The recent snow and frost have been more prolonged than the more usual cold snaps, and like me you may have been out assessing the damage. Apart from sticks and branches everywhere, I have been noticing how plants divide themselves into two camps: those that halt their current growth and hunker down, and those that march on regardless.


Some of those former ones have been well and truly frosted, and the damage tends to become apparent as the weather warms. Some, like dicentras, bounce back in a few days. Others will lose a few blackened leaves but will put out new ones in the course of time.
Evergreen plants may not show signs of damage for another few weeks. Then the leaves (or hopefully just the top few) will start to go yellow or black and then fall off. Wait a bit longer, till the plant starts into active growth, and then cut off the damaged stems down to a healthy bud that is pointing where you want that branch to grow.


We had a very cold winter in 2010, when the temperature fell to -17C. It did this in early December, and though the temperatures had been going in that direction this night was a sudden drop.


A few things never woke up in the spring, including the cordylines (pictured). You will recognize a cordyline from pictures of seaside towns in Cornwall. They are also called “cabbage palms.” How anyone imagined a clump of long, leathery, sword-shaped leaves perched on top of a rough trunk had any resemblance to a cabbage I will never know. I can forgive the “palm” bit.


Anyway, all their leaves went brown and fell off so we cut down the trunks and left them, intending to return and dig them out. Months later (and stumps still there), a new shoot arose, then another, and they have gone from strength to strength, adding new trunks every few years.


So don’t give up on a favourite plant until mid-summer at the earliest. Ideally you should wait till the following year, as some sulk for a good while. This can also happen to just a few types of plants after transplanting. Normally, we just dig them out as a dead-looking plant isn’t a thing of beauty.


In the veg garden, I had early sowings of peas, broad beans, parsnips, early carrots and summer spinach. I also sowed a few short rows of spinach as a catch crop in the unheated glasshouse bed.


I was on the early side for outdoor sowing but some springs I get away with it. The peas and beans will be fine though still underground, the outdoor spinach is emerging just now, but no sign of parsnips or carrots. The carrots went under a cloche (covered with enviromesh, which doesn’t provide as much warmth as a polythene cover) and all the rest were in the raised beds.
Soil in the raised beds is warmer than that at ground level. And at this time of year there is nothing for it but to be patient. If the outdoor spinach doesn’t germinate well, I can fill gaps with plants from the glasshouse. I don’t expect carrots until three weeks have passed. Parsnips usually take longer.


I will look for two narrow, upward pointing leaves for the carrots and the spinach. The parsnips also have two narrow leaves, but they also have an emerald, distinctive parsnip-green colour.
For several years there has been a very prolonged dry spell in April and May. This has necessitated my watering of both seedbeds and seedlings to help them get established. One year I let the parsnip seedbed dry out and after six weeks I decided to resow.
The soil in May is usually much warmer and everything germinates better and more quickly. So don’t worry if at the moment you can’t see any seedlings. Keep a watch, be ready to offer protection from slugs et al, and water if necessary. With experience you’ll get a sense of how quickly different crops come up and know if you need to resow.


Why do I sow in March or early April if they come up more vigorously in May? Partly because May is a busy month with lots to do, so a head start saves me time. It can spread out the succession if I have room for a second sowing and if it is a crop whose harvest comes as a flush. And partly because the sun is shining, because it’s a warm day and because I just feel like it. Itchy green fingers syndrome.
This year’s cold snap has also played havoc with hardening off. I don’t know if it was the wind or the frost that burnt some leaves of some tree seedlings in pots. I have backtracked and not forced them along. They had been out during the days for at least a week, then back in at night, and had just moved on to spending nights outside. But they were treated to nights indoors, and put out for just a few hours. Once this cold spell has passed I will revert to the hardening off process.


I sowed some tree seeds in autumn 2019 in deep segmented trays and many germinated in spring. I have kept the trays with ungerminated seeds, and a few stragglers are emerging. If they are still dormant this summer, I will ditch them.
The trees that came up grew in their segments until late summer, and then they were split into two groups. One half of each species (rowans, acers, wild crab apples) were planted out into raised beds, and the other half were potted up. The latter were brought into the glasshouse in the coldest weather.


As expected, those living in the glasshouse broke bud earlier than those lined out in the garden. But the outdoor group were a lot less work. They were fully attuned to the vagaries of spring, and there was no hardening off to be done. There was a little frost damage but not much. It is a time of year to keep a gentle pace.


You might wonder how plants cope with cold weather. Many react to day length as a sign that it is safe to break bud. Others will react to temperature and a given number of days of a their minimum temperature gets them going. A few react to both.
Climate change means we are having warm spells early on followed by the usual ups and downs. We may need to adapt ourselves and expect to provide more protection.


Meantime, it is a good time to get hardy annuals sown, especially the flowers that attract in the pollinators. If you haven’t started them already, the half-hardy annuals should be sown asap in warmth as they wont stand any frost. These annuals are a great complement to any perennial plants we have in the garden, providing a food source to a different group of insects.
In May/June you can sow biennials, plants that complete their life cycle over two seasons, like foxgloves, sweet Williams, and candytuft—all brilliant for wildlife.


It’s great to have the warmth back. It may help for future seasons to take a note of sowing dates and germination, a note of what the weather has been like, and any other information that is useful to you. It doesn’t take long. Keep a wee notebook somewhere handy. You’ll be amazed how your knowledge will build and help you to decide when to be patient and when you need to take action.