February fill-dyke, be it black or be it white

We’re into the last quarter of the second month, and the last few days we’ve had rather mild and rather pleasant weather, lots of washing has been done and almost dried outside. We did have plenty of rain earlier in the month and February is sometimes known as fill-dyke – I know this from reading my dad’s old gardening book. A black February I guess is when the earth is black with rain, and a white February sees a lot of snow. We had practically none, the faintest of dustings one afternoon which melted away within half an hour – my featured photo is of what I wished we had seen! Elsewhere in the country, life ground to a halt! Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago:

Richard Sudell wrote a chapter in his ‘Practical Gardening and Food Production’ book all about monthly jobs for the garden; as well as advice in general sections on food plots, fruit garden, flower patch, general maintenance and under glass, he starts with a little description of the weather to be expected. He uses the phrase ‘February fill-dyke’ and I tried to find out if there were more of the same type of sayings listing what to expect in the different months… and I haven’t been very successful.

I found ‘February fill-dyke, be it black or be it white’, which was a short version of ‘February fill the dyke, be it black or be it white; but if it be white,it’s the better to like,’ meaning I guess that there would be a lot of precipitation either as rain or snow. I also found ‘February fill-dyke, March muck it out’. There was also a famous painting with the same name by Benjamin Williams Leader, first exhibited without much success in 1881.

Here is what Mr Sudell has to say about the weather:

February fill-dyke! Black or white, the month is likely to be wet. gardeners must beware of trying to work very wet soil, but every opportunity must be seized to get up to date with outdoor work. Pruning, manuring, and all construction work are jobs to be completed in spite of the weather.’

One thing he advises which would not be practical or possible for most people is using soot; when Mr Sudell was writing, every house would have a chimney, every chimney would have to be swept, there would be soot in abundance! ‘Keep soot swept from domestic chimneys; it darkens and so warms the soil; it destroys pests; it possess a little food value’. Other advice he offers would also not be taken today; to discourage field-mice from ‘playing havoc’ with early peas, it’s recommended that they should be immersed in paraffin and then rolled in red lead… hmmm, I think not!

It’s interesting to note that among the vegetables to be sown at this time of year are aubergines; this is another thing which destroys the myth that British cooking was boring and ‘exotic’ Mediterranean fruit and vegetables were unknown! In the previous chatter on January gardening, fruit trees listed included were peaches, cherries and apricots.

Here is an interesting article about February:




  1. Garry Sutherland

    Hi Lois,

    I stumbled accross you whilst researching Winifred Francillon. I’d be interested to learn whether you’ve unearthed more about her. Three weeks ago my family and I moved into her former home at Harcombe House. You may be interested to know that her remains are interred here.

    One of our children is sensitive and has “seen” her on more than one occasion. She also moves things around the house and is “guiding” my partner Patricia on which decorations are appropriate for our restoration of part of the house.

    Best regards,

    Garry Sutherland


    1. Lois

      Hi Garry, thanks for getting in touch, and even more wonderful that you are ‘in touch’ with Winifred. To be honest I haven’t done any more investigation recently, but you have inspired me to look again at what I can find out. Good luck with the restoration of Harcombe House, I’m sure between them, Winifred and Patricia will do a fine job! Best wishes, Lois


  2. Seàn

    Congrats for trying to put a positive spin on Feb. but along with November they are the worst months in these latitudes, for me that is. Mind you the Mediterranean part of France, where I lived for years, is best in May and September/October, precautions are needed otherwise due to heat and cold and severe wind. No ideal climate anywhere maybe ? Btw, I go by the gardening advice of Kew Gardens, more scientific I hope !


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