We have ricocheted between summer and winter this past week. After an unusually warm Easter with wall-to-wall sunshine, the wind turned to the North and brought a touch of the Arctic. Frost in April isn’t exceptional here. We even had zero degrees on 30th May one year. But sharp frosts on two successive days are destructive.
The French have a saying, “Au mois d’avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil.” I.e. don’t put your winter clothes away just yet. We know from experience how true this is.
Our digital thermometer told us that the temperature had dropped one night to minus 3.6° C. A glance at the silvered grass in the field behind the house confirmed it. By winter’s standards, this isn’t a lot: we’ve experienced minus 18° C one February. Our village holds the departmental record for the lowest temperature: minus 22.5° C in January 1985. It plunged even further locally, we understand.
However, the unseasonably warm weather in late February and late March this year has conned the trees and plants into thinking the season is further advanced. We have noticed that everything is sprouting earlier than usual. The more tightly furled the buds are, the better they will resist the cold. Once they have started to open up, the burgeoning leaves are more vulnerable.
Bad for fruit and wine
For fruit growers and viticulteurs, last week’s frosts were disastrous. They lit braziers among the vines and fruit trees, covered them with fleece or set up wind machines to propel the cold air away. Even so, the frost took its toll.
In our area, they farm mainly cattle and sheep with a few arable crops, so hopefully the frost did little harm. But on the plain around Montauban and further West around Agen, the apple, plum and cherry orchards stretch over thousands of hectares. And the vines of Cahors, Fronton and Gaillac, the nearest vignobles to us, will surely have suffered.
Closer to home
Our own garden didn’t escape unscathed. The wild walnut tree opposite our barn produces catkins earlier than the other two, which are a grafted and cultivated variety. Walnut catkins are thicker and longer than hazel catkins, and the wind shakes powdery yellow pollen from them in the spring. The frost had turned most of them on the wild walnut black. It will bear few nuts this year.
Fortunately, the catkins on the other two are still tiny buds. They seem to have escaped unharmed. However, frosts are forecast again during the coming week.
Early leaves on our fig tree were shrivelled. Luckily, the nascent buds just emerging from the branches seem to be undamaged.
Close to the house, I have planted what I grandly call my Mediterranean garden. Cistus, rosemary, thyme, lavender and summer jasmine benefit from the south-facing walls, which absorb the heat during the day and radiate it at night.
The cistus is covered in buds this year, and I feared they might have been frost-blasted. Luckily, the chill wasn’t penetrating enough. The bush has even begun to flower, brought on by some much-needed rain. I love the fragile, papery flowers that last only a day or so.
Living with lockdown
Getting the garden back in trim after a very wet winter has been a priority over the past few weeks. I won’t say we haven’t noticed lockdown, but staying occupied helps to keep one’s mind off it all. At least we are now allowed out without completing a form, provided we stay within 10 km of home. Beyond that, it’s back to the red tape.
I do have a little jaunt planned, though, to somewhere I have never visited in our 24 years here. I become eligible for a Covid jab this week, and this place has plenty of slots available in about 10 days’ time. So look out for a post about the town in question, when all will be revealed.
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