I love March as we are definitely heading towards late Spring and early Summer , the clocks have gone forward and there is an extra hour in the evenings while everything is on the move in the garden and it is the last chance to get any bare rooted trees into the ground .
Snails also love March as this is the month hostas start to peep above the ground and of course hostas are like caviar to snails and they are already lining up with their knives and forks ready to tuck in to those luscious early shoots … allow this to happen and you will end up with raggedy leafed hostas and they never recover during the season … I know you environmentalists are out there so turn away now while the rest of us get those tins of slug pellets out and douse all around your hostas especially those in pots as the last garden pot I upended had forty seven snails tucked in to the base !
This is what you are hoping from your hostas and why you protect them from snails & slugs
I have often praised the euphorbia wulfeni perennial and this year probably as a result of the hard pruning I gave them last Summer they showed flower from mid February and will continue to get more dramatic right up until the end of June .
There is another euphorbia however which although an unsung hero of the garden is not widely grown or even sold in the garden centres as it is not cute or sexy like it’s fellow euphorbia wulfeni which gets all the attention and this is euphorbia robbiae . I have a few plants which I picked up from a friend’s garden and it grows really well in poor dry soil in shade . I find it slow growing and rather than self seed like it’s cousin , wulfeni , this variety spreads by underground runners but it is a worthwhile plant and the Royal Horticultural Society certainly thinks so and have given euphorbia robbiae it’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit .
Last month I wrote about pruning and mentioned in passing that I had to take drastic action with a viburnum tinus in the front garden which had blocked out a view from inside the house of a beautiful multi stemmed silver birch . Like in life a gardener should never have to take “ drastic action ” as it means something major has gone wrong but in this case it meant just hacking into the viburnum until the required shape was achieved which in this case left the poor viburnum looking like a plucked chicken but it will recover but because of the severity of the pruning , and I SHOULD NEVER HAVE LET IT GO THIS FAR , it will take two years before the viburnum looks anything like normal again .
But the viburnum blocked this view from the house so it had to go
What I should have done was regular pruning for the right size and shape shrub and this I have now done to a viburnum a few metres away in the same raised bed where I cut back about a third of the height and cut carefully above a leaf node on each branch and the overall effect is that you really can’t see any pruning .
At this time of year when they are in flower , February / March , I am often asked about camellias and while we have three camellias all bought at Snezana’s insistence as she loves them but I am not so keen as I do have never had great success with them and although they flower quite well they hardly put any growth on from year to year and have never really thrived . Camellias do not like our wet limey soil and are fussy enough to grow so lots of peat needs to be dug in and while that works for the first year or two eventually the roots reach out into our soil here hence the stunted growth … nice shiny leaf all year round , lovely flower in late Winter with a nice shape and if you are lucky with the garden soil you have well definitely camellias are worth a go .
Azaleas are another lime hating shrub and I have never grown them not just because of the soil but they are just a very fussy plant and in my view should be sold with a health warning in the garden centres as difficult to succeed with and to be honest not even a nice looking shrub , being a bit of a runt , lovely flowers though and if you have to have an azalea perhaps in a pot is a good option but like camellias or even rhododenrons in pots they will need cossetting with water during the summer months.
I always feel with those three shrubs , rhodos, camellias and azaleas that they need mass planting to really show them at their best as they are seen in the wild but it also helps to have a stately home or castle in the background !
There is always an exception to the rules and we have a rhododendrum which I planted into rich soil dredged up onto a bank while cleaning out the stream … a really eccentric rhodo this one which blooms several times in the year and can actually be flowering sometimes at Christmas … a weird one but lovely and it always brings a smile to my face when I see it flowering at unlikely times of the year .
Gardening can be a chore in bad weatherand I have said it many times in these pages that even the hardened gardener has to kick themselves out some days in the hard months of Winter and early Spring so my strategy is to have some really nice jobs lined up around the daily work such as today when the hard work was to dig up and replant some gunnerra stumps for the wild garden area and then you can reward yourself with some mindless pruning or tidying up pots after the winter .
Pots respond really well to a spring clean and a top up to the brim of good compost as most pots will have subsidence especially in the second year after planting and I use John Innes compost for this . Always check for water logging and empty excess water out as well as upending the top and clearing out the drainage hole which can get clogged over time. I generally leave the winter annuals to continue until the first weeks of April when I replace with summer annuals and those pots that are used for hostas I make sure they are topped up well and fertilised with slow release fertiliser pellets .
Pots are absolutely necessary in every garden no matter how small the plot is and the bigger the pot the better statement and impact it will have . Summer planting is easy as you can pack the pot with annuals but you need to water regularly from May on as pots are not low maintenance . Blue, yellow or red coloured pots are something special and give the WOW factor and I prefer ceramic for colour rather than a painted terracotta pot such as this one from a 2013 visit to the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech.
When planting up a pot for the first time I always plant some daffodils deep down at the base and these will come up every year and have died down by mid April when the real feature plant comes into it’s own . The TV gardeners love talking about the lassagna planting method where you plant a succession of spring flowering bulbs layering them at different levels from the bottom up with the latest flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils near the top with snow drops and crocus for example as the earliest flowering at the bottom … I am not a fan and find it a bit fussy as I prefer to a have a pot in full display throughout the late spring and summer months but I do have the odd pot stuffed with spring flowering bulbs such as these in the Lower Field area .
Long before the word ” queer ” took on it’s anti gay meaning older Irish people especially in Wexford used and continue to use the word “ quare ” as in Brenda Beehan’s famous play the Quare Fellow and when I look at the photo of Marakech in March and compare it with the dull sad colour from Ireland in the same period all I can think of is THERE IS A QUARE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MOROCCO AND IRELAND IN MARCH !
I have always loved history since I was a child and especially the history of Greece and have been reading and collecting books on the subject for over fifty years . Going to Greece for the first time in 1974 was a special highlight for me when I drove from Ireland and spent a month touring Athens, Delphi and the Peloponnese . I also back packed around Crete on my own in 1976 and later on in the two years I worked in Macedonia 1994 to 1996 I travelled regularly across the border and explored Northern Greece down as far as Meteora and as far west as Dodona .
I was also lucky enough to get to climb to Mount Olympus’s highest peak , Mytakis , on three occasions , once with Snezana and once with my three boys , Kev, David and Diarm … the daughter , Claire , took one look and said no way just plonk me in Hotel Anais and off ye go although she did later come with me to Athens , Delphi and Mycenae with it’s famous Lion Gate dating from Trojan War times !
Memories of Greece in 1995
Looking at the next photo you will be forgiven in thinking it is just a collection of small stones ready to go into the bottom of a new pot for the garden … not so … these are stones I collected in 1974 from the famous classical sites I visited on that trip … Athens, Olympia , Delphi , Mycenae, Marathon , Sparta , Argos , Corinth … over time the labels have been lost so I no longer know which stone is from which site but no matter they sit there together now in the garden fifty years later , my memories of Ancient Greece !
The reason I mention Greece is that we got to go there at the end of March /beginning of April for the first time in twenty years and I will be writing about the trip next month but in the meantime here are two photos from that trip .
A rare collaboration !
As I have mentioned before we never work together except on the pruning of the willow trees but this week a new collaboration occurred when we tackled the Water Garden spaghetti like wild water cress which if in small quantities around the edges of the area is fine but here in a natural water setting the damm thing just takes off like a rocket and within weeks has taken over the entire surface .
The water cress has to be cleaned on a regular basis every month and it seems to grow thicker in the winter and this can be tricky enough in the island water area where you need to get into the water with a long rake as you can’t get at it from the bank . I know the areas that are too deep for rubber wellington boots and these I leave until the summer when the temperature is warm enough to wade in barefooted and in shorts … but then the rake comes off doesen’t it in deep water so in March weather there is nothing for it but to strip down to the boxers and try and fish it out !
We have finished the pruning and cutting back of the trees and have stacked so much wood since January that we are already almost self sufficient for next winter on what we chopped up these past two months alone.
It is better to prune and cut trees before the leaves appear and any later could damage the tree , not kill it but certainly retard it’s growth this year and I was reminded of this when last week I cut a small branch off a silver birch and it bled it’s liquid sap from the cut … almost as if the tree was weeping .
Summer is just around the corner and this Bosnian pot which I plant with primroses in November always cheers me up in the winter months !
Colour in the Garden in late March 2023