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.
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.
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.
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.