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The garden in March

Spring really is on its way- well, it felt like it for a day or two, before it went really cold & grey again!

the garden in march

By the old back door there are lots more large snowdrops with the catmint having been cut back to reveal them. The bed by the house (and gent’s loos) needs preparing for Ranunculus: these double Asiatic buttercups. Miller in his garden dictionary explains how the original varieties have been greatly improved so that they are ‘so large, & of such variety of beautiful colours, as to exceed all other flowers of that season’ and certainly in the past they have produced a stunning block of colour (reds, pinks, whites, yellows and oranges) in this part of the garden- lets make it happen again. Some plants have come up again from last year, and these have been moved to one side in preparation for a new bed. Now Miller goes onto to suggest that the soil should be light, sandy, and full of manure- and 3 feet deep!! Well I don’t think we can run to that, but we have had very good results from digging the soil out a spit deep (about 9 inches) rather like a bean trench and then filling it with well rotted manure. Then plant 200 corms thickly in straight rows. A job for the next few days provided the weather behaves!!

The borders by the house need further work on them, although a good amount of weed control has been done already, the soil temperature in these protected beds must be that little bit higher and weeds are germinating rapidly: still, they are relatively small, well defined areas without too many difficult plants to identify_-any offers? One Banksian Rose (This is the evergreen, May flowering beautiful semi double Rosa banksiae lutea) remains to be renovated- the other has grown back very strongly from last years drastic treatment. It will need taking of the wall in the next few weeks, sorting out and tying back up. Beneath this rose hordes of Honesty (Lunaria annua) seedlings have appeared and will make a fine show of deep purple eventually. But there are also Lords & Ladies or cuckoo pints in the brick planter which need to be dug out carefully so as not to break off the tubers beneath. In flower here is another wild plant, but this one far more acceptable in borders- this is the stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus. Once again Miller says of their nodding greenish flowers edged with purple ‘they will make a good appearance at a season when there are but few plants in beauty’ and he’s right- and added bonus, as he also observes, they will self seed in spots throughout the garden- especially in semi-shade. There are a couple by the house, one self seeded in the gravel by the bench.

the garden in march

By the shop doors there are groups of snowdrops- some that Rose has transplanted from the dining room shrubbery- and opposite the bulbs are coming up strongly in the bulb border. The dwarf polyanth narcissus, N. canaliculatus, is perhaps the slowest to come through at the front, but there are fine rows of hyacinths, wild daffodils, jonquils, and tulips in front of the crown imperials- those stately (but not very nice smelling!) yellow or orange bells on stiff stalks. I think they look superb on top of a bank with the sun shining through them, and they have been planted deeply and left for a number of years as they dislike disturbance. And thankfully this year we have avoided planting tulips over the top of them! Some of the pots of striped tulips have been brought down for display- they are modern varieties but look rather like the old multicoloured types: The varieties are ‘Flaming Baltic’, ‘Fly Away’, ‘Spring Green’ and ‘Gavota’ and were chosen at the Chelsea Flower show last year from Blom’s bulbs.

Sadly some of the pinks in the raised wall are not looking so good after the winter wet, but soon we will have a greenhouse (with staging) to store some of the more vulnerable varieties. In the six quarters, some mulching has been done (the soil is moist enough, but stepping on the beds is not such a good idea!) and we have some fine tripods hand woven. The Rose pruning season is upon us, and some was begun last month. At Mottisfont, one of the national rose collections, rose pruning takes place in the winter ‘whenever they can find the time, and when conditions are right’ which usually means February & March. We have lots of roses to prune, but pruning old roses is rather different from pruning the more modern varieties!

the garden in march

Under the tulip tree light and dark purple crocuses are in full flower, with a solitary clump of orange ones: also some double snowdrops of the commoner sort, nivalis. The quarter beneath the tulip tree is currently being re-designed by garden designer Sarah, who will attempt not to disturb the rather fine clump of winter aconites just north-east of centre: this has taken over 20 years to establish! In the annual garden the hyacinths, tulips & narcissi are rapidly emerging. The rose quarters will be re-developed in the autumn. There are lots of wild tulips coming through in the southern end of the N Rose quarter, in a place where there used to be a metal arch. This is the place where they have, historically, always flowered the best. In general the six quarters are in quite good condition, although there is some weeding to be done particularly in the S Rose quarter where there are hardy geraniums to be cut back (best, I find, with a sharp knife rather than secateurs) and clumps of grass to be remove from in amongst the pinks. There are lots of green leaves in each corner of the SW (Autumn) quarter which belong to the autumn crocus: these will die away long before the flowers appear in the autumn. In the NW quarter straw remains around the Giant reeds, essential winter protection, and it looks like the campanulas have been grazed either by deer or rabbits.

The vine has been pruned in the herb garden, rather later than usual (we usually reckon to do it before Christmas) but Hitt in his ‘Treatise of Fruit trees’ (1757) a book used by Gilbert White, suggests January or February pruning and I must say all seems to be well! The rest of the herb garden is in pretty good order. The pond garden is looking particularly attractive at this time of the year: there is a sea of snowdrops at their best on the Northern bank of the pond and under the Mulberry tree. Under the canopy of the Blenheim Orange apple tree near the fruit wall there is a big drift of wild daffodils about five yards square: a lovely sight at this time of the year, nice and early because of the shelter of the tree. There’s more snowdrops here too, a close cover near the entrance to the bridge, which could be usefully lifted and divided at this time of the year: they transplant without any difficulty, I have found, even in full flower the pond is now very full after all this rain. On the lower edge of the pond there is a fine group of aconites, over 75 blooms. Around the Gingko in the bottom border, and by the wall on the northern edge of the pond there are big drifts of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis) in flower before the leaves fully unfurl. An unusual plant, found rarely in the wild, and related to the borage. There’s also lots of ground elder coming through near the Gingko- some chemical control perhaps?

the garden in march

Back in the garden, Bakers Hill is covered in snowdrops, and snowdrop days went well, but sadly we’ve lost another piece of cedar tree with Storm Doris. Once we have the report from tree surgeon we can go ahead and do the necessary trimming work, before more breaks off! We were very kindly given a Chichester Elm tree, an 18th /19th century variety that’s resistant (partly) to Dutch Elm disease, and I’ve planted in the position that GW’s Wych Elm used to be, up by the Gardener’s barn.

Best Wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing