Gardening: The bitter effects of a bad March

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AS I write this, snow is blowing horizontally past my window, carried on a bitter easterly wind straight from Siberia.

The sky is leaden and the only outdoor jobs I’m doing today is to make sure the cloches and bubble wrap protection on my new plants are safely secured.

Laughably, British Summer Time starts on Sunday. Days are now longer than nights and it’s officially spring – in theory.

Although the long-range forecast says we’ll have some sun at last, the nights are still going to be freezing and temperatures below normal.

It looks like mid-April before anything approaching normality returns, and that’s far from certain.

According to the Met Office, this month has been colder than both this winter’s December and January.

The average temperature (day and night combined) for the UK this March to date is about 3C (37F). It should normally be nearer 6C.

The cold set in during February, and basically hasn’t let up. I spent more time outdoors in January than I have this month.

The coldest March on record was in 1962, with a mean temperature of just 1.9C (we’ll not break that record this year).

In 1987, the average temperature was 3.3C - that record is under threat.

The reason for the North East suffering has been the persistence of easterly winds from a frozen Continent, cooling the North Sea to just 4C or 5C.

Another problem has been a very wet winter, contrasting with the relatively dry winters and springs of previous years.

Last March, we were basking outside in T-shirts, with temperatures as high as 21C, in the warmest March of several decades, thanks to persistent high pressure.

The adverse weather may be a pain for gardeners, but commercial nurseries and farmers are stuck with waterlogged and/or frozen fields, which are unworkable.

Looking further ahead, this is going to push up prices of our most basic foodstuffs. Shortages and imports will all affect our pockets.

Last weekend was the start of the RHS’s Grow Your Own campaign. Perhaps now, more people will try to feed themselves - out of economic necessity.

Last spring was a record breaker – for its heat!

THIS month’s statistics obviously aren’t complete yet, but the picture so far compared with last year is very different.

March 2012 was the third warmest on record – beaten only by 1938 and 1957 – with an average temperature of 7.7ºC.

It was also the fifth driest and third sunniest.

There was a total rainfall of 36.4mm, with 156.5 hours of sunshine.

England saw an average temperature of 8.1ºC and Scotland 7ºC (measured across every hour of the day and night).

There were 175.4 hours of sunshine in England and 129.7 in Scotland.

Rainfall in England was 26.5mm, with 56.8mm in Scotland.

Sun-worshippers flocked to Scotland as it set a new record for its highest March temperature three days in a row.

Aboyne, in Aberdeenshire, recorded 23.6ºC on March 27, beating the 23.2ºC set near Grantown-on-Spey, the previous afternoon.

The day before that, Fyvie Castle, in Aberdeenshire, recorded 22.8ºC, beating a record which had stood for 55 years.

l The driest and the sunniest March was in 1929, with just 17mm of rainfall and 169.5 hours of sunshine recorded.