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May 18th 2009

    The expression "Patchy Frost" which was flung around during the course of yesterday's weather conversations provided gardeners in parts of Kentucky with an opportunity to reach far into memory for precedent and understanding.

    In Northern Virginia I worked a garden which had for its owner a person who insisted upon doing nothing but ground preparation until May 20th.  I thought this person staid and without that sense of adventure sometimes required for a good garden.  The garden had traditional places for traditional things.  The process was robotic.  And I would move this or that seedling two inches or three inches to the left at my peril.

    I once suggested we consider planting out earlier in May, and I was informed that May 20th was "last frost".  I was a newcomer and I accepted this as lore even though without question I thought the owner of the garden a fuddy-duddy, because daytime temperatures appeared to be close to the 90's.

 

    

    Then some years later on a May 1st I saw a cold snap do away with the Iris bloom.  It was the beginning of my understanding of continental land mass and weather extremes.  I also had that opportunity to understand better why some in the British Isles consider their dreadful weather perfect for the gardener.    

    In the British Isle, Tomatoes are grown under glass, and you are lucky to get a ripe one by the end of August.  Cucumbers are considered exotic and are mostly imported.  Squash is a concentrate to which one adds water to make a refreshing drink.  Corn is wheat.  Britain has no hot weather crop, so "Patchy Frost" in May results in a shrug and an extra beer, followed by a little finger pruning.  

    The comrade who lives too far away, remarked to the wife that 'old timers' had a rule, "thunderstorm in February, frost in May".  A remark which would challenge the English imagination, not because of the "Frost in May" part, but because of the "Thunderstorm in February" part.  A circumstance that would keep children home from school, and possibly a question or two in the House of Parliament.

    Here in Kentucky there was solemn-ness at the kitchen window this morning, but "Patchy Frost" was nowhere to be seen.

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