The worst winter in 30 years is finally over and spring is here at long last. DAVID MILLS looks forward to lighter nights and warmer weather.
IT has been one of the bleakest, coldest and most gruelling winters in years.
Heavy snowfall over Christmas and at the start of the year caused many parts of the country to grind to a halt, with schools closing, airports shut, roads gridlocked and 24 hour news channels reporting nothing but the big freeze.
But now after a seemingly endless cold snap, lambs are hopping in the fields and daffodils are dancing in the breeze, as an overdue spring appears to be with us at last.
With an early easter and the clocks going forward, evenings are lighter, people are getting out into their gardens and parks and beauty spots are beginning to fill up with visitors.
Visitors to the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle never fail to be overwhelmed by its extravaganza of horticultural delights.
Despite temperatures over winter dropping to as low as minus 12 degrees, the garden is now erupting into a sea of colour.
But the winter didn’t pass without any casualties as 1,000 plants either died or were damaged - a fifth of all bulbs planted and about four times as many as a normal winter.
The garden’s creator, Tom Hart-Dyke said: “They have really struggled, it can get quite chilly because of the valley we’re in.
“The cold stayed for ages. Our pipes were frozen at midday and there was air frost in the garden. The whole garden was like a winter wonderland, it looked great but it was freezing.
“It was the worst winter since we opened in 2004 and it knocked us on the head.”
The garden’s Africa plants such as the red hot pokers have been hit badly, with about half remaining, and the South American jelly palm tree also damaged.
However the garden has suddenly come into life ahead of its opening to the public on April 3.
Mr Hart-Dyke said: “Things have just exploded, daffodils have gone from barely sprouting out of their bulbs to being in flower within a week.
“I assumed for easter they wouldn’t be in full flower but it’s really going to be great.”
Homeowners are also beginning to get out their gardening tools.
Millbrook garden centre in Station Road, Southfleet had a quiet start to the year but now winter is over, more and more customers are starting to come through the door.
General manager Pam Garrard said: “Spring is definitely late this year, daffodils are probably a month behind because of the cold weather.
“It really has taken us back to the winters we were used to 30 years ago. Daffodils need warmth to encourage them to grow.
“In the last week they have shot up and started to flower. They've picked up dramatically. As soon as the sun started shining and the cold disappeared it's been fantastic.
“People are wanting to get back out in the garden again. January and February were quiter as far as gardening is concerned.”
Luddesdown Organic Farms Ltd, which delivers boxes of fresh, organic vegetables to people’s homes, has had an agonising wait for spring.
The farm in Court Lodge plants more than 30 different types of vegetables for the box scheme.
But on occasions over winter, getting vegetables out of the ground was sometimes impossible.
Assistant box scheme co-ordinator Alison Greenwood said: “It's been a hard winter, there’s no doubt about that.
“We have managed to struggle on as far as picking stuff and getting boxes out. It's just been very hard work.
“We've had to juggle things around. For example you can't pick a cabbage if it's frozen. We've had to change what we put in boxes on a daily basis.
“Now the sun has come out things are happening and we can get moving.”
Spring might be late but the lambing season appears to be still on track.
Hartley Bottom Farm has this year bred around 600 lambs, but feeding has been hit by a lack of grass animals requiring supplements as part of their diet.
For the first time, the farm in Hartley Bottom Road has had to bring in hay from as far away as Wales due to a shortage locally.
Farmer Roy Glover said: “The problem is the food you feed the animals with.
“Hay is in extremely short supply this year because of the summer we had.
“The grass to make hay and silage was not there.
“When you get your lambs coming along at the end of February there’s no grass for them to go out on.
“Grass is just starting to grow, it’s running about two to three weeks behind a normal spring.”