March is the first real sign of Spring in the garden , the extra hour in the evening is a great bonus , lawn mowers are dragged from hibernation and cursed at for not starting after the five month lay off but eventually we begin to organise and look forward to the new growing season and my favourite time in the garden .
Spring has arrived in the Lower Wood garden .
There is one tree in the front garden here , a large golden willow , that bursts into leaf almost overnight in mid March and when it does it really represents the end of winter .
The poor old RHS , Royal Horticulture Society, got it in the neck recently when it made headlines about how gardeners should no longer class slugs as pests … they might just have got away with that comment but then they added we should treat slugs as GARDEN VISITORS !
A collective howl went up from gardeners everywhere along the lines of garden visitors my arse !
To cap it all the UK Daily Telegraph wrote an editorial titled “ Gardeners slugging it out ” and said the RHS statement was like saying “burglars should not be called criminals but evening visitors and went on to say that biological warfare against slugs is the only method as although slugs “ may be lovely BUT NOT ON OUR PRIZE PLANTS ”!!
The debate on slugs as univited guests then spread to the letters page of the Daily Telegraph and I particularly liked this letter from a reader in Middlesex !
“ To protect our hostas we bought four Aylesbury ducks to eat the slugs and for the first time the hostas reached their full leaf unscathed – until the ducks realised that hostas were also a great delicacy and shredded every plant ”.
It is hosta time early next month and the first shoots will be popping up the first week in April with an army of hungry slugs waiting for them and if you don’t get them before they get to your hostas it will be bye bye until April 2022 … High Noon so get the slug pellets out !
This month Snezana decided to clear and tidy up a small area behind where a new steel shed has earlier this month replaced the old wooden one , an area we had neglected previously but in preparing the site for the new shed it presented an opportunity . It is a small sloping piece of ground , good soil and a nice amount of sun throughout the day and the first thing was to put in some steps and then lay some paving slabs . I planted an apple tree and four shrubs , a fuschia , a physocarpus , a hydrangea , a caster oil plant plus a hypericum … all shrubs that will grow to a medium height and are fuss free yet have interesting foliage plus a flowering period throughout the summer for the hydrangea and the hypericum finishing off by adding ground cover vina minor , lamium and geraniums .
These are all ordinary shrubs , nothing exceptional or fussy , which are often neglected and overlooked but there was a method to my madness in going for these as it is an area not in your face in the garden behind a shed and an opportunity to select shrubs that will grow away without the need for great attention but yet will actually meld together very well . The caster oil plant , fatsia japonica , is the more tender as I picked a less well known variety “ green fingers ” which will be an exotic all year round shrub that should eventually grow to over five feet and beside it the physocarpus tops out at four feet and has great blue leafed foliage , the perfect foil for the glossy green of the fatsia while the hydrangea , hypericum and fuschia should be in flower for most of the summer and all can be hacked back to the ground each spring .
The new area , path down and planted up March 2022
Planting any new area and you need to consider three important things , soil , aspect and the climate otherwise if you go against these principles and we all do sometimes it is a gamble and I was reminded of that the other day when adding some ground cover vincas to the new water garden … well it is a year old actually but I still refer to it as new but anyway there I am on hands and knees digging some planting holes for the pots of vinca … in an area I would love vincas to thrive and tumble down the bank into the water … when I dug into last year’s vincas … the same brilliant idea last year but they hadn’t thrived or even taken off as I had neglected an important rule … soil … this soil is just too wet for vinca and here I was was wasting my time in persisting with what I thought was the right plant when it was obviously NOT the right place … rules sometimes must be observed !
The Water Garden , a year old March 2022
Pots in the garden can be problematic for people , how often to water and when to water them and plants are continually dying in pots . It is essential having gone to the trouble of investing in pots to learn a little on how to properly look after the plants we put in them . Generally plants not doing well in pots take a while to die and it won’t happen overnight so you will have a warning sign of the leaves drooping and wilting and this nearly always happens in dry hot conditions and the pot at that stage should be doused in water … better of course not to let the plant reach this stage at all but if it happens all is not lost if you react immediately .
Of course having to regularly water pots is a chore but if you get into a routine as part of a morning ritual for example it feels less a chore , We all drink either tea or coffee in the morning and in my case it is coffee so I build watering the pots into a routine where while rinsing out the coffee pot I empty each fill of water , coffee grounds and all , into the garden pots I have nearest the house and I do this every morning during the Summer months right up to October so the pots get a regular watering without me even thinking about it .
It goes without saying that unless you are filling the pots with bedding annuals you need to carefully select your plants for your pots , select the plant on the basis of where the pot is to be sited i.e. windy , shade , partial shade or full sun .
Not all plants do well in pots but I find that cordylines and low growing acers give great structure and are not too fussy and I always add slow release fertiliser granuales both at planting which I repeat each year in Spring . For the first few years after their initial planting there will be subsidence in pots and you need to top up the compost to the lip of the pot each Spring for at least two years until the soil finds it’s base .
Best results from pots apart from not letting them dry out also requires that you watch for water retention so the plant is not water logged due to the drainage hole being blocked up and as a rule of thumb I also regularly remove and replace the top six inches of compost each year in March /April .
Pots serve as focal points throughout the garden but their main purpose is to allow you to grow plants where there is limited space such as small patios or outside balconys and they bring nature right up to the front door .
We use pots here mainly as focal points and to add vibrant colour and like to go for large pots and if we buy a small pot we tend to group them together in a group of three or five … nothing worse from a design point of view than to see small pots dotted singly here and there and plastic pots are a no no and will always look cheap .
Pots can bring colour to the winter garden as these in the Front Garden
If the pot is big enough i.e. a metre high you can have the luxury of growing perennials in it for the period April to November and leave it bare over the winter as I do here with a favourite series of hostas and hostas sieboldiana Elegans is especially beautiful … a word to the wise here hosta roots can get very big in pots and you will need to divide the hosta every three years otherwise it WILL burst the pot and one of our hosta Elegans is on it’s third pot in eight years .
Finally don’t plant anything in a pot where the sides taper in at the top as it will be next to impossible to get the plant out subsequently so restrict this type of pot to bedding annuals which are easily removed .
And speaking of bedding annuals , these are great for seasonal colour and you can rotate petunias , geraniums , alysum and aubretia for the summer display with winter flowering pansies and primulas … and for a great display don’t be shy with the amount of plants just ram them in and let them compete , water regularly and feed weekly with a diluted liquid fertiliser , I use tomato fertiliser , it has all the trace elements but if you are really keen you can make your own liquid feed … comfrey is best but nettles are a good substitute and what garden doesen’t have nettles !
Collect your nettles in a large bucket , chop them up and fill with water , let the concoction stand for six weeks then take out the nettles and this will leave you with a horrible smelling liquid which you can use with a half cup full to a five litre watering can and your plants will thrive .
Much as we love large pots and garden ornaments here in our garden we came across this outsize Easter Island head in a garden centre in Wexford recently which was a step too far even for us !
An alarming trend I am seeing more and more of around Clonmel is silver birch being pollarded and whereas once it was just the odd garden with a row of cut back birch now it seems to be a “ look ”… almost a design feature in suburban gardens and I suspect it is because neighbours see this being done in one garden and think it is actually a pruning that silver birch need … but to see a beautiful tree mutilated like this is shocking .
Let silver birch grow to their full height
Last year when we extended the Water Garden and excavated a large area of woodland to allow the stream beside it to flood it there was a beautiful golden willow right in the middle which had to go but I didn’t have the heart to take it out so it remained there on it’s own little square metre of earth . The willow is one I grew from a slip years ago and one I pollard every second year to keep a good structure but also to keep the branches whippy and vibrantly yellow and it’s strong colour on the bare branches is a real pick me up throughout the winter months . This month I waded out to both crop it but also to use it’s base to balance on while I clear the invasive water cress from the pond .
The poor people of Ukraine have more on their minds than gardens right now and as I write are still getting battered and forced underground or out of their homes on a daily basis . Pity the people of Ukraine