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The first rhubarb stems

The first produce of the year

Throughout the winter whilst I’m pining to be out in the garden or at the allotment it’s easy to forget about the ongoing battle gardening can sometimes be. If it’s not something trying to eat the plants, it’s the weather conspiring to make life as difficult as possible and last week was the perfect example.

I’m now in full blown seed sowing mode with cold frames stuffed with pots and trays and window sills performing their role as substitute greenhouse. The weather here in Wales, like most of the UK has been beautiful for several weeks now with unseasonably warm temperatures and unbroken sunshine. It has been a real pleasure to get out and garden in a t-shirt after spending months cocooned in layers of clothing. The soil has been dry allowing for preparation of beds for the coming season and I’ve been able to get so much done that wouldn’t have been possible with typical spring weather.

The problems, however came on Tuesday when I was preparing to go away for a long weekend, visiting family and friends. Now I know you might think I was bringing these problems on myself by going away at such a crucial time but arranging these visits is already a logistical nightmare without me saying I can’t go anywhere because I have plants to look after. We did once take some plants away with us on holiday. They were tender plants, courgettes and the like and it was May and too early for them to go out so they came with us and sat outside the cottage during the day and then I brought them in on a night. I can’t surely be the only one who has done this, can I?

Anyway back to the problem. The front garden cold frame gets sun from early morning right through to mid afternoon at the moment and it’s a real sun trap which is great ordinarily but not when the young seedlings are drying out so quickly and I won’t be around for 4 days. I knew I couldn’t leave them there so I moved them all round to the back garden which is much more shaded at the moment. Not everything would fit in my other cold frame though so I took a gamble and left some grouped together by the house. The other problem was to close the cold frame or not. Do I risk the plants keeling over from too much heat or being exposed to frost? Even at this time of year and especially with this weather the temperature under glass can rise significantly but then at night can drop dramatically. What was I to do? I settled for slightly propped open and then gave everything a good water before I left on the Wednesday, hoping for the best.

I was fairly confident my little plants would be fine until we caught the weather forecast on Friday night. Sharp frosts and minus 4C in rural parts of Wales were predicted for Saturday night. I envisaged coming back to blackened seedlings, some I’d be able to sow again, others like celeriac, which I’d been nurturing since February wouldn’t have a second chance this year. It’s hard to explain to non gardeners how it feels to see plants you’ve lovingly tended wiped out. Like the row of marigolds completely decimated overnight by slugs, the ripe and juicy strawberries nibbled by blackbirds or podding much anticipated peas only to discover the pea moth larvae have got there first, it can be soul destroying. Contrary to what some books and magazines say, gardening is hard work; pleasurable and enjoyable yes but requiring time and effort to produce the desired results. To see your hard work destroyed before you even get a chance to eat it, smell it or cut it is a bitter pill to swallow.

Seedlings in my cold frame

They survived!

Fortunately, this tale has a happy ending. There had been some frost and I did lose a baby fatsia but have another two that survived and a few flower seedlings aren’t looking too great but everything else including the celeriac survived unscathed, much to my relief. But with the warm spell coming to an end with predictions of snow for part of the week and still no significant rainfall it looks like the weather will make gardening a challenge again this year.

To end on a happier note we had our first produce from the plot yesterday, which is always cause for celebration. Two stems from the forced rhubarb clump made a very tasty crumble when combined with some apple. Hopefully the start of a productive year for all gardeners.