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March in Gilbert’s Garden

It’s March in Gilbert White’s garden and after a week of dry weather (well, at Selborne at least, I hear there’s been showers elsewhere) and some sunshine, I think we can be forgiven for thinking that spring is on its way!  At least, it feels a little like that in the warmth of the sun, but really cold at times out of it. It means that we need to get everything in order and control those weeds that germinated earlier in the mild winter spells (it’s officially the warmest winter on record, if not quite the wettest) before they really take off by self seeding and spreading everywhere.

Shoots are appearing in the bulb bed by the shop doors, and Emma has done a great job hoeing the rows. The Crown Imperials have emerged and are now about 6 inches tall, but growing fast. Rose has added a potted plant where there was a gap, but we still need to note the position of the back row of tulips as once again they have been planted too close to the Crown Imperials.  As I pass the lines of fresh foliage belonging to these bulbs, a gentle wind wafts the smell of…well what is it? Is it Spring? Is it Foxes?  Is it some other musty, musky smell? Whatever it is the Crown imperial makes an impact! Miller in his Dictionary says

‘As this is one of the earliest tall flowers of spring, it makes a fine appearance in the middle of large borders, at a season when such flowers are much wanted to decorate the pleasure-garden: but the rank fox-like odour they emit is too strong for most people, so hath rendered the flowers less valuable than they would have been…’


March Garden

The snowdrops are perhaps at their very best now. Each year we worry that they will be over by March, especially following a spell of very mild weather, but it only takes a spell of bright and frosty weather, such as we have just had, to hold them back and keep them in full beauty. There are around 20 clumps in the Dining room shrubbery, both Galanthus plicatus & G.nivalis, and these look splendid in the newly weeded and otherwise fairly empty flower bed. In the front there is a row of crocuses, both white & orange, which is colourful if not continuous!

The pond garden has beautiful drifts of snowdrops and daffodils in the top ‘woodland meadow’ as I call it. There are several sorts of small ‘wild’ daffodil’ here, including Narcissus obvallaris, the Tenby daffodil, and N. lobularis with paler outer petals than the yellow trumpet. The pond water is beautifully clear here: we haven’t seen any newts yet, presumably they are still hibernating? The tulips in front of the fruit wall have made a little more growth, but not a great deal. The bed will need hoeing and edging. In front of it we will need to sort out the gravel path, and find again the piece that used to be under the laburnum arch. The main lawn, having been quickly topped off with the mulching tractor mower, has not grown much at all. Looking out across the park there’s a feel that spring might be on the way, but hasn’t quite made it. There are some drifts of snowdrops under the great oak (the one with a seat under it), and a couple of pheasants and a small flock of pigeons busy themselves on the short turf.

March Garden

The Ranunculus bed by the magnolia has been covered & remains covered with straw secured by willow hoops as frosty nights oscillate so frequently with mild ones: my only worry is the slugs, but I have checked beneath the straw and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of growth yet! Miller in his Gardeners Dictionary (1768) instructs gardeners to dig the soil 3ft deep for Ranunculus: If I attempted to do so in this location I think I would undermine the foundations of the house!! (That’s my excuse anyway!)


Rose and volunteers have been busy in the six quarters garden, and some bulbs are starting to emerge in the newly cleared SE quarter. We shall be planting the herbaceous plants very soon now that the soil is beginning to dry out a little. We have also commissioned a new design for the SW autumn quarter which is planned to be completed this spring. There are bright clumps of Dutch crocuses in the south rose quarter and under the tulip tree, where there also some double snowdrops, although not as many as in earlier years: it will be a good idea I think to dig up and divide the clump.

March Garden

The north rose quarter has the feathery edged leaves of the monkshood emerging, as well as pink and blue pulmonaria and primroses. The untidy narrow foliage belongs to the bulbous irises that were planted here some time ago, although I don’t recall the foliage being so persistent in previous years. It is in this quarter that the best wild tulips grow (Tulipa sylvestris) and there are some in bud here. Most of the roses have now been pruned, and tripod have been mended. In the SW quarter, soon to be renovated, the leaves of the autumn crocus are well through, and there are lots of bright red berries on some of the prickly Butchers Broom plants. In the giant reed quarter (NW) there is another drift of wild tulips, but without much sign of flower. There are also lots of hyacinths beginning to bloom in this bed, and we can put those bulbs that were in glasses in the house in here as well.

Keith continues to improve the kitchen garden. The raspberries at the top near the little gate have been removed and their bed amalgamated with the large bed beyond: the new raspberries have been planted in one of the lower beds in quincunx fashion: we have chosen varieties to cover the early, mid and late seasons. The autumn raspberries, exceptionally, have been planted in a straight line. The idea is to plait the stems together, eighteenth century fashion. We now have a new bed of gooseberries, all of which are old cultivars dating from the early part of the 19th century, being some of the oldest varieties available: Early Sulphur, Leveller, Whitesmith, Whinams Industry, Lancashire lad and Howards Lancer.  Both raspberries and Gooseberries will be used (with great enthusiasm!) in the tea parlour. We have nearly used all the leeks, and new crops will soon be sown or planted.

Best Wishes & Good Gardening

David Standing