The Ice Saints, May 2020

Modern art, you may ask?

No, it’s a young Gingko tree, given to us by friends when we moved here, and wrapped up in garden fleece!

In Germany the final frosts of the year according to ancient folk sayings are mid-May, on the four Saint‘s Days from 12th to 15th May. And until today they are surprisingly accurate. Last night the 11th-12th was Saint Pankratius and we had a couple of degrees of frost. Tonight is Saint Servatius and temperatures could drop below zero again… a nightmare for gardeners who have been tempted by an exceedingly mild and warm April and early May to plant up pots of Pelargoniums and vegetables and sow annuals…

The Cold Frame

Thank goodness for garden fleece and various bits of packing materials saved for wrapping up sensitive plants. And for our trolley, which came in handy for gathering up these pots to put under cover for the night.

The zucchini and butternut are in pots this year as the ongoing drought deterred us from starting a vegetable bed again this spring. Maybe next year… In the meantime, it means wrapping up pots overnight. These looked a bit peaky this morning when I took the photo, but by the afternoon they had perked up, albeit with some slight leaf damage despite the fleece wrapping.

With our greenhouse plans also postponed for at least another year, I invested in this mini patio greenhouse. It has been worthwhile, with room for twelve trays. And with a bit of garden fleece it stays above freezing overnight. It was delivered in a trillion pieces though, so don’t ask how long it took me to put it together! 😫

At the beginning of our lockdown in mid-March I panicked a bit and worried I would not get any tomato plants, as even if our garden centres ever opened again there would be a rush for them. So I ordered a mix of tomato seeds from a Russian lady not far from us who has a private nursery and usually sells young plants in spring. They are all old varieties brought over from Russia by her parents, and so are not EU certified (so I can‘t eat them… 🤪🤣😉) and ALL of them germinated! So I now have 28 healthy young plants and cannot give them away as I can‘t visit anyone! I think I will be spending all summer watering…

Tomatoes, Tithonia, Sunflowers, salad leaves and a couple of leftover zucchini plants

Some dahlia tubers freshly planted in pots were brought indoors, as were my Lemon Verbena plants. I have been coddling these darlings, bringing them indoors every night.

I love lemon verbena tea and dry the leaves so I can enjoy it all year round. Last year my plants did not thrive and I had to ration my remaining tea. I hope this year I can refill my stock. 😀

The last of our Ice Saints is the dreaded ‘kalte Sophie’, cold Saint Sophia on the 15th, and it looks like that might be our last frosty night…. I do hope so as the wrapping up and unwrapping is getting a bit ridiculous!

How do you cope with late frosts? Is there a specific date for the last ones where you live?


37 thoughts on “The Ice Saints, May 2020

  1. We usually adhere to the Saintes Glaces too but this year has been ridiculously hot. We have a plastic shelter we put up in the spring to shelter the tomato plants and other delicate pots in their first nights outside. This year we hardly used it and we have already packed it away. However, we are going through a colder spell now although no where near zero. I like your little greenhouse. It is very neat and about the size we would need. Amelia

    • I didn‘t know it is also known as such in France. We occasionally don‘t have any frosts this late, but this date has been surprisingly accurate most years since I started gardening here about 20 years ago, despite climate change!

    • There are EU laws about only certain seed being permitted for human consumption, hence the lack of old sorts of tomatoes available here. You cannot sell heritage tomato seed or even the tomatoes on markets unless you state they are not intended for human consumption, which this lady does on her website. 😉 Of course I can eat them though! 🍅🍅🍅

    • Of course we will eat the tomatoes, but isn‘t it ridiculous that there are such laws! When I was very small I loved the cherry tomatoes my Uncle grew on his farm. Then we joined the EU (early 70s) and he was pressured into growing only certain types which had no flavour. I didn‘t eat tomatoes for several years after that. I think I will make up for that this year though if all my plants produce a crop! 😜

  2. Our last frost date is April 15th. We have had several frosts since then and the temperatures are running lower than normal. It has been crazy. We had a warm spell the first part of April. I sowed seeds of some flowers. They have been demolished. I am hoping that tonight is the last night of cooler than normal weather. I brought all the tender plants up to the house under the eaves and wrapped them in blankets and sheets to keep the cold wind and frost from them. Cover then uncover then cover them again. I will be glad when I don’t have to do that any more.

    • It was tempting to plant a few things out early when we had such hot weather, but I know the ice saints will almost always come! I do hope the nights warm up for you quickly too. 😃

  3. We have also had the coldest spring I can ever remember, breaking record lows. It has been a cold spring overall and finally after tonight it looks like we will finally get some seasonable temps. I put my zinnias out in a raised bed a few weeks ago after our last severe cold spell, not expecting another. But for this last one one, I put plastic hoops over the bed and stretched plastic over the hoops, closing off both ends. Then I put an heater in with the plants that gives off a very soft heat, nothing blowing. I used to use it for my chickens. They used to love to snuggle up next to it in the winter. Then I put wool blankets over the plastic, and everything under that hoop has survived. I do agree, it has been a lot of babysitting, carrying things in and out. I thought we were the only ones having such a very cold spring. So sorry to hear you are too.

    • That sounds like a lot of work, covering the zinnias! But you will be rewarded. 😉 Actually we have had a really warm spring, and that is why my seedlings and plants are all fairly large and really need planting out. This cold spell mid May catches many people out, but I am usually prepared and it will be over in a few days!

  4. Bringing things in and out is a pain, right? I’ve generally been content to wait for our traditional last frost date in the 3rd week of May, which might be right this year. Last year I think LFD was April 23. Big difference! I did however buy a flat of seedlings from my favorite nursery when he opened Apr 30, because he often sells out. So every day and night, out and in they go. It gets old!
    Like you, we’re having a cold spell with day temps only in the 40sF and frost expected for the next couple nights. Another week or so, we might be in the clear, I hope. It’d be nice to plant these out!

    • It is funny hearing how gardeners across the world are all doing the same over the next week or so! Yes, it is time-consuming and occasionally I wake up in the night and panic… did I bring in the lemon verbena? Did I close the cold frame? 🤭LOL!

  5. Sounds similar to here in the Upper Midwest U.S. Most years we have a touch of frost in early May, and May 15 is generally a safe time to plant. But this year, early May was especially touch and go. It makes gardening really tricky, doesn’t it?

    • You can say that again! Yes, the warm weather in April means my seedlings are bursting their pots and want to be let out… only a few days to go though. 😃 Interesting to hear your last frosts are around the same time as ours Beth.

  6. I was pretty well focused on reading through your post until I saw the words “greenhouse plans postponed”… Greenhouse? How exciting!! I didn’t know this was part of the new gardens plan, I can only imagine the trouble you will get into 😉
    Your seedlings look excellent, and nice job with the tomatoes. I just boxed up two tomato seedlings and a half dozen lettuce to mail to my mother in NY, it’s ridiculous to mail lettuce seedlings but I know she’ll enjoy them.

    • Hi Frank. Yes, we have plans for a fairly large greenhouse but have decided to wait a year or two to enjoy the garden before the builders are let in, and focus on planting a few more shrubs and trees…… 😉 I think it‘s great that you sent your mum some tomato and lettuce seedlings! My Mum was over the moon today when she got some zucchini seeds in the post from my niece! 😃

  7. Oh yes, don’t mention the ice saints 🙂 Pumpkins : dead / Cucumber : dead …luckily I managed to save many other plants (and still have to the coming 2 nights). But new cucumber and pumpkin plants are already sprouting up inside the kitchen.

    • Oh dear Stefan. I was lucky and my butternut survived with just a few bruised leaves. The growing season is short enough for pumpkins isn’t it. Two years ago we had frost mid September which made it even shorter! Good luck with the new seedlings though. I must remember to save a few seeds for emergencies next year.

  8. Goodness, I am pleased that we do not need to way for the middle of May for the last of the frost. Some of us already have zucchini. In Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region) there is no frost date, because there supposedly is no frost. When I write the gardening column, I must adjust it regionally. There is actually a bit of frost in some spots there, but no one talks about it.

  9. That is a lot of tomato plants! I hope you have plans to make sauce and bottle or freeze it. I like the Russian tomato varieties, many of them have a dark skin and tasty flesh, like Black Krim and Black Cherry.

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