a french garden

Saints de Glace

40 Comments

At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F).  We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost.  The vines that had just flowered were frozen.

Frozen vinesThe last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.

The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.

There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature.  Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground.  This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees.  But sadly even these efforts  were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.  

The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are:  St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May).  They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace.  Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.”  There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then.  They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.”  When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.

Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost.  The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.

Frozen lagerstoemia

Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.

Frozen hydrangea

A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.

Kourosh

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40 thoughts on “Saints de Glace

  1. Hello Kourosh and Amelia,
    That’s really devastating – particularly after such high temperatures. And dropping that much too. As you say so much more serious that the nuisance value of damage in a garden …a similar event here last week, but we were nothing like as advanced, and nothing like as cold.
    Best wishes
    Julian

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    • Thank you for the comments. I think the fact that the plants have been so advanced this year is the problem.
      We humans seem to never learn. Each spring we see a week or two of good weather, and say, ‘Oh, well, summer is here’. Our problem here is that some of our seedlings shot up so fast that we really need to plant them in the earth. As you say, our challenges are little in comparison with the farmers.
      I will restart planting more seeds. – Kourosh

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  2. Very sad, all that hard work wiped out overnight and through no fault of their own.

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    • Too true, Emily. Last autumn we had a storm and I saw acres and acres of vineyards near Cognac just half hour away from us, just flattened.
      Before coming to France, I used to think that growing grapes was easy as the plants with their very deep roots, don’t even need watering. But the farmers literally have to work at it twelve months a year.
      [incidentally some told me bee keeping was also easy, you leave the girls alone and just collect the honey!!!] – Kourosh

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  3. The frosts have been absolutely devastating here in the Alsace and the Jura and we still haven’t seen Kalt Sophia yet!

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    • Thank you, Cathy. Alsace is one part of France that Amelia and I have not visited. It must be a beautiful area. But often when I see the weather map on television. I get the impression that it rains a lot more than us. We have hardly had any rain last summer and even now in spring. The river at the bottom of our garden, which at this time of the year is usually full of water, is totally dry for the first time since the last ten year we have been here. – Kourosh

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  4. So sad for the farmers. It is not an easy life, boom or bust most of the time! Here in the Pacific Northwest we have had record beating rain and plants are rotting in the ground. Can’t get seeds to germinate. Promises of warmer, drier weather in May. Fingers crossed.

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    • Thank you, Annie. We have not had any substantial rain all summer and this spring. That is another problem for the farmers and us. Now we have water ban until 7:30 pm and Amelia has to spend an hour watering the small plants each evening. Best wishes to both of you. Kourosh

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  5. That’s too bad. It happens here too so we never put out tender plants until the end of May.

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    • I think we do need pay more attention to the wisdom of our elders, Here when the older people talk of St Urban (25th May) it is based on their long experience. – Kourosh

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  6. Colorado, where we used to live, was not safe from blizzards (not just low temperatures) until the end of May. Sorry to hear about the plants. We regularly had damaged flowers and shrubs due warm February and March followed by cold snaps in April and May. I think it will be the new way of weather patterns.

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    • Thank you. It is the sudden variation of temperatures that the plants don’t like. [nor do we. Often Amelia and I don’t know to wear summer clothes or winter clothes] My apricot trees usually blossom in February and then a cold snap in March or April kills all the fruit. – Kourosh

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  7. Very sad for all concerned. I read somewhere that orchard fruit tree growers sometimes festoon their vulnerable trees with Christmas tree fairy lights and have them on during frost danger periods. The warmth from the lights stops the frost settling on the young leaves. What a dreadful drop though from so high to so low, does such devastation happen more often or is it climate change?

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    • Thank you for your comment and a very good question. Personally I do believe in global warming debate (did I say warm ?!!!), but spring can be an unpredictable period. Often a few days or even weeks of very mild weather, and then a sudden cold snap in April or May.
      I do like your idea of Christmas lights on my fruit tree. I should try to convince Amelia on that!! – Kourosh

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  8. It has been devastating here too. I had planted a vine last year and was thrilled to see its new shoots; it is very late for us to have had such cold temperatures; as you say everything is waiting to be planted out. Some tomatoes I’d already planted have been under fleece for over a week but our garden loses are as nothing to the loss of all the fruit on the trees and the vines. Climate change is going to make our lives more and more difficult.

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    • Thank you, Christina.
      It is sad to see men and women’s hard work is destroyed by a night of frost or storm. But we must take courage. It is just the nature’s way of showing us who is the boss. But nature is also kind. The plants will recover, even though the harvest this year might not be as good as in the previous years.
      If it is the climate change, then we must take that as another warning bell, before we cut down all the forests – not just in Indonesia and the Amazonia, but here all around us as they cut down little parcels of forest each year to make larger plots of maze and rapeseed. – Kourosh

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  9. I am saddened but interested to read about the damage from the frost. We had one on Wednesday night, which damaged ornamental vines, hydrangea leaves and wisteria flowers just two days before the village open gardens. The spring has been so mild with everything early therefore more susceptible. At least for us there is no economic consequence other than french wine may be more expensive!

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    • Brian,
      I am also saddened for your village of Hanley Swan, to be robbed of its beauty just before the open garden day. You are right the weather has been rather chaotic lately. We also had hardly any winter followed by a warm spring. And then a big wallop! It is claimed here that the harvest of wine will be down here by 30 to 50%. But of course this year’s wine will not be sold until next year. So you can drink to that – for the moment. – Kourosh

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  10. horrible isn’t it? same here in Berlin – all the apple blossoms frozen

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  11. It is indeed sad to hear about the apple blossoms. Luckily a number of our fruit trees like plum and apricots and apples have already set fruit and – fingers crossed – for the moment appear to be holding on the branches. – Kourosh

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  12. The cold bit here too. New shoots of dahlias burnt, soft foliage of philadelphus aurea, hydrangea arborescens and apple blossom browned and damaged. Disheartening but nothing compared to the devastating frost described. Nature is tough. Our old phrase is ” never cast a clout until May is out”

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    • Too true about May. April and May can be glorious months, but suddenly nature lets us know who is the boss.
      I am sorry about the damage in your garden. Hopefully nature heals and the damage will be at least partially recovered. – Kourosh

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  13. We have also had frosts over the past ten days or so and the fruit farmers have had massive damage to blossom after the very mild March brought on the flowers early. Here they say the ‘Cold Sophie’ on the 15th is the last frost date… hope so!

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    • Thank you Cathy. I am sorry as it seems that this sudden frost was more widespread that I thought at first. You are right about Kalt Sophie, but as they say here, don’t put out the tomato and other fragile plants until 25th May.
      I always admire your garden which looks so glorious. So I hope you will continue to have lovely summer to enjoy resting in it. – Kourosh

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  14. I had similar damage earlier this year, but things are coming back. I do hope you will recover. John

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  15. John, it is indeed to hear your comment. Nature can also be healing, and as you say things will come back. – Kourosh

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  16. We had a few days of overnight frost in the UK but at least down here in Devon there was only minor damage and nothing as bad as you report. If this is climate change we all need to shout about it so that our awful leaders do something, if only for our children’s sake!!

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  17. Hear, hear! I am glad that you did not suffer too much in Devon – Kourosh

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  18. I don’t think there is any such thing as a crop that is easy to cultivate (except possibly the ghastly Rape Seed that seems to be taking a hold in areas here just as it has in Britain) … I’m guessing that it is the very dependence on ideal conditions that makes a good or a less good or a downright poor vintage for the vineyards. And that in its turn must reflect in price. Farming and growing is never an easy option. I think. anyway, I really enjoyed this piece and I’m very glad I stumbled upon your blog. Kindly – Osyth.

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    • Thank you for your comment. As someone who get hay fever and is particularly allergic to rape seed, I sympathise with your comment. However, my concern is not just the fact it is widely grown here in France as well as in the UK, but the fact that the pesticides used regularly by spraying them makes them one of the most polluted seeds. The pollution sadly rests in the soil and also penetrates in the oil produced from it.
      As for the vines, I do have a lo of sympathy with the farmers, although I am a teetotaler.
      It is true that farming is not an easy life.

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      • Thank you and I hope that at least some of the diverse blogs that my wife Amelia (and sometimes) I will write on the garden and the bees (both solitary and our honey bees) will interest you.
        Pesticides are a real danger to all of us. Unfortunately the interest of the large multinational chemical companies seem to take priority over the lives of bees and our children. – Kourosh

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        • I am sure I will find great value in what your write. It has long appeared to me that the pharmaceutical and chemicals giants are the real powers in this world – playing to the blithe greed of the masses. If something is cheap then grab it and don’t worry about the consequences. I would rather have less and be sure that I am not annihilating the environment and assaulting and destroying those we share the planet with. I look forward to hearing more about your Garden and the bees and I wish you and Amelia a lovely weekend.

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