Taking stock of spring Posted on March 19, 2010

How did spring get so mixed up this year? Or is it just that we have become used to more benign winters and steadier openings to the growing season?

I am not at all sure what to expect when I go out these days. How far have we got? Winter ended with the best blackthorn season I’ve ever seen – hedgerows snowy for three weeks – under a genial sun, while all the bulbs flowered at once and spring-flowering plants seemed to be playing leapfrog with their schedules. Cherries were late and magnolias early; I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had come round a corner and seen a dogwood in flower. So what can the weather record say in explanation? I have the book from the greenhouse in front of me.

January: 46 millimetres (approximately: you can ‘t really measure the rain in snow, as it were). 14 days of snow from the 4th to the 18th. 10 days with no precipitation at all scattered through the month. Highest temperature 43°F (6°C) on the 16th, lowest 26°F (-3°C) on the 7th.

February: 82 millimetres of rain, with only four days completely without, Maximum 48° (9°C) on the 5th, minimum 28° (-2°C) on the 15th. The January/February total of 128 millimetres or 5 inches is about a quarter of our annual total rainfall. But if not in winter, when should it fall?

March: 38 millimetres with 17 dry days. Maximum temperature 59°F (15°C) on the 18th, minimum 26°F (-3°C) on the 7th. A dry cold month with moderate sunshine, neither urging on nor holding back.

April: Only 10 millimetres, and 24 days with no rain: a very dry month with long sunny periods, reaching 68° (20°C) on the 28th with a minimum temperature of 36° (2°C) on the 21st.

May, to date: The only rainfall, 9 millimetres, on the 1st of the month. No extraordinary temperatures; no frosts until the middle of the month when there was enough new growth to hurt (as the ashes have been).

Now we have the full panoply of spring, early and late at the same time, in a sea of Queen Anne’s lace. Confusing, but brilliant. Snow in January, rain in February, drought in March are hardly unlooked for. Drought and sunshine in April were the surprise.

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