched brown by the cold, despite the protection of some horticultural fleece. This sort of thing can be a bit upsetting for a gardener, but working in an English climate we quickly learn not to be too bothered by what we can’t change.
The damage really isn’t that bad and I’m sure we will still have some apples and potatoes to keep chef happy. There are also positives to be found as some cooler spring weather can slow things down a little. This will give us a chance to catch up with our work on the ground and it can almost freeze frame the garden, spreading the beauty over weeks instead of days. In places like North America they can go from snow to shorts and tea shirts within a week making things like tulips and magnolia go over in a flash. But a traditional mild English spring is slowly played out, as the garden evolves into summer.
We can’t control the weather, but we can control what and when we plant. With some early sun, it can be a temptation to plant and sow as soon as possible but as this season shows, this can be a mistake. The mulberry tree in the kitchen garden has traditionally been our guide. Somehow this tree seems to be able to read the weather and will not open its leaves until it knows we are safe from the cold. As soon as this happens we start moving plants out of the glass house into the cold frames to harden off. We can also plant out our tomato crop in the poly tunnel and this is the highlight of the year for me, when we know we can rely on some warm weather.