Hartley Magazine

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Late cold snaps

The tender plants in Lia’s mini greenhouse seem to have made it through winter, but cold weather might not yet be past

There have already been a couple of days when the mini greenhouse has been flung open to let in some longed for fresh air and sunlight. And I cant help it, I find myself wondering if I’ve done it, if I’ve actually got all of the tender aeoniums and pelargoniums through winter this time. However, I have been reminded that the worst could still be to come, and it is very worth keeping front of mind that by this time last year the devastating ‘Beast from the East’ was only just about to kick in. It began on 24th February and officially ended in early March, but was followed quickly by Storm Emma and then by further cold temperatures and snow flurries – though less severe – in the weeks after. It was a really tough spring, just as we were really ready for winter to end it came in with a force, knocking out blooms and finishing off poor depleted wildlife that had limped to the end of winter.

Now I am so ready for spring after the long and gloomy winter, but I am trying to let last year be a lesson: it is never sensible to relax too early and let your guard down regarding the more tender ones, and it is too early for much in the way of seed sowing too. There is still lots that can go wrong! Perhaps we are all a little too naturally optimistic for our own good.

So while it is a great idea to open up windows and let the plants breathe some air, I am going to be keeping precautions firmly in place, and be ready to step things up too. Chief among these is the little propagation mat that I keep in the mini greenhouse where all of the tender stuff overwinters. This has barely been needed this winter, apart from the one short, sharp spell of snow, but it does produce a gentle heat that just takes the edge off of the cold. Next in my defences is a shroud of horticultural fleece, which is thrown across and tucked in among the plants on particularly chilly nights to prevent cold air from the edges from circulating round and getting them. Finally there is little point in heating a structure made of glass if you don’t provide some insulation, and as the mini greenhouse is a bit too little to insulate with bubble wrap, instead I have an old rug and a blanket standing by, to hurl over the lot and seal them in. This obviously can’t be left on for any period of time as it blocks out all light, and even though the plants are not growing much during winter, they would be in a pretty bad state if they received no light at all, but I can throw it over  for a few days if necessary without any ill effects, and in only slightly cooler times it can just act as a night time blanket, to be removed every morning and replaced as the temperature drops at night.

It’s boring to still be thinking like this, especially as the sun is shining down today, the birds are singing, and the daffodils opening up, and everything seems to be saying ‘it’s spring!’ but this is a time for caution and not a time for prematurely congratulating myself on getting my plants through winter. There is lots of time for that, and there will be lots of beautiful spring days to come, just as soon as we’re sure that that Beast is not going to be making a return.