PHIL CALVERT: Local weather means we have all four seasons in one day here

Phil Calvert . S090606/5
Phil Calvert . S090606/5

THINGS seemed to be going so well! After that harsh winter, spring coughed and spluttered into life during early April and then, as temperatures reached unseasonal highs, daffodils came and went in the blink of an eye and cherry blossom appeared in the middle of the month and was all gone long before we entered the month of May.

It seemed as though the whole of spring had been squeezed into just three or four weeks.

So, with a wonderful April under our belts and with the arrival of May, usually the nicest month of the year, it looked like we were set for a classic season. We were to be paid back for enduring those cold, harsh, dark winter months with a spring like no other. The iron-hard frozen landscape of winter was to be cast aside with a flourish so that with the arrival of “the darling buds of May” we could look toward the warm summer season ahead.

Unfortunately, as any student of the weather forecasts can tell you, they are only marginally better than crystal ball gazing. Rain may be forecast but it is by no means certain. Many times I have driven along the M65 in sunshine towards dear old Pendle to see cloud piling against its flanks and Higham being given a soaking. Similarly, I have been at Gannow with no sign of rain but driven over to Cliviger to experience rain falling in torrents.

It seems to me the arrangement of hills around Burnley provides an excellent catchment for rain clouds making our area a pretty damp place. That after all is part of the reason why the cotton industry arrived here. Damp air, abundant water and, I suppose, water power. The fact the town was sat on a coalfield as well was possibly a later bonus. Yes, we live in a rainy place, but even here the weather (which means rain) is local.

On occasion, Wifey has been helping out on a fruit and veg stall over in Clitheroe and the skies have been leaden with rain, while over at Reedley we have basked in sunshine. My brother (yes, we are plural) lives over in Trawden and it seems that over there under the dark slopes of Boulsworth they get even more rain than we do. This localism makes forecasting very difficult and makes them seem unreliable.

But there are other kinds of weather. A year or so ago I was in Melbourne, Australia, visiting my elder daughter, and not being a heat lover I was dreading the searing heat which we associate with the deserts of the Australian bush country. I was not disappointed. Walking through Fitzroy Park to visit Captain Cook’s cottage, lovingly transported there in the 1930s from North Yorkshire I was careful to keep to the shadows, sip water and do my utmost to keep out of the sun. It was flippin’ hot and I still managed to burn where the factor 30 had worn off.

The next day was also warm and sunny and we went to the coast. Beautiful sunny weather with clear blue skies dotted with the odd cotton wool cloud. Two hours later we were being blasted by chilly gale force winds, coming up from the Antarctic, carrying rain clouds that generously chose to shed their not inconsiderable cargo of rain onto me….it was foul. We were experiencing classic Melbourne weather, where you experience all four seasons in one day.

It was like that here in Burnley on Monday. I was down at Reedley doing a bit of tidying up when suddenly, the sun was obscured by dark clouds and the wind became chilly. I had just pulled on my waterproofs, as cold turbulent gusting winds slammed into the side of the building. I’m built for comfort rather than speed, but I was in danger of qualifying for London 2012 as I ran for cover before the full force of the squall was unleashed.

From the shelter of our little shop it was all very dramatic stuff. Leaves and small branches were ripped from trees and thrown around. Plants were blown over and rain worthy of any tropical storm lashed the ground. Water poured off the roofs and the water butt overflowed in seconds. Monty shuffled up a little closer to me as we watched the awesome power of nature at work. Fifteen minutes later it had passed, intent on wreaking destruction on Scotland, the sun made a weak reappearance. All day long we were subject to sharp gusting winds and the odd heavy shower…and it was cold.

Meanwhile, down south they are having a drought. Crops are failing, trees dying and rivers drying as they experience similar weather to what we had in April, but of course, they had a nice April too. As I watched the sun beating down on Chelsea, I couldn’t help but feel just a little jealous.

So what does June hold in store for us? No one knows, but when you are a gardener you have to be an optimist and give it a go. It is true that our gardens have taken a beating over the last few weeks, but perhaps around the next corner we shall experience better weather so that we are able to enjoy our gardens to the full. Indeed already our plum trees are burdened down with what looks like becoming a bumper crop. The apples aren’t doing badly either. I’m very optimistic.

And so I’m continuing planting up my tubs and baskets with bedding plants and just getting on with it. We have short memories. If the sun comes out soon our rotten May will quickly be forgotten and we will say what great year it has been.

But if you want to enjoy summer in a beautiful garden, first of all you have to get busy planting… whatever the weather!