The Washed Land

April may well be ‘the cruellest month’, but make no mistake March 2023 was definitely one of the wettest. It rained most days, and on days it didn’t rain it certainly showered, substantially.  On two days we had rainfall of over 2” each day, and by month’s end everything was saturated, sodden and soaked.  It was the many weathered month, but this year March certainly brought more rain than any other of the meteorological seasonal variants.  Every plot on the allotment site suddenly has a freeform pond, roadside verges have disappeared neath treacherous drive thru’ splash pools, potholes are puddled, gardens and parklands are soft to boggy and thousands of hectares of arable farmland now lye under unchartered springtime lakes.  Everything has been thoroughly washed, cleansed even, and provisional statistics from Met Éireann having been verified, it seems March 2023 was the wettest since 1947, and that particular year was the wettest on record, records going back to 1781.  Did we mention it was a bit rainy…

Springtime gardeners, as always have been chomping at the bit, waiting for days to lengthen and temperatures to rise so as to get out and grubby the hands, and thus work the dead land once again.  But that has not been so easy to do this year; and we must be mindful that as much as any gardener may bemoan the volume of rain so far this year, the gardens have loved it. Everything is green and verdant, which, by and large is one and the same thing, but there is no simpler way to underscore just how much all that March rain has done for the garden; sodden gardeners, yet satisfied gardens…

The extreme wet conditions have forced us to change-tack a little on the monster’s measure. Eight days into April and we have yet to put our seed potatoes to bed. We did however manage to plant up some bags of Maris Pipers and Desiree maincrop, whilst we are more than happy that the beetroot, turnip, parsnip and scallion seed has all germinated. We’ve sown sunflower and titonia which are up and at it, and in the last few days we also sowed pumpkin, golden squash seed and plenty of basil and coriander. Today we sowed Redbor kale and wild rocket before once more having to take some serious shelter. 

April has taken-up where March left off.  This year we have April showers aplenty; on April 1st a scattered shower passed or’ and finally cleared on the 3rd. We may be working under cover a good deal but we are making progress. We finally have the monster’s new polythene measure good-to-go. All the creeping thistle root was painstakingly dug out by Mrs Dirtdigger during the dark days of January and February, and we put the first of the Moneymaker seedlings into their new tunnelled home in this last week; a little early perhaps, but although wet this year, the temperature is holding about average.

Our little patch of dead land may not have lilacs breeding from it, but it does have a fabulous crop of Timperley Early and Victoria rhubarb, some already baked into pies, already stewed into compote, and all compliments of the aqueous exigencies of many weathered March.

April is doing its April thing as we type. Silver grey skies are showering the stretching foxgloves, aquilegia and bearded-irises; the late muscari and early camassia spikes shine against the last of the daffodils Narcissus Thalia, one of the monster’s favourites.  We have lettuce and cabbage seeds to sow, peas, borlotti beans and melons still to get going, clumps of lovage to split and tarragon to relocate while still early enough to do so, and so, we’ll get going and get sowing…

Cool on one hand, Cold on the other…

Victoria Rhubarb With Gooseberry Bushes

Once again April has spluttered and stuttered its way from Fools Day to Mother Earth. For the 3rd year in succession the April weather in Ireland is being dominated by an anti-cyclonic blocking pattern steering in easterly winds and a continental air mass.
During months of high summer this would be welcome, but this early in spring it not only signals that drier air which is always welcome after the winter’s deluge, it also introduces weather patterns which steer air currents from the far eastern continental land mass, Scandinavia and Arctic regions meaning that it is also the harbinger of cooler than average air temperatures.
At least this year we get to say that April has been cool. Last year it was cold: the margin between 1 degree below average for time of year and 2½ degrees below average making all the difference between cool on one hand, and cold on the other. Spring and early summer last year was a disaster for most gardeners, eventually proving the coldest spring on record since records began. Nothing germinated, nothing flourished, and bud burst was 4-5 weeks late with almost all bloom stunted. This year things are moving; moving slowly, but moving nonetheless. Last year we had to sow and then re-sow parsnip seed 3 times before we hit green; whereas this year we’re out of bed on the first occasion. They may have taken their own sweet time in getting up, but at least the Gladiators are up in mid-April. Much the same with the bunching onions: last year’s seed were only beginning to show through by the end of May having been sown at end of March, this year they’re displaying crook necks after 3 weeks, which is about average. The Aquadulce are taking a stretch at last, and we will have to get the supports in place like yesterday before they start banging their heads on the clay, and the lettuce and rocket sown 3 weeks ago have finally put their feet down. Although still on the cool side we’ve put our beetroot (Solo) and radishes to bed, but we’ll leave the haricot and the peas a week or more yet.
The Victoria rhubarb is leafing up well at last and our plan is to have some this weekend; and once gardeners begin harvesting their rhubarb all seems good with the gardening world for another year.
Everything we’ve sown so far this year has germinated, but that is not to ignore the fact that the cool dry air has played its part in interrupting spring once again. The lack of Atlantic rain is also marked. For the third year in a row there has been a noticeable absence of those pulsating downpours we generally call April’s showers, and it seems the north easterlies are set to bring us right to the end of the month with this weekend’s forecast not faring much better.
With cooler than average and drier than average air a careful balance must be struck with watering newly established and germinating seed beds, for although the days are bright and dry, experience has taught us that most germinating seed can just about tolerate such naturally challenging conditions, but not with artificially dampened feet. One single day of intermittent April showers will develop your garden in a way that a whole month with a watering can never will, so easy with the hose while the easterly blows! We will see a welcome return to the prevailing south/south westerlies, and not a moment too soon I might add, but, the truth is that this year’s April showers will now most likely arrive sometime in May.

Trust March to be March

Sowing the seed...
The beginnings of trust… Sowing onion seed.

Trust me; the only way to develop the skills of a gardener is to get out in the garden, and garden.
Read all the horticultural books and manuals you can lay your hands on; renew monthly subscriptions to your favourite magazines and periodicals if you so wish; plough that daily furrow across the World Wide Web as you Google endlessly in the hope of unearthing some old (or new) wisdom that will enable you become a better gardener, but it is worth considering that nothing will be more formative in your quest than to feel the soil in your hands and the air in your face as you cultivate the dream in your head.
Trust in Nature and your part in its scheme. Trust March to be March, and trust April’s showers. Trust summer’s sun and trust winter’s snow. Trust all that you know, and that you don’t know. Trust the instructions on the packet and what it says on the tin. Trust in past experiences and future dreams. Trust old wives tales and harsh realities. Trust that the seeds you sow will grow. Trust all the mistakes you’re likely to make, and learn to return the trust which fashions us out of the universe’s dust, and trust me, the only way to become a better gardener is to get out into your garden and learn to trust yourself.

the world is made of faith and trust and pixie dust…J.M. Barrie Peter Pan