This is one of the wettest places in the country with an average annual rainfall of over five feet (1,520mm). The rain gathers over the Solway and the south westerly’s blow the clouds up the valley, finally reaching here where they seem to get stuck. We reckon to get one good year in three, but between 2007 and 2012 were subjected to six poor summers in a row. 2011 was the wettest on record with the met office measuring a staggering seven and a half feet of rain. This represents double the rainfall of Edinburgh and unfortunately also translates as less than half the sunshine. In one gloomy July there were only 50 hours of sunshine in the entire month, i.e. about three fine days. Temperatures in Eskdalemuir are on average three degrees colder than the surrounding region, so a few degrees on the weather forecast translates to here as another frost, and a slight frost signals a continuing freeze. After one recent cold snap it was so extraordinarily mild that suddenly everything was soaking wet and running with condensation. Curiously, until recently Eskdalemuir also had the highest temperature ever recorded in Scotland of 89F. On the whole Eskdalemuir isn’t a windy place with occasional blustery days that are surprisingly noisy. But the real problem here is the damp, perfectly exemplified by the trees and stone all covered in moss. As a result of this many plants normally grown outdoors need to be under glass or in cold frames.   

 


The weather here is certainly difficult to predict. It’s not unknown to get sunburnt in April and then snowed-in a couple of weeks later. When the Dalai Lama visited at the end of May 1993 we were shovelling snow off the marquee roof. It is said to be good character building and you often hear the plucky remark, ‘It isn’t that bad!’ But the relentless weathering takes its toll. In recent times we seem to have had only three seasons each year and you never know which three. The long hard winter of 2013 kept temperatures below freezing well into April and downright cold in May, before skipping spring completely and lurching straight into the hottest summer for years. It was a timely reminder of how some sunshine makes all the difference. In contrast the summer of 2015 didn’t really happen at all and the crops struggled. There followed one of the longest and muddiest autumns in living memory, nothing like the autumn of 2016 which was glorious and the grass never seemed to stop growing  But there are some general parameters. It is best to assume there will be a frost in the first week of June, so tender plants have to be kept inside until the 7th. There always used to be a frost at the end of August and this still occurs in the village a couple of miles down the road, but up here this appears to have been tempered by the hedge planting and building. The monastery also protects the site from the chill breezes that used to drift across the yard from the north. During the summer there are many nights when it feels airless and is difficult to sleep, but by the morning it can be chilly and the crops typically suffer enough to check their growth. 

 

The season kicks off in the first week of March with the leeks and a couple of heated boxes in the greenhouse to bring on early sowings. Outside it is not uncommon for Eskdalemuir to be snowbound whereas down the road in Lockerbie there’s not a flake to be seen. The gardening programmes will be full of springtime tips but up here we’ll still have a few weeks up our sleeve. April is frequently wet and windy with occasional bright days, but a trip to town is again ill advised as the scent of cut grass and the sight of people in their short sleeves, only serves to remind you just how far behind we really are. Returning to the hills where the grass is still brown and the snowdrops are drooping, can be a sobering experience. Planting out starts in May when it can be bright and is often very sunny, though in 2016 it was so chilly the local farmers reckoned we were three or four weeks behind. By June the growing season is usually up and running, but the weather is notoriously disappointing with damp misty days, mingled with the smoky bonfires to keep the midges at bay, invariably creating a murky atmosphere. 

Things tend to pick up in July with changeable conditions, sometimes the occasional hailstorm, and sometimes sweltering. It’s easy to forget that it can get extremely hot up here, particularly after lunch. Before the Old Shed was built there was simply nowhere to shelter from the sun and sometimes we’d even end up squatting behind a hedge for some shade. But in recent years the summers have become a mild temperate monsoon with showers all day and rather gallingly, only clearing up in the late afternoon when we’re putting the tools away. So watering is something we don’t usually have a problem with, but it is surprising just how quickly the soil can turn to dust in a dry spell and then we can spend hours and hours out there. The Annual Tea Party is in August and the weather is sometimes fine.

The splendid autumn of 2016 was just what we needed after such a nondescript summer, but this really wasn’t so uncommon. The beginning of September usually brings an unmistakable autumnal brownish hue to the leaves and often the most enjoyable bright and breezy weather of the year. The crops are coming in and the main business is drawing to a close. People often comment that there can only be a short growing season, but to be honest, it feels quite long enough. Frosts are usually rare at this time with the windier conditions prevailing but by the first week of October temperatures often slip to minus 3, 4 and 5 degrees. With the clocks changing the garden gently descends into winter and by the first week of November they often drop to minus 8, 9 and 10.  

The winter here is long. Occasionally it is cold, bright and stunningly beautiful with the fields all white and sparkling. On days like these you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The temperatures can reach minus 20 degrees, and the snow brings a deep and restful peace and quiet. But this is in marked contrast to the usual fare with pouring rain and the occasional howling wind that can be extremely punishing. The garden can look awfully bedraggled with rotting plants keeling over and deep puddles everywhere. Some days it doesn’t seem to get light at all. Possibly it is the mud and the gloom that is the most challenging of all and a bright clear day comes as such a relief. Toiling away outside, particularly when the afternoon sessions are so brief, doesn’t really achieve that much and is probably an indication that it’s time to call it a day and put your feet up. This is a seasonal occupation and after a long hard year it’s good to get away, and reflect on what has been. A time to have a think, digest a few implications and maybe even come up with a few bright ideas? And then after a while, head back home refreshed, when the days are stretching out and the place is once again brimming with optimism.


 


To see what vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers grow best in the Garden, click here.