Winter in spring

Last Tuesday it snowed on Plot 35a, and I was relieved that a day earlier I had tucked my lettuce seedlings under a layer of fleece after planting them out. On Friday we had every type of weather imaginable except for fog: first it was windy, then bright sunshine, then it hailed, was sunny again, and finally topped off with thunder and lightning.

A dusting of snow on the broad beans




So if, like me, you don’t have a greenhouse or large polytunnel, it is a good chance that your windowsills and floors will look like mine. Tomato plants in too-small pots. Courgette seedlings that seem to grow by the hour but have nowhere to go. Every Tupperware box and baking tray crammed with things growing because you ran out of plastic saucers when you pricked out the cucumbers last week.

Snow on the mini-greenhouse – and underneath the tomatoes and chillies are shivering

By now, the start of May, tender plants like tomatoes, beans and courgettes should be in the cold frame or mini greenhouse. I’ve even had tomato plants outside in the open air by May, when we’ve had those bright, hot springs that are eventually eclipsed by wet summers.

The asparagus bed, where the spears are in deep torpor from the cold

But my first batch of tomatoes and all the chilli plants that went down to Plot 35a a month ago have been severely hit by this winter-in-spring – close to freezing temperatures even in our city-warmed patch of south London.


As soon as I planted out my lettuce seedlings I threw a duvet of fleece over them

About a third of the chillies and half the tomatoes that were undercover have died. I am sad about the tomatoes in particular because my first batch included a whole range of unusual heritage varieties (I haven’t had the heart yet to investigate whether ‘Bloody Butcher’, the deep red heirloom type, has been butchered by the weather). My second batch was less adventurous because I had only sown them just in case, although there is a ‘Pink Brandywine’ that is growing strongly in our front room window, and I splurged on ‘Yellow Pear’ – there are eight of these plants on our dining room floor.



Tomatoes, cucumbers, coriander, dill, parsley and melons crowding out every surface in every window…

If this domestic scene is familiar to you, there is also a good chance that someone in your house is getting increasingly exasperated at having to share living quarters with three San Marzanos and a clutch of Beefmasters. Your Gardener’s Delight is their Spouse’s Misery; your Apricot Dream their Red-Faced Nightmare. It was OK when they were tiny seedlings just emerging from the propagator tidily lined up on one tray. But then they need pricking out, potting on, and now they are sprawling all over the floor.

…and the floor

Him Indoors asks why they didn’t go to the allotment in mid-April, like I promised. So I point to a weather forecast that shows the UK Dulux-painted in Arctic blue, with temperatures dropping to near-zero in London and well below it further north, night after night.


These tomatoes are growing well but I’ve had to use baking trays and lunch boxes to house them

The last few days he has stopped verbally protesting but simply carries an air of disgruntlement that is verging on “it’s-me-or-the-tomatoes”. Thankfully, on this first day of May, the cold nights seem to be behind us. And as I am taking my plants to the allotment today, so is domestic disharmony.


7 thoughts on “Winter in spring

  1. The tomatoes…every time! I really enjoyed this post, totally identify with your seedling crammed home. Bloody weather!


  2. A familiar tale! Fortunately I have some big trays on which I can carry my seedlings to and fro – outside if the weather allows, and then in again for the night. Weather looks as if it will be pretty good next week.


  3. I share your pain – Himself over here is loud & varied in his complaints! I’m de-planting the flat & packing away the propagator, but also hoping he doesn’t spot the kitchen chair that one of the squashes chose to rot on before I get a chance to clean it!


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