This year has been a washout

Gardening has dried up because of the persistent rain and occasional snow, says Fiann Ó Nualláin, who shamelessly proclaims that he hasn’t done a tap: no spuds in, no strawberries; no peas started — nothing

This year has been a washout

Gardening has dried up because of the persistent rain and occasional snow, says Fiann Ó Nualláin, who shamelessly proclaims that he hasn’t done a tap: no spuds in, no strawberries; no peas started — nothing.

I haven’t done a tap in the garden this year: no spuds in, no strawberries under cloches, no peas started, no rhubarb forced, no roses or apples pruned, no heap turned, no trellis mended, no lick of whitewash to anything. Nothing.

I just haven’t had much chance to get out. Okay, I’m busy on a book and the usual spring talks, but that schedule has never been an excuse before — it’s the bloody lousy spring we’ve been dealt so far and this other b-word of an unending winter, which have killed all drive to step outside and start. And I ain’t alone.

So many of us are frustrated by the soggy ground. And I know the farmers are unable to plough and there’s a feed crisis, but we gardeners are looking at a lawn that might as well be a rice-field and raised beds that are just a trowel’s depth away from being a spring well.

I’m afraid to do my traditional April mulch, in case it just complicates the situation; I want to feed my perennial crops and ornamental plants, but I need evaporation, too.

I don’t want to plant into slush and drown the roots before they anchor in. And I’m not sure that any sown seed wouldn’t go out on the tide. It’s almost defeating.

When I was a kid, I was so proud that Ireland was never conquered by the Romans and that the Brits/Anglo-Normans were invited in.

Okay, they couldn’t take the hint on when to go, but my grandfather’s generation resolved some of their manners.

I had long thought that the fierce men and strong women of Ireland put the fear of God into any thoughts of a Roman invasion. That is, until I read that the Romans knew Ireland as Hibernia — meaning ‘the land of constant winter’; having the endless weather of hibernation. It was exactly this sort of weather — two snowfalls in March and persistent rain since August — that put them off.

Well, fierce men and strong women of Ireland, it’s not going to put us off. I believe that ‘Éire’ derives from the goddess Eriu, and signifies fecundity and plenty, while some scholars link it to the Latin ‘Hierne’, denoting fat and plentiful. Either way, it’s the potential of our plots to yield a bounty.

Beyond the bad weather, which will soon succumb to summer, we can have a good harvest and a great season of gardening ahead.

It’s time to end the hibernation. And, yes, before the letters, I know some of you have been out with the scuba-diving kit, planting the tulips and getting trench foot in the allotment, but we are not all as devoted (mad or bored ), as that.

April comes from the Latin word ‘aperire’, which means ‘to open’ — it is, after all, the month when buds begin to open and they giving me strength and optimism just now. Our Irish name is Aibreán, which some etymologists link to ‘braonta’, as in rain drops — an allusion to April showers, perhaps — and, yes, there will be more showers, but April can often be Ireland’s driest month.

So, the reminder is that it’s only drops, not monsoons. We can be optimistic in April. The length of each successive day continues to increase, on average by four to five minutes.

That’s more light and photosynthesis to our plants and photosynthesis is not just about food, but transpiration — the releasing of water — and shifting the sog from the root to the vapours of the air.

Nature has ways of resolving its problems. Got to love it. So this extension to the day is good for us, too, not just in more vitamin D and a rise in happy hormones from extra daylight exposure, but in achievement potential.

Long winters are killers to the spirit and any glimpse of spring is to be celebrated. I’ve kept back an Easter egg, just for when I can get a full row of beetroot in. God love me, but it’s the little victories. So, we began on April Fool’s Day with an unlucky-for-some, 13 hours of daylight and we will end the month on a nice high of approximately 15 hours. The earliest sunrise approaches around 5am. The latest sunset is around 9pm.

That’s a great stretch in the day and filled with the promise of work outside late, or to dining/wining out after graft.

Winds are settling down this month, typically between 3 mph to 18 mph (a fine day, or light air to a fresh breeze, as the weather people say). Even the stronger breezes rarely exceed 29 mph. Pea and runner bean wigwams ahoy. Wind has an influence on the likelihood of rain and because easterly winds are generally in the dominant, we can expect dry weather, or at least hear it forecast so.

There is always the possibility of sporadic sleet, hail, or, dare I say it, snow — and overnight frosts cannot be ignored until mid-May, but summer values can be experienced this month, too — growth will happen, germination will take place, flowers will be pollinated, fruits will form. Gardeners will get bitten, stung, pricked and, with true resilience, will fend off a legion of slugs. “You’ll never beat the Irish… you’ll never beat...”! Me thinks I might be eating that Easter egg this weekend, for sure.

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