Well here we are in March and how wonderful to see the spring bulbs bursting through the soil and the colours appearing in the various shrubs. The garden visiting year has begun – hurrah! Time to get out and about and enjoy the daffodils that brighten up the Spring. Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds, has swathes of heritage daffodils that are lovely in late March/early April. At this time of the year one can also see all the new lambs so it is a good place to visit. I like to have flowers in the house all the year round and try to grow as many of my own flowers as I can. Because my garden is not large enough to have a cutting garden I have cutting pots. In the autumn I plant up large pots of daffodils. These I place at the back of the garden by the shed. These daffodils are now in bud and I can pick 3 or 5 or 7 on a regular basis for the house without vandalising those in the borders. I particularly like Bridal Crown, Avalanche, Cheerfulness and Geranium daffodils. All these varieties have good sturdy stems and lovely fragrance. They flower in succession so I have a supply of flowers for the house for many weeks. I feed after they have flowered and give them plenty of water, plus a top up of compost in the autumn and they have been producing flowers for the house for a number of years.
The Chaenomeles or flowering quince is providing a vibrant burst of coral in my back garden …
I am also particularly fond of Magnolia Stellata, the star magnolia – very suitable for small gardens its average size being about 2 x 2 metres. In my front garden camellias are now decked with their pink flowers. I have no idea of the variety – my father bought them for me from Woolworths in Bedford when he and my mother were staying with me many years ago. I can’t wait to see how my pots of tulips will turn out. Their shoots have been showing through now for three weeks or so. I always plant them up using the “lasagne’ method which I learnt from Sarah Raven’s various videos and pod casts. In a large pot or tub place some drainage crocks and a few inches of compost then the first layer of tulip bulbs packed in closely, but not touching each other. Choose the the tallest tulips for this layer. Then a few more inches of compost and another layer of bulbs, repeat so that there are three layers of bulbs and finish with a good thick layer of compost. This, of course, was executed last November and now magically the shoots have woven themselves up to the surface – how do they do this without bumping into the bulbs above them? I am finding that I have to water my pots of bulbs quite regularly as it has been so dry. Viola and pansy baskets can now be fed with a dilute solution of a high potash feed and do keep dead heading regularly to maintain a good supply of new buds.
This month is a good time to tidy the borders, forking over the soil, weeding and mulching. Perennials can be divided, as can snowdrops if they have become overcrowded. I feed my snowdrops with a dressing of blood, fish and bone or chicken pellets as their flowers are starting to fade. This helps to ensure that there is an abundance of flowers the following year. During March I will be planting lily bulbs in pots. I always grow Lilium Regale. Their scent is wonderful on a summer’s evening and I can highly recommend them. I have checked my dahlia tubers that were lifted in the autumn and overwintered in my plant house. They are mostly fine so now is a good time to place them in shallow pots of compost with a gentle watering regime. It is easy to take cuttings from the new shoots which will appear. Important to keep them in a green house at this time of the year of course. I grow the single varieties as these provide easier access for the pollinators. Roxy, a vibrant pink and Honka Fragile a paler pink are good doers and excellent in pots as well. Other plants in the greenhouse such as dormant fuchsias and half-hardy perennials like salivas can be started into growth with a gentle watering. Bogonias and gloxinia tubers will need the warmth of a windowsill. Place them concave side upwards on damp compost.
Vegetable patches can be prepared now with organic matter. Broad beans are amongst the first things that can be planted. Hardy varieties like Aquadulce Claudia can be sown in the Autumn and I noticed, when I was at Chippenham Park in February that their broad beans were several inches high. Broad beans grow quickly and they will be some of the first crops to harvest. Do provide them with support before they actually need it. Parsnip seed can also be planted soon as they need a long time to develop. Don’t be tempted to use old seed – it has to be fresh for parsnips. Onion and shallot sets can be planted out now. Resist the temptation to push then directly into the soil, this leads to compaction and the roots, as they start to develop, push the bulbs out of the ground. Dig out a small hole with a trowel for each one and bury them just under the surface. If you leave the top showing the bulbs may be pulled out of the ground by blackbirds. Potatoes should be starting to chit but leave planting them out until the end of the month and then make sure that they are earthed up regularly as frosts may still catch us out.
When I was at Anglesey Abbey in February I was reminded of a trick that was given to me many years ago. The pyracantha which grew up the wall of our garage and which my husband had trained so meticulously suddenly succumbed to fire blight and died virtually overnight. We wanted to replace it with a climbing rose but I was worried about the condition of the soil and whether it might be contaminated. A gardening friend suggested that we tried “the old wine box” technique – where you dig a hole large enough to accommodate a cardboard box. Place the empty box in the hole , fill the box with new compost and John Innes No 2 and plant the rose directly into this. For the first couple of years or so the rose will enjoy the new compost and by the time the box has disintegrated and the roots have spread out into the surrounding soil the rose will be well established. We planted “Shropshire Lad’ a soft peach-pink rose and it has thrived ever since. At Anglesey Abbey a whole new rose bed had been planted in this way in the rose garden. Each new rose planted into its own cardboard box. I assume this was because old, possibly diseased roses had been removed from the original bed. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a gardener to ask if this was the case. We are getting towards the end of bare root planting for this year – but it is worth a try if you are in a similar position. I have included a photograph of the roses /boxes at Anglesey Abbey on the BGA website. It is time to prune roses now. Remove old dead or diseased wood completely, prune other stems just above an outward facing bud. The cut should slope downwards and away from the bud so that water does not collect on it. Aim for well-spaced stems that allow free air flow. With the exception of climbing and shrub roses prune all newly planted roses hard to encourage vigorous shoots and I always use Mycorrhizal fungi around the roots as they are planted as this has been shown to increase the plant’s tolerance to different environmental stresses.
As I finish writing this in the middle of February I am just about to go into my plant house to sort out the auriculas. They have been without water since early November – they are now a mass of dead leaves but new leaves and some buds are showing through. I will be taking off the old dead leaves in the warmth of my kitchen and then giving them a dilute liquid seaweed food to give them a boost. Hopefully, in a few weeks they will be spectacular. However, I think some of them have keeled over completely – hey ho – we win some and we lose some.
Happy gardening and happy garden visiting.