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Garden Newsletter: March

It seems like spring might be here?  Sunny periods, bulbs sprouting, the garden’s coming to life! We all so want it to happen, but we must be cautious- everything could change again- back to winter!  So with cautious optimism I greet the coming growing season, and you’ll all realise that your role is vital in the success of the garden- for another year.

Many thanks to all of you who have worked so hard in the past month and as we head into the growing season we are in a good strong position- at the moment. The tool shed is now in a splendid condition, with a place for every tool, a brush to clean dirty ones, and eventually an oiled sand box the oil them up before they re-stowed on the right hooks! Thank you Keith & Amanda! Peter, Arnold & Amanda have also tidied the coach house, throwing out a great deal of rubbish, and thanks to the hard work of David & Mabel even the gardener’s barn at the top of the hill is looking respectable! We must all try to keep it this way!  Peter has been busy sorting out the machines, and most are now in good working order. Susan & Len have made a fine job of weeding and re-planting the front garden and area that gets neglected. It looks so much better!

The Dining Room shrubbery is resplendent in some fine snowdrops (Galanthus plicatus) as well as cloth of gold crocuses- newly planted but a little patchy and the petals appear to have been nibbled- mice or voles- or perhaps pecked by birds?- as well as some White Scotch crocus which are in rather better condition. The Laurestinus bush remains in flower, as are the snowdrops under the catmint by the back door. The Ranunculus have now been planted in the manured bed by the house – we need to be on the alert with straw and willow hoops in case they start to grow and we get a hard frost.

Beneath the Banksian Rose by the great Parlour windows the French Honeysuckle (Hedysarum coronarium) is still looking healthy despite some very low temperatures earlier in the month. There’s quite a bit of activity in the bulb border- in the front the hyacinths are well up- the white (right at the front) are more advanced than the blue, but both are doing well. There are jonquils, some tulips and the Crown Imperials are pushing through quickly- they are about two inches high at present. We have in pots come crown imperials ready to plant in the gaps, so hopefully by the end of the season we will a couple of continuous rows of this unusual- and dramatic!- flower. In the lawn nearby the Lucombe Oak looks at its most miserable at this time of the year, as it tends to drop most of its leaves. No it’s not dying, it’s semi-evergreen!

We have been pruning the old roses and are well on with this long job.  Under the tulip tree we have dark and pale purple crocuses (or croci as I understand this is another permissible word for the plural of this word- does it roll off the tongue more easily?) as well as some white and some, a few, yellow. There are also some double snowdrops here, but not as many as I remember. I’ve counted the bright yellow winter aconites which stand out so brilliantly in the nearby quarter- and there’s 99 blooms now, a big increase on the 57 last month. They’re obviously happy on that site. Warning, no disturbance in this particular patch please! The danger is here is that when they’ve died down the small tuberous brown roots can easily be missed and dug out with weeds. Incidentally it seems the botanists or taxonomists have had a fair old time with plant and have variously called it Aconitum, Helleborus,  and Cammarium until they finally settled on the present Eranthis hyemalis, a name acquired in 1807. There are lots of snowdrops in the bed with the aconites. The tulips & the Narcissus are coming through in the annual garden beds, and the nearby hedge needs trimming.

There croci at each end of the south rose quarter, and some primroses at one end of the north rose quarter. The trumpet honeysuckles in the autumn quarters are shooting beautifully, the pinkish orange young leaves are most attractive. We need to make sure that their supporting tripods are firm and secure. I read in both Philip Miller’s 18th Century Gardeners Dictionary (the species was introduced by 1656) and in current gardening books that this species of honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is not fully hardy and should be grown against a wall. Have we just been lucky? Maybe the shelter of the yew hedges is critical here. Theoretically they will need pruning after flowering but we may have to do some thinning in late spring as the larger of the two will need reducing if it is not to pull over its tripod.

In the herb garden the pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)  has survived- thus far. This prostrate mint (although there is an upright version) usually gets killed off- except for  one or two small surviving pieces- every winter. In fact last year it was killed out completely- or was it weeded out in error? It also likes plenty of moisture- so last year, not a dry one as I recall, cannot explain its loss. In the RHS Herb Encyclopaedia it states categorically that this plant is fully hardy- not in my experience! Hardiness ratings, considering the honeysuckle mentioned above too, clearly need to be taken with a pinch of salt as there appears to be some variation in experiences. In Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary the plant was called Pulegium vulgare- one of many instances in Plant history where the generic name has become the specific- and in the 18th century was abundant on ‘moist commons’.  The latest flora of Hampshire tells us that in our county it is almost totally confined to the New Forest, which probably supports the largest population of pennyroyal in NW Europe- fitting in nicely with Miller’s comment about ‘commons’ as in effect the New Forest is one big ‘common’, the Forest residents’ grazing rights and resultant regime ensuring maintenance of a suitable habitat. The plant was used in medicine as well as having culinary uses, and thus was commonly found in cottage gardens.  A stuffing was famously made of this herb with pepper & honey. Today we would probably regard it has too rank a flavour for use in recipes.

As you go out of the herb garden into the pond garden the new arch will soon be clothed with roses. More on this as we complete the project. In addition an exciting new feature becomes evident- our extended dry stone wall and new raised bed alongside the laburnum arch. Amanda and Peter have made a fine job of building a new wall with the available local stone, and soon we will fill this new bed with wild plants that like good drainage, sunshine and a chalky soil. This too is the developing site for our new bee garden featuring plants loved by bees and butterflies. The Laburnums are growing nicely and I have decided to defer pruning until the leading shoots have reached the top of the arch. In the meantime we will train the lateral branches and early next winter we may have some spurs to prune back. Training from this stage is, I think, quite exciting: hopefully we can slowly train them into very good shape.

Something continues to dig by the group of spindles- I suspect badger but it could possibly be squirrels, although what they’d be digging for I’m not sure! The drift of snowdrops by the top end of the bridge is looking magnificent, and nearby the wild daffodils are starting to bud. The pond water is beautifully clear, and pretty much devoid of bog bean; a few pieces remain and hopefully these will grow again as the flowers are very attractive- racemes of white, frilly star shaped flowers. Plants are sometimes shy to flower, as noted in the Flora of the Isle of Wight, which means that ours, which have flowered well in the past are particularly valuable. It’s one of our key plants, Gilbert White’s being the first for Hampshire. He discovered it in Bean’s pond in Oakhanger, flowering on 16th May, 1766.

On the lower edge of the pond, beneath the canopy of the Wheelers Russet apple tree, there is another group of winter Aconites, which I failed to mention last month- I counted 50 blooms there so it appears to be a significant and increasing colony. Sadly, on the other hand, those beneath the mulberry tree have been reduced to a single bloom- perhaps the activities of burrowing animals are to blame! There are some fine drifts of snowdrops both on the lower edge of the pond and adjacent to the far (NW) side. The Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis) are starting to bloom with their unusual bluish purple and white flowers, against the wall, but they have many unsightly brown, dead leaves which need clearing. Now the topiary hedge has gone, they may well find that site is too warm and bright for them, as they are a plant of damp woodlands. Random information-they are said to have been introduced from Asia Minor in 1752 . The double flowered thorn, planted in memory of well known local resident Pauline Gye, is  looking healthy and growing well.

The tulips are continuing to come through in front of the fruit wall, although there does appear to have been some damage from mice and or voles. Out in the field, groups of snowdrops around the great oak tree stand out well as viewed from the HaHa. Volunteers have cleared the brick path hopefully of the last remaining fallen leaves. We are applying for permission to raise the canopy of the yew tree, so that it will be possible to walk along it as Gilbert White did a couple of centuries ago. It would be good, eventually, to re-instate the entire path which led out into the fields and possibly to the mount, although more research needs to be done before its route can be definitely established. It may have been a sand walk for part of its length, the shady section. More on this in future newsletters.

Keith has been working hard to improve the vegetable plots and has worked out a rotation to include six plots, bringing some of the larger of the two top beds into the cycle. One of the newly renovated lantern cloches is now back in the garden, and looks splendid with its newly cleaned glass and shiny white paint. The broad beans have thus far survived the winter, the later sown ones looking better than those sown earlier. The winter long straw wheat continues to thrive. Some of the old gooseberry bushes are being removed, cuttings being taken where possible.

The basons are still in good order, some light weeding is needed in some. The cinnamon roses (Rosa majalis) continue to grow and are now about six feet tall, a light pruning is all that’s needed as they are not very vigorous. If all goes according to plan we may well make a new hot bed in the next few days. Arnold & Peter have cleared up the fallen tree in the corner of the upper orchard, and cleared away the elder growth and nettles so it will be easier to mow.

The cutting beds are now in good order, with a good clear bed for future planting. There are good lines of irises, sweet rocket, blue globe thistle and sweet Williams, and a Turkey oak that needs transplanting into a new position.

With the growing season fast upon us, it will be all hands on deck this month, as everything bursts into growth. There may not be many weeds at the moment, but suddenly, as you know, everything bursts into growth and we will be struggling! Consequently, I expect to see you all here at the Wakes at sometime in the coming month, and let’s set our sights on having the most successful gardening year ever!


Best wishes & Good Gardening,

David Standing


Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden this month


  • Control weeds in bulb beds
  • Make new or mend old little gate to veg garden
  • Plant trees in the park
  • Finish Pruning all old roses as needed
  • Clean all interpretation boards of dirt & green algae, esp welcome to GW’s garden sign
  • Check new Dianthus collection for damage, keep watering when needed
  • Cut yew & laurel hedge by annual garden/plant sales area
  • Treat box hedge for blight
  • Tidy and weed herb garden
  • Protect Arundo (Giant Reed ) with straw
  • Repair honeysuckle tripod
  • Continue to process & packet seeds
  • Weed out ivy etc under all hedges
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps
  • Continue digging Veg garden when not too muddy using hot bed manure 
  • Check, de-slug plant stands regularly 
  •  Expand bed by Laburnum arch with new soil 
  • Mend irrigation system  
  • Start to print new stick in labels
  • Clear up Blackthorn in Ewel
  •  Stock up plant stands with new plants

And much, much more!