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The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

Along with sport and pol­i­tics, the weather is some­thing we are pre­pared to ex­press an opin­ion on, based more of­ten than not, on lit­tle knowl­edge. Record­ing Gar­den­ers’ Ques­tion Time at the Met Of­fice in Ex­eter re­cently made me re­alise that get­ting the best in­for­ma­tion and un­der­stand­ing the weather can def­i­nitely im­prove my gar­den­ing. I ha­bit­u­ally look up at the sky in the evening, es­pe­cially in spring and au­tumn, when early or late frosts can dev­as­tate young plants or cause you to lose a batch of nur­tured trea­sures. Heavy cloud cover means I can re­lax, whereas a clear sky can in­di­cate plum­met­ing tem­per­a­tures. But it is by no means fail-safe. At the Met Of­fice (metof­fice. gov.uk), they are at the fore­front of global weather, in­clud­ing mon­i­tor­ing and ad­vis­ing on trans­port, ecosys­tems, de­fence and in­dus­try the world over. Tech­nol­ogy has changed dra­mat­i­cally since Michael Fish’s un­der­state­ment of the Great Storm in 1987. The short­term pre­dic­tions and “post­code fore­cast­ing” are ex­tremely ac­cu­rate. Peter Gibbs is a weather fore­caster and a keen gar­dener as well as reg­u­lar chair­man of Gar­den­ers’ Ques­tion Time on Ra­dio 4. He in­stinc­tively gar­dens with the weather up­per­most in his ac­tions. He rec­om­mends the BBC web­site (bbc.co.uk/weather) as this uses data from the Bri­tish Isles as op­posed to the United States, which many weather sites use but which tend to be less ac­cu­rate. Apart from the ob­vi­ous as­pects of fore­cast­ing frosts, winds, high tem­per­a­tures, heavy rains and storms, all of which can af­fect plants dra­mat­i­cally, there are other use­ful fea­tures. Pippa Green­wood (pip­pa­green­wood. com/grow-your-own), who is renowned for her pest and disease ex­per­tise, mon­i­tors the rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity (which comes up when you click on “ta­ble” rather than “graph”). “This in­for­ma­tion is bril­liant for pre­dict­ing blight on out­door toma­toes and pota­toes,” says Pippa. “For it to in­fect, you need two con­sec­u­tive 24-hour pe­ri­ods where there is a min­i­mum temp of 10C and at least 11 hours where the rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity is 89 per cent or more.” So Pippa looks ahead and if blight seems likely and she is go­ing away she re­moves the po­tato haulms com­pletely be­fore she goes. I use this fore­cast, es­pe­cially if I am work­ing away for the day, when it helps me judge how many doors and win­dows I should open on the green­house. In the win­ter, I like to let in as much fresh air as pos­si­ble, open­ing it up most days but en­sur­ing it is just frost-free for my pelargo­ni­ums, ten­der peren­ni­als and cut­tings. In sum­mer, keep­ing it cool is equally im­por­tant and know­ing in ad­vance how much open­ing is nec­es­sary can avoid cat­a­strophic ef­fects on plants and pests. Hav­ing spent 17 years in the wet and warm West Coun­try (near Bath) and the past 30 in the hot, dry east (near Stam­ford), I re­alise how di­verse our weather is. Adam Scaife, who leads the monthly, sea­sonal and decadal pre­dic­tions at the Met Of­fice, points out that, al­though our con­di­tions vary across the Bri­tish Isles, when we have a hot sum­mer or a cold win­ter the coun­try as a whole usu­ally is af­fected, but it is mod­er­ated by the ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion. Adam says they can pre­dict four, five or six days ahead quite ac­cu­rately, and are good on longterm trends but it is more dif­fi­cult to pre­dict the month or decade. Al­though the cli­mate is be­com­ing

Another sea­son: another rea­son to keep a weather eye out

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