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2013: a gardener's view

It seems as if the weather can make green-fingered experts or sorry failures of us all.

I wouldn't blame anyone for trashing their trowel after the disaster of 2012 and this year's spring looked as if we were in for more of the same. But before jumping off a nearby cliff, we gardeners finally got the break we badly needed.

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What a start to the year. A peek at the Met Office stats for my neck of the woods deep in the Borders reveals the average maximum temperature for January was 3.8C, falling to an average -0.1C, with 18 nights of frost. But even in May, the average temperature was a wretched 12.4C with 4.2C overnight. What plant could cope with 12 overnight lows of 2C or less? Sorry to bombard you with hard facts as you warm your toes by the fire, but they explain why so many seeds rotted before lumbering into life or gave up the ghost before summoning the energy to produce a first true leaf.

I remember all too ruefully my grand designs. At least I delayed the first polytunnel sowings until February, and a few weeks later started sowing the likes of broccoli, lettuce, peas and broad beans every fortnight for a steady stream of goodies throughout summer. Despite tucking my early crops under cloches, little happened. There were no tunnel caulis in May or sugar peas and broad beans from the kitchen garden. I had to wait until late June for that.

Meanwhile, my later March and April sowings basked in the bliss of early-summer warmth and sped ahead, nimbly catching up with their early cousins and producing an inevitable glut. No matter how much we picked - overlooking five a day in preference for 50 a day - we hardly made an impact on the surplus.

In April, the greenhouse was eerily silent. Instead of the near-deafening buzz of bumble bees and queen wasps pollinating the loganberry, my wife and I could hear each other fearfully wondering if these vital insects would ever show up. They did, but we had to wait until late June before enjoying those full-fat berries.

I'm always going on about drip irrigation systems in the veg garden and ordinarily spend endless hours burying bits of holey plastic, but the heavens in April and May were generous with water - the start of another soggy summer, I reckoned. Why waste time with all this irrigation? The answer came in July - the hottest and best for many a year.

The celery bed was a notable exception to the irrigation ban. The celery and celeriac grew stringy-free and were fully up to the mark. I'm afraid I was too busy swimming and sunning to worry overly much about the rest of the garden. And the weeds? They thankfully fell at a stroke of the hoe. What joy after last year when ground elder and groundsel roots clung tenaciously to the sodden soil.

Another plus was how kind the sun was to the fruit. Scarcely have rasps and strawberries tasted more mouthwateringly sweet. Gooseberries - golden and red - were amazing. I can never understand why some people pick all their gooseberries when sharp and tart, instead of letting them ripen to perfection.

Top fruit was not quite as good as the soft fruit because there weren't enough pollinators working the apple and plum trees early in the season, but our greengages, an arm's length from the front door, made up for that.

So it's been quite a year for gardeners. The borders were full of colour, the air laden with the scent of flowers and herbs. Some midsummer blooms were all too short-lived during the July heatwave, but you can't have everything.

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