Carrying on this month where I left off last one : “Let Battle Commence!”
March is well named as it’s this month when ‘Mother Nature’ begins hitching up her skirts, stepping up from a slow amble, towards a more forceful ‘march’. In the garden spring bulbs will be popping up everywhere and, even though the weather can still be horribly wintry, the positive beauty on display does a lot to fight off even the most unjust things that life can throw at you.
There is plenty to cheer the heart, not just the blooming bulbs but also many star performers amongst the trees and shrubs to marvel at. Magnolias, camellias and Japanese quinces come to mind and even the indestructibly yellow forsythia is, in my opinion, not an unwelcome sight.
I expect the ‘wicked’ forsythia that I rescued in the garden I left last year, reinvigorating it as a trained specimen on a wire fence, has been unceremoniously ripped out by now… what was it that Dorothy Parker said about ‘whores’ and ‘culture’?!!!
When you’ve finished admiring the good things in your garden, it’s time to get on with a few essential tasks at this critical time of year. The traditional ‘winter’ jobs must be completed this month. These include things like planting bare-rooted hedging, rose pruning, mulching of beds and borders, winter digging, wholesale clearance work and anything which involves too much disturbance of bird nesting sites.
There are some plants which really need to be sown now if they haven’t been already; sweet peas are chief amongst these but so are any bedding plants which are relatively slow to reach flowering size (salvia, lobelia, impatiens, antirrhinums inter alia).
In fact getting on with sowing annuals under glass is a great positive step towards filling your garden with colour later in the year. Any gaps in your borders can have a few filler annuals allotted to them now. Similarly, if you are planning to fill a new area with herbaceous perennials, you can dig up and divide older specimens now, using the divisions to extend your garden free of charge. The ‘expansion gaps’, between the perennials, can be plugged with more annuals which will crowd out the weeds and provide an extra fillip to the border.
Towards the end of the month, especially if there’s a settled, mild, spell, hardy annuals can be sown where they are to flower. Compared to buying plants in pots, even the tiniest of pots, packets of seeds are ridiculously cheap so a generous sprinkling, amongst beds and borders, can yield fabulous results with just a little diligence to weeding out ‘competing’ plants plus some attention to pest control (this means a prophylactic scattering of slug pellets—there really is no avoiding chemical control if you want at least some seedlings to survive to flowering size).
I can’t see how anyone, even the most control-freak sort of gardener, could not welcome a little random flower power when it comes in the form of hardy annuals such as ‘Love-in-a-Mist’, pot marigolds, Californian poppies, cornflowers etc. I’ve not yet tried it myself, maybe this year I shall, but I rather like the idea of the hardy annual ‘Greater Quaking Grass’ (Briza maxima) as a foil to the more traditional ‘blooming’ annuals. I have a strong memory of being fascinated by it as a child—although I can’t for the life of me remember how I would have encountered it at such an early age. It definitely was not growing in our own family garden.
The weather can still throw a spanner into the works this month, especially regarding vicious overnight frosts. Be ready to protect newly planted areas with horticultural fleece, pinned down with whatever comes to hand. I like to fashion hoops out of galvanised wire for this purpose; push the ‘u’ shaped pin through the fleece and into the ground below.
It’s too early to plant out tender plants, which you’ve been keeping under cover, but potting them into new compost is a good idea if they are coming into growth and you don’t want to check their growth. Keep a close eye on watering in greenhouse situations as plants don’t want to be droughted, as they are starting to make new growth, but a drop in temperature could induce rotting if they are kept too wet.
If that’s all a bit depressing, just as things were ‘looking up’, then I suggest you flick through one of those hugely colourful seed company catalogues (that seem ubiquitous despite it all being available on the paperless internet) and order up some jolly ‘plug plants’. I’m a little tempted to see if ‘Crazytunia Ultra Violet’ can possibly live up to its billing and, even if it doesn’t, having plants ‘on order’ to replace any losses amongst my own raised seedlings, is not a bad plan.
Any excuse to give in to temptation, just as a new gardening season is getting into its stride.