UNPREDICTABLE CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE GARDEN
If you have a large garden plus an allotment and you grow a wide range of plants you can learn a lot about gardening if time is on your side and you can compare one years growing with numerous others. To get the best out of plants you need to consider the soil, growing techniques and local climate. After many years of gardening it is very pleasing to be able to pass on your experience to others interested in gardens, plants and growing crops. However advice is always based both on past experience and the current weather regime. The problem arises in that as I right this column today looking out my window wondering if our cold frosty start to April will still be there when you read this a week later on Saturday 14th April.
After a really mild winter it was very pleasant when summer arrived in early March and continued till the end of the month. It was hardly surprising when winter returned in April, but it did give us all a shock, and where will it go from here?
Plants do not gamble with the weather. They are controlled by growth hormones that react to a range of stimuli including gravity, water, temperature and day length. Most plants will germinate and grow if they have sufficient moisture and warm weather. Last month was so warm that you could not hold any plant back, and it lasted so long that we gardeners began to wonder if it was possible that maybe it could last a few more weeks. So there was always a wee temptation to gamble and take advantage of the early summer.
Recently planted broad beans, sweet peas, young saskatoons, onion sets (my onion seed Hytech gave a miserable germination this year) and leek seeds are all well established and not affected by the return of cold weather.
Swiss chard from last year has started to grow again and provide us with fresh spring greens, and spring cabbage is putting on excellent growth.
First cutting of rhubarb is earlier than previous years but remember to remove those flowering shoots.
Zygocactus, the Christmas cactus flowered normally last December, then after drying off returned to flower a second time a month later. It then got dried off again, but now it is back into flower for a third time. It must be as bewildered as me, but great to see it in full flower again.
Cuttings of grape vines just love the early summer and have all burst into growth, but when winter returned in April I removed them from my cold greenhouse to our living room windowsill for a few days till we get back to a bit of normality.
Early strawberries under tunnels are now in flower, but recent frosts have blackened a few flowers.
Peaches enjoyed the warmth with a lot of pink flowers that I hand pollinated with my sable paint brush. Even with the summer weather there is still very few pollinating insects around. I had to protect the flowers with fleece sheets while frost threatens. Time will tell if it worked.
Tulips were very early but many got flattened with the weight of snow on them, though there is still a great display.
My pear tree grafted with extra varieties last year, have all started to grow very early this year. Beurre Hardy, Conference and Christie are all perfect but young Comice foliage has shrivelled up in the cold spell.
One loser I am happy to live with is the greenfly colony trying to take over my climbing rose Dublin Bay. The frosty weather sorted a lot of them out so no need to get the sprayer out just yet.
Plant of the week
Polyanthus was to be my plant of the week for the first week in May, but they have been flowering from early February and are at there best now. They are perfect for beds, borders, tubs and hanging baskets. Grow them from seed sown in May to June in seed trays kept moist, shaded and cool. Prick out into cellular trays when big enough to handle, grow on for a few more weeks then line out in prepared soil and grow on till autumn when they can be transplanted into their permanent places.