Winter-Spring

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.

Fickle April

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.

Plum blossom

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.  

Take care.

You might also like:

Virtual Visits: A French Country Garden

Virtual Visits: Favourite French Gardens

Walnuts and Walnut Recipes

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15 comments

  1. Lovely post Vanessa, with gorgeous pics. Every plant on our little terrace has been destroyed with the crazy weather…

    Glad you are getting your vaccine…we never received our ‘convocation’ but learned there was a number one could call to get an appointment…so we’ve had one done, the next is next week, then Scotland (and family!) here we come! You will see…you will suddenly feel so free!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to hear about your plants. It has been cold again this week with morning frosts. I hope they will stop soon, since I want to put out my geraniums!

      Generally, one doesn’t get a convocation in France. Some elderly people seem to have received a letter from the health authority saying they are eligible. But mostly one has to organise it oneself. I will have to wait until about the end of May until I am protected by the vaccine (2nd jab + 2 weeks), but then I’m sure I will feel freer. The numbers are pretty awful in France, though.

      Like

  2. Glad to hear that you didn’t have too much damage from the frost! In our area some of the winegrowers lost 95% of their growth, and I’ve heard that the Rhone valley farmers have suffered badly too. I guess we can expect the price of soft fruit to go up this summer! I had a greenhouse full of tomato plants on Wednesday – there were none left on Thursday! 😦 Not a big deal though, I’ll catch up with new seedlings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! What a pity about your tomato plants. Did the frost get them in the greenhouse? I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to replace them this week. We are forecast more frosty mornings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which may extend as far south as you.

      Yes, I’m sure the price of fruit will increase. One apricot grower in Provence said he had lost a large proportion of his crop. Sorry to hear about the vineyards in your area. April has always been a fickle month.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I did have the plants in the greenhouse, they’d not long been pricked out into individual pots… It’s interesting how the frost worked, I’m starting to realise that it depends on where the sun has hit first, while temperatures were still low. If the morning had been overcast the damage would probably have been far less severe. I’ve re-sown the varieties I want to grown, and bought some plants to get me started. The bought plants will probably go in the ground later this week, the rest will stay in the greenhouse! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • What a pity. But at least it’s early enough in the season for you to start again. It has been a particularly chilly April, apart from at Easter. A frost or two in April is not unknown, but we have had one a day for a whole week. Today, it seems milder. The wind has changed. Good luck with your new plants! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Good luck with the Covid shot! You are way ahead of us here in Switzlerand. But the weather problems are the same. Last week’s freezing temps and dump of snow struck a blow to many spring buds — although I was amazed to see the daffodils that grow wild by the river rebound two days later! This week they are calling for more cold and snow although so far it is mild and raining. Fingers crossed no more damage will be done to the precious crops and vines in your region!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to hear you also had a blast of Arctic weather. Daffodils are hardy things! A pity about the other buds, though.

      They interviewed a fruit grower on the TF1 news, who said that with the changes in the climate, he’s experienced this type of event several times in the past few years. His father and grandfather kept records showing it was much rarer in their time. The seasons don’t stick to the rules these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gosh, hadn’t thought of our fig tree, just worried about the apples that had just started to blossom. Got wet feet checking the fig but only a few leaves thus far so looks ok. Too wet to walk to the bottom of the orchard to check the apples. 10° and rained all day. Mind you, I’m happy to see the rain, our poor hydrangea had shrivelled under the hot sun despite my desperate watering. Like the french farmers, we’re never happier than when complaining about the weather! We’ll wait and see if it has badly affected our local vines. I hope not as they lost an entire year of red wine only a couple of years back. Our few apples doesn’t compare.
    Good luck with your vaccinations

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our fig tree is rather exposed, so it may depend on where yours is situated. We don’t have any apple trees, but we might not get many plums this year. Actually, I don’t mind. We had such a glut of them last year, that we could only use a fraction. We did need some rain. Our lawn was even starting to look a little dry in places, which is unheard-of in April. Our lane is either mud or dust! Now it will be back to mud…

      Like

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