The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

warmer, nat­u­ral fluc­tu­a­tions af­fect the trends. This is partly be­cause Bri­tain is at a cross­roads in terms of weather – when the winds blow from the Con­ti­nent they are dry and cold, whereas when they come from the At­lantic they are wet and mild. In the Six­ties we got locked into some cold win­ters; in the Nineties we had a suc­ces­sion of warm, mild win­ters. Just re­cently we have had some cold win­ters again. So as gar­den­ers, al­though things are get­ting warmer, we re­ally need to mod­er­ate our mi­cro­cli­mate, with the use of ar­ti­fi­cial cov­ers and shel­ter belts, if we want to keep and de­velop our range of ten­der plants. The Met Of­fice has a large ar­chive of weather records. Robert Mar­sham, known as the fa­ther of phe­nol­ogy (the study of cli­mate change), kept de­tailed records, such as the date of oak leaves ap­pear­ing, the first cuck­oos and so forth from 1730. His rel­a­tives kept it go­ing af­ter he died, so the records stretch right up to the Fifties. The grow­ing sea­son is get­ting longer – we are mow­ing the lawn for about a month longer than we did in the Six­ties. The higher lev­els of carbon diox­ide are en­cour­ag­ing plants to grow more too. When you check out your fore­cast, be aware that the data is col­lected from an open site to stan­dard­ise the in­for­ma­tion. If your gar­den has walls, shel­ter belts, wind tun­nels or frost pock­ets th­ese may pro­duce big vari­a­tions. Wind re­duces tem­per­a­tures by evap­o­ra­tion and the air move­ment causes cool­ing. South­fac­ing walls will ab­sorb and ra­di­ate heat, forc­ing plants to emerge ear­lier in spring, pos­si­bly mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to late frosts. North walls gen­er­ally have a more con­sis­tent tem­per­a­ture range and may well help to pro­long flow­er­ing pe­ri­ods. Climb­ing roses, hy­drangeas, clema­tis and pears can all thrive on th­ese cooler walls and their colours look less bleached than they do against a south wall. Frost pock­ets can cause dam­age as the dense, cold air will pond there. Peter Gibbs says that if a fence is trap­ping the air you can just make a few cat-flap-sized holes to let it es­cape. Get to know your plot in­ti­mately – the warm places, the shel­tered spots and the less hos­pitable zones. Many sys­tems are avail­able now for mon­i­tor­ing tem­per­a­ture, wind, rain and rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity. Weather Shop (weath­er­ sells a big range in­clud­ing those from Davis and Oregon Sci­en­tific. For be­tween £100 and £200 you can get a pro­fes­sional set-up to map and record your own mi­cro­cli­mate. With one of th­ese, plant­ing shel­ter belts or us­ing hor­ti­cul­tural fleeces and cov­ers al­lows you to re­ally ex­ploit and de­velop your mi­cro­cli­mate. Cov­ers are in­valu­able for pro­tect­ing crops and plants from rain and wind. You can get or­di­nary 17g fleece with a bor­der of 30g fleece, which means it is stronger around the edges for peg­ging down, help­ing to re­sist the fore­cast strong winds. Rel­a­tively new is En­vi­ron­tect, which is a woven poly­thene, far stronger than fleece, with sim­i­lar frost pro­tec­tion qual­i­ties and seethrough, so you can spot the weeds un­der­neath! It floats on crops and has a five-year ex­pectancy is £11.99 for 2mx5m (from Top tips for the win­ter gar­dener, OK, I’ll hold my hands up and ad­mit it. I didn’t set foot on a train over the en­tire fes­tive pe­riod, from Christ­mas Eve un­til Jan­uary 2. Some­thing of a dere­lic­tion of duty for a com­muter colum­nist, per­haps. But boy had I de­served the break. And it was bliss. There was quite a lot of driv­ing, how­ever. We spent a week in Nor­folk with the in-laws, and – as any­body who has ever had the du­bi­ous for­tune to visit the county will con­firm – be­ing in Nor­folk with­out a car is akin to house ar­rest. Lack­ing the for­ti­tude of Aung San Suu Kyi, we clocked up a lot of miles. It was on one of those long drives over the flat north Nor­folk coun­try­side, with flat fields spread­ing bleakly out on ei­ther side and a grey sky over­head, that the idea hit me. I had been con­tem­plat­ing the rigours of my daily com­mute, and try­ing to come up with a “strat­egy” (as even the most mi­nor plan seems to be known th­ese days) for mak­ing it less un­bear­able. I had al­ready been down the road of noise re­duc­tion; not only did I carry a set of earplugs with me wher­ever I went, but I of­ten car­ried a pair of in­dus­trial ear de­fend­ers as well. I had de­vel­oped a keen eye for talk­a­tive, el­bow-spread­ing or oth­er­wise anti-so­cial pas­sen­gers, and was able to smell a take­away or a Cor­nish pasty at 20 yards, and avoid them. But th­ese mea­sures re­mained in­suf­fi­cient when it came to the per­sis­tent an­tag­o­nism of the great un­washed. What I re­ally needed, I thought, was the abil­ity to switch off my brain at will and re­main im­pas­sive for the whole jour­ney. As we ap­proached the town of Holt – where, by the way, the Christ­mas tree had been knocked side­ways by the storms – I had the Great Idea. Reader, I present it to you in two words: Box Set. Now, to other com­muters this is not news. It has be­come com­mon­place to see rail pas­sen­gers watch­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes or films on their com­put­ers. But to me it had al­ways seemed thor­oughly de­gen­er­ate. The com­mute should be used to bet­ter one­self, I thought, to learn a lan­guage or to catch up on work. Or to sleep. Not to sit there mind­lessly, watch­ing tele­vi­sion. That was slob­bish­ness. Which is, of course, pre­cisely why it was so de­li­cious. My wife and I had just started watch­ing Break­ing Bad, a five-sea­son se­ries about a chem­istry teacher who starts sell­ing drugs af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer. I had thought it was bril­liant; she had thought it was dis­turb­ing. Nor­mally, the box set is the pre­serve of the cou­ple, and to watch it alone would be to break the code. But in this case, I could claim an ex­cep­tion. And so, on Jan­uary 2 2014, I took my seat on the train, opened up my iPad, and ab­sorbed my­self into the world of the Al­bu­querque drugs trade. It felt thor­oughly il­licit and naughty. But the ef­fect was re­mark­able. I was in the quiet car­riage, as usual, but so ab­sorbed was I in the pro­gramme that the con­tin­ual in­fringe­ments of those around me didn’t mat­ter in the slight­est. Even when the woman next to me started jab­ber­ing on her phone in Ital­ian, I barely turned a hair. Be­fore I knew it, the pro­gramme ended and I was in Lon­don. It was as if I had been tem­po­rar­ily lobotomised. I won’t make a per­ma­nent habit of it, of course. Life is too short for that. But if the fes­tive sea­son has taught me one thing, it is this: a bit of in­dul­gence can some­times work won­ders for one’s san­ity. Happy New Year. Email:com­muter­spy@tele­ uk; Twit­ter: @Com­muter­Spy

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