Hurrah! the Ides of March

Reading time 7 minutes

Our garden is at its lowest ebb from early February until the Ides of March, on the 15th of the month. Battered by gales laden with salt and sand, scorched by snow and starved of light, everything but the eternal evergreens* is pale, frazzled or mushy. I try to like what I see, but I yearn for it to be April and for the blemishes of winter to be erased by lush new growth. By normal standards, our spring bulbs have been extremely slow to get going, although we do now have a smattering of hyacinths, daffodils and crocuses to enjoy. These offer a sure sign that spring is underway and that more colour will follow. We now have well over one hundred terracotta pots in their final positions, containing tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, anemones, ranunculus, lilies and hardy orchids. The emerging foliage of persicarias and hostas will help to break up a sea of flowers. At least that is the theory. Anything especially good looking or precious will be promoted to the worktop of our outdoor kitchen to be admired at close quarters.

Hyacinth ‘Anna Marie’.

The tasks we’ve been undertaking over the last fortnight are not glamorous; they have not lent themselves to pretty photographs, hence I have been short of excitement to share here. We’ve emptied and cleaned the greenhouse, repainted the fence around the Gin & Tonic Garden (at least The Beau has), repotted about twenty percent of our perennials, house plants and shrubs, and started umpteen dahlias and begonias into growth: the spare bedrooms are filling up fast. First to sprout are Dahlias ‘Twynings After Eight’, ‘Fubuki Red and White’ and ‘Burning Love’. The rest will not be far behind. On the allotment, we’ve planted eight fruit trees (plums, damsons, apples and a cherry), then weeded and dug in anticipation of more planting once the weather warms up a little. Our homage to the Dutch bulb fields, a square bed planted with 15 varieties of tulip in straight rows, is a source of great anticipation. The lines are now evident and it’s fascinating to observe the differences in leaf colour and shape as they emerge from the cold earth.

The Beau on glass-cleaning duty.

Deliveries of bulbs, seeds and plants keep on coming. These first packages are modest in size, but there are many more to follow. If there’s one thing I have learned from last year, it’s not to be caught short, so I am already stocked up with pots, fertilisers and composts to keep me going for a few weeks at a time. It looks like it will be a bumper year for the nurserymen as the nation prepares itself for another summer spent in the garden. I am returning to those companies that served me well through 2020, as well as trying a few new ones – Halls of Heddon, Farmer Gracy, Pheasant Acre Plants and Brookside Nursery included. My begonia tubers from Farmer Gracy were so enormous that I could barely fit them in the palm of my hand; purchases from the rest have yet to arrive. A collection of beautifully grown clematis from Thorncroft will fill the gaps on our boundary fences. I treated myself to Clematis florida var. florida ‘Sieboldiana’ which I will grow in a pot and hope not to kill. Books have also been arriving thick and fast, the last flurry before my evenings become consumed by watering, staking and deadheading again.

Begonia boliviensis ‘Santa Cruz’ from Farmer Gracy showing new growing points.

Whilst neither glamorous nor showy, this is an important time in the gardening year; it sets the standard for the rest of the year and time that can’t be had again. How plants are handled, potted on and coaxed back to life will determine how they perform in the mid to long term. In March there is always more to do than there’s time for, and there’s never much to show for it. Working conditions can be uncomfortable but occasionally wonderful, especially on those days where it feels warm, or when a drowsy bumblebee strays across one’s path. We soldier on, knowing that our efforts will soon be richly rewarded. The Ides of March may have been ominous for Caesar, but just as in Roman times they mark the end of the old year and the start of the new for us gardeners. TFG.

*the eternal evergreens are: Phillyrea latifolia, Laurus nobilis f. angustifolia, Pseudopanax chathamica and Trachelospermum jasminoides. Rarely do they ever look anything other than perfectly green and healthy.

Arranging pots in the Jungle Garden.

Categories: Begonias, Bulbs, Container gardening, Dahlias, Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Small Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

Leave a Reply

16 comments On "Hurrah! the Ides of March"

  1. Do you plant new bulbs each year? That must be a mammoth task. The pots do look lovely, but 100? I’m sure I don’t have that many, but I do have a few.

    1. Yes, they are mainly new every year. Tulips are treated as annuals and composted after flowering, daffodils, hyacinths and irises are being transferred to the allotment. Tulips won’t reflower reliably a second time in pots, so we always buy new ones. Indulgent I know, but most hobbies are.

  2. Your list of things you are doing has worn me to a nub. It also makes me feel like a slug. It is warming up nice here and I am ready to get busy. I can say I have done a few tasks in the garden. Yes, It feels good to stretch those winter lazed muscles. Do carry on… I can’t wait to see that begonia after some time in good compost.

    1. Ha! We’re in perpetual lockdown here so every weekend = two full days of gardening. That will change when things ease up and we won’t be quite as ‘on it’. That said, my list of jobs to do around the house and garden is getting longer and longer. The problem with being at home all the time is that I notice all the bumps, scratches and cracks …. and we have our fair share of those in a house that’s now well over 200 years old.

  3. ‘Santa Cruz’?! That must have been developed by Antonelli Brothers’ Begonia Garden in Santa Cruz. They have been out of business for quite a while. The Begonia Festival used to be annual event in Capitola, near where much of the begonias were grown. Santa Cruz in the biggest city here in Santa Cruz County.

    1. You could very well be right Tony. I had to look up Antonelli Brothers. Some of the images are extraordinary. Here in the UK we have Blackmore and Langdon who still profer such flamboyant begonias. They are not my cup of tea, although if I had unlimited space I might grow one or two of the big bloomers for fun.

  4. We are on the cusp of that annual burst of growth in the garden, a wonderful time and a great lifting of the spirits after the winter. Your pot culture is a mammoth task but the results also show that it was all worthwhile. The fruit trees will, I imagine, give pleasure for years to come – a great decision!

    1. I hope so Paddy. What I enjoy is doing something new. I’ve never had space to plant fruit trees before so it will be a real pleasure to learn from the experience and hopefully one day, when we have space for an orchard, we’ll know what we are doing!

      1. There is a drawback from growing your own fruit – as with growing your own vegetables – you realise that the produce you purchase in the shops is quite inferior and your own is vastly superior, better flavour, fresher etc.

  5. Thank you so much for your blog. I love reading it though sometimes I envy you in your climate warmer than mine here in Germany. So sorry it has become so difficult now with plants from the UK.

    1. Yes, let’s hope they sort it out soon Luise! We are very fortunate here with the maritime climate, but it does have its drawbacks, especially salt-laden gales. Thank you so much for you kind comments. Dan

  6. Hi Dan, that is a wonderful begonia tuber, soooo big! Looked it up, beautiful blue leaf as well. Something for my list. I was thinking things seemed behind this spring, maybe it was that cold spell, hovered around -6-9C here (East Sussex, High Weald) for about. 10 days. Euphorbias looking very ropey. Thanks for your posts, great reading.

  7. Hi Dan (& The Beau), haven’t commented in quite a while here but enjoyed your posts all the same. Thank you very much for all of them! As someone above wrote already: WOW, the list of jobs you’ve been tackling makes me feel both dizzy and sonewhat sluggish myself. Then again, you don’t have to homeschool some very reluctant kids, I guess 😉. Your bulb pots look amazing already – I sometimes think that the anticipation of the blooms – when just the green noses oe a few buds are showing – is almost a bigger joy and excitement than the actual flowering time, much as I’m smitten with the latter. Wish I had 100 pots full of bulbs! But I did sink quite a few in the ground last autumn, more than 200 tulip bulbs mainly, and am very much looking forward to them. We are very behind this spring, with frosts down to -17 degrees Celsius and 30cm of snow in February, then temperatures went up to +18 degrees, still in Feb, within less than a week – only for (night) frost to return throughout most of March. But now, at last, spring has arrived and with temperatures between 16 and 21 degrees over the next few days I guess there will be an explosion in the garden. Maybe I should duck… Which brings me to the “unglamouros jobs” you mention. Had to laugh as I have spent every gardening day this season so far either on all fours or in various contorted, twisted or squatting positions, raking what seems like tonnes of dry beech leaves, husks and germinating nuts out of my beds and among plants (they are under the canopy/ crown of a 180+ year old tree). And to top it all, I do it with bare hands, as that is still the most precise and most gentle way to remove this winter cover. I’ve long since given up to mind what neighbours might think… Unlike me, a mole at least has a shiny velvety coat! 😀
    Enjoy spring and the floral rewards of all your hard work! 🌷🌷🌷

  8. Hi Dan. I bought myself a Buddleja speciosissima a few weeks ago from Nick Lock. As I was researching I saw that you’d bought one from the same chap a few years ago. How is yours doing and have you tested it for hardiness yet? I’m in Dorset so I’d be tempted to try it outside.

Follow The Frustrated Gardener and have new posts sent directly to your inbox

Join 8,218 other subscribers

Wordpress users click to subscribe here

Follow The Frustrated Gardener