Reasons to be cheerful
What weather! That was officially the coldest March for over 25 years: pity the poor souls who attempted to grow vegetables through the coldest spring on record, in 1962 with just 1.9°C average temperatures to play with.
Progress out in the veg garden is stuck somewhere in mid-February, and my list of delayed jobs is growing to epic length as March concertinas into April with no sign of any end to it all just yet. I have an uncomfortable feeling this is going to be the quickest, busiest spring my garden has ever seen: in fact at this rate, we're going to skip spring altogether and leap straight into summer.
It's a real lesson in the importance of looking up at the sky before you do anything on the ground. Whatever the books and magazines say, hang fire till your garden tells you it's ready: once you see the weeds start growing and the buds on the hedges beginning to burst, only then is it worth getting out the seed packets. It may seem like a long wait, but nature has a way of catching up with herself: I'm bracing myself for turbo-charged growth once the season does start in earnest.
Top of my list for the second the chill relents is getting my new potatoes in the ground. They're chitting in eggboxes on my windowsill – have been since mid-February, in fact. To think I was worried they wouldn't have enough time to produce shoots before I needed to plant them.
This year I've got two choice first earlies to try. 'Premiere' is a reliable Dutch-bred variety, and 'Cherie' is French – always a good bet – and described as having a particularly good flavour.
I'll be planting them only once I'm sure the worst of the frosts are over, and even then under a double layer of horticultural fleece just in case. Earthing up the new shoots also helps protect against frost. If they do get nipped, it's a setback rather than disaster: they'll usually re-grow, but you'll have to wait a little longer for your harvest.
Still, I suppose we can all look forward to a good fruit harvest. Most fruit need a good chilling period to do well: apples need about 1000 hours at less than 7°C (depending on variety), which is well over a month. This year, they've had about five. And luckily the so-called 'spring' has been so cold even the blossom has stayed tucked up tightly in the bud, avoiding that heartbreaking sequence when an early blossoming is killed off – along with the subsequent crop – by the cruelty of a late frost.
It's great timing for me, as I've just planted two plum trees ('Marjorie's Seedling' and 'Czar', both heavy cropping and reliable) and a whole fruit garden full of raspberries, blackcurrants and strawberries, all of which need a nice chilly winter to explode with fat, juicy ripeness by the time autumn comes around. So if you want a reason to be cheerful – just think of all that summer pudding you can look forward to. Yum.