Last night at 9.15pm, saying goodbye to friends after the Pilates class, we remarked how chilly it was . . . "There's going to be proper frost tonight!" one friend called as I got into my car to drive home. On the way back along the dark country lanes joining Cambridgeshire to Suffolk, I could hear my Dad saying "Have you earthed up your potatoes and covered the strawberry flowers?" – for years I always checked with my Dad when I should sow seeds or plant things out; I didn't bother to remember for myself. Then one day he was no longer there to ask . . . over the past 10 years the wise gardening advice he gave has gradually re-surfaced in my memory.
I parked my car and remembered that months ago I'd bought a roll of protective fleece for a very cheap price at QD in Newmarket, it was in my office. In the dark I went out to the vegetable garden, after making sure I'd zipped up the cloche covering the courgettes, I unrolled the fleece and anchored it in place over the flowering strawberry plants.
I grabbed a handy trowel and flicked soil over any newly emerged potato leaves (the ginger studio assistant arrived and tried to help!). It felt cruel to cover lovely soft leaves with dirt – but without protection the leaves would be black and crinkled by morning.
I also moved our rather scruffy looking lemon tree into the greenhouse – there are lots of new tender leaves and flower buds appearing. One of the heated propogators is still plugged in, warming the germinating Achocha seeds, and giving just enough heat to the greenhouse to keep night-time temperatures well above freezing.
Early this morning I read in yesterday's Times about the 'Ice Saints' or "Eismänner": Saints Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius and Boniface whose feast days traditionally bring frost from May 11 to May 14. Farmers in Germany and Northern Europe knew that it was not safe to plant crops until the saints had done their work. I'd never heard of them before, although it fits with our proverb "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out" – don't take your vest off until the Hawthorn blossom (May) is blooming.
A search on the web unearthed the Chilly Gardeners or Zimni Ogrodnicy in Polish. Zimni Ogrodnicy, even the sound make you shiver! Four saints of the catholic church in Poland: St Pancras, (Pankracy 12 May), St Servatus (Serwacy 13 May), St Boniface (Bonifacy 14 May) and St Sophia (Zofia 15 May). Traditionally in Poland these four days are usually accompanied by a sudden cold snap after the first few weeks of beautiful spring weather.
I think I've got the message, I'll be out there tonight, rolling out the fleece and earthing up the spuds again. Zimni Ogrodnicy . . . the Icemen cometh!