My Gardening Month March 2024 … Just wave your torch it’ll be fine !

I love March although a very busy time in the garden as it marks the end of the winter and you are in a race to get all bare rooted plants and trees into the ground before growth starts in earnest .

Snezana’s sister Lydija with her daughter Sara , visited in March 2024 .

Snezana with the Copenhagen branch of the Petrovska Family , Lydija and Sara Vestergaard , Front Garden 30th March 2024

My new hosta population has grown to eleven pots from five at the start of the month and I blame Lynda at Clonmel Garden Centre who has adopted a system that any of last year’s stock of perennials that has overwintered is sold off at a 50% sale price … nothing wrong with the plants but because they don’t have the forced nursery growth of the new stock while last year’s are barely peeping over the soil if at all , people won’t buy them but it is perfect for seasoned gardeners who can increase their stock at bargain prices and last week I bought elevan hostas and five variegated iris .

New Hosta collection , Back Garden , 30th March 2024

The hostas are all big leafed varieties while the variegated iris are perfect for the new wild garden where the variegated leaf will look great beside the mown grass path .

Half price iris variegata , 9th March 2024

I have placed the eleven hostas in a semi shaded area of the side garden facing east where they will be in shade from midday on wards and close to the garden hose where I can keep them dampish throughout dry periods of the Summer … mainly in odd and ends pots , fed them with slow release fertiliser  , dug in lots of John Innes potting compost and finished off by layering them in pea gravel … some gardeners , the tree hugger types , insist that slugs hate crawling over gravel and that the hostas won’t be eaten however I add the pea gravel because it keeps in moisture and gives a really nice look to the pot and just to be sure I also layer the base with slug pellets … just to be sure to be sure !!

Every March the gardening tree huggers flood the newspapers with their “ solutions ” to the snails and slugs problem and this is from the UK Daily Mirror this week

“I put vaseline around the rim of the pots (reapply every week) you must check the pot for slugs first otherwise you just trap them in with a great feast,” someone else said. “I also add coffee grounds around the base of the plant and I make a chilli and garlic spray to spray on the leaves…….. I also have beer traps scattered all round the garden. I personally wouldn’t plant hostas in the ground as it’s near impossible to control the slugs. Another added: “I swear by beer traps . They’ve seriously changed my life … no more slugs.””

I am here to tell you people NOTHING works against slugs except the blue pellets and even with those you cannot guarantee that your hostas won’t be eaten into and like most gardeners who has put a lot of effort into growing hostas I am not prepared to serve them up as tasty bites for the slug population !

These hostas are not for eating !

Hostas at a vulnerable stage to slugs , Front Garden , 30th March 2024

I was walking down the garden today typical early March weather , light mist and coldish and passed a clump of lamium , the common variegated one called dead nettle and it looked amazing , fresh with new growth all over when my normal lamium is pretty dead looking at this time of year and it made me ask why is this particular group doing so well ? The answer is of course location as this lamium is sheltered beside a raised bed and the fact is most plants hated to be stuck out in isolation in the open and prefer to huddle together near shelter from wind and cold , just like ourselves really which is why I tend to pack plants and shrubs and they all contribute to the overall health of the group .

Lamium , dead nettle , Back Garden , 9th March 2024

Wooden furniture is the traditional material for gardens in Ireland and the UK  however given our damp weather it is not the longest lasting and even though I paint all of our furniture with two coats every Spring the most you are going to get is twelve years but still nothing beats it for comfort and good looks .

Back Garden , 11th March 2024

The same goes for wooden decking and we have to replace sections of walkway every year and while we don’t have as many pergolas as furniture they are also starting to decay and last week the very first pergola we built in April 2006 gave up the ghost … in actual fact had given up three years ago but I persisted in patching and propping it up until under constant nagging from the other gardener here it finally went .

The pergola bites the dust , 20th March 2024

Truth be told this particular pergola was a design I felt was needed for the entry to the back garden  in 2006 but that was before the garden grew and took on it’s mature look with it’s draping of wisteria and it really wasen’t needed as a feature and rather than holding up the climbing plants it was actually being held up by the plants… so down it went and after the wisteria has flowered this May I will use the opportunity to give it a huge long overdue cutting back .

Building the pergola eighteen years ago April 2006

Back Garden April 2006

Last month I touched on politics both in Ireland and in Kosovo and having worked in the Balkans , Belgrade , Kosovo and Bosnia for over twelve years I feel I know the history and culture relatively well while being Irish and having worked on the border with the North for four years I am familiar with the situation there also .

That said I need to be fair and while yes the Serbs initiated the conflict in Kosovo in 1999 and expelled over a million Albanians in a similar ethnic cleansing that they did in Bosnia , they consider Kosovo sacred Serb land that the Kosovo Albanians took over as outsiders and when the expelled Kosovars returned after three months  in June 1999 they in turn conducted a vicious pogrom of killings and ethnic cleansing against the Serbs who remained  that is still continuing to this day.

The Protestant attacks on Catholic traditions in the North is well known and acknowledged and went on for over eighty years until recently but yet I understand the Unionist view that Irish unity would be a disaster for them and naturally they are afraid of the unknown and what I took away from my four years living there is that one thing both sides have in common is extremism .

In my first year working as a revenue official on the border I was naturally pretty naïve about the smuggling that went on there on an industrial scale by all sides and like the Balkans where smuggling is concerned Serbs cooperate with Croats and Muslims and in the North Catholics and Protestants are the best of friends !

The office mobile teams in Clones , Co. Monaghan , where I was stationed in my first revenue border appointment decided total immersion was needed for me on anti smuggling operations which is why one miserably cold night in November 1966 I found myself on my own at 2 am in total darkness on a hill in Co. Monaghan with only a torch and a portable radio phone for company … the road was what was called an unapproved road which meant that no commercial vehicles could use it … of course the opposite was also true in that any lorry on the road was illegal , most likely full of smuggled goods and as we were just above Crossmaglen real bandit country most definitely driven by bad guys .

The team were waiting at the bottom of the hill in two patrol cars and my role as point man was to step out in front of any truck that came from the North wave my torch and then step back … a legal thing in that Revenue had to warn the truck that they were about to cross into the Republic and commit an illegal act … I was assured heart on hand that these trucks NEVER stopped for an official and would drive through at high speed down to where I would have radioed the witing teams and the checkpoint would stop them … well that’s OK then no problem Eamonn off you go up the hill and remember to step in .

It is now 3 am and I see truck lights heading up the hill at speed from the North … show time , my big moment step in step out easy peasy and how exciting is  this ?

As guaranteed to me , the truck ignored my little torch waving and flew past me at speed but to my horror stopped and reversed back to me where this big bearded macho looking guy wound down the window and said “ what de f..k are you doing out here ” … I looked into the cab at three more equally dangerous looking beardies looking out at me … apart from a few strangled f..ked if I know from me , the driver says now you take that radio and throw it as far as you can across the field OK and don’t even think of contacting your mates at the bottom of the hill … I agreed I had no problem with that and off they went down the hill where I heard a loud bang as they whacked into the end of one of the official mobile cars drove through the road block and off they went at high speed … not my finest moment and the drive back to the station with the team was a silent one !

My cousin Pat Reeves took me gently to task for not mentioning crocus in my list of Spring flowers last month and of course being so small and so short in flower the crocus does tend to slip a bit under the radar behind daffodils and snow drops .

Crocus breeders have gone crazy with colours over the years and the flowers have become gaudier and more artificial looking and I had become just as guilty as everyone else in buying the most extreme varieties . However maybe as a sign of maturity I have gone back to simple primary colours with crocus and more and more I plant single blues and my favourite the pure white Jeanne D’Arc .

Crocus Jeanne D’Arc, Front Garden , 11th March 2024

Dead easy to grow , reliable and cheap as chips , there are a million varieties of crocus in the supermarkets every October however Jeanne D’Arc , a heritage crocus , is worth looking out for although a little fussy unlike all the other varieties as it needs the sun to coax it’s flowers to open otherwise in dull rainey weather it will remain stubbornly closed .

Like snow drops the flowers of the crocus varieties are short lived , ten days maximum but again like snow drops it is worth planting them just for that magical few days .

Crocus , Front Garden , March 3rd 2024

Balkan men have a soft side

Balkan men are a macho bunch and Balkan women are tough cookies also and their DNA of warfare and social upheaval means they have adversary in their background , great people and I have loved living among them .

Cavtat , Croatia , 2004

Macho as the men are they are not afraid to show heart break and I took this photo about twenty years ago in Cavtat on the Croatian coast , … the sign has since been painted over the last time I was in Cavtat and I have often over the years wondered about Nina and whether it worked out for them .

Wild flowers in Spring

I really love the mix we have in the garden none of which we planted , they are all self seeded originally then liked the damp locations and have thrived and spread out over the years .

The best wild flowers are in fact the ones you can’t buy and that self seed into areas that suit them and my favourite would be the lesser calandine which has a low earth hugging shape with beautiful green leaves dotted with tiny yellow flowers , a real wild flower that will only thrive where it finds the ideal combination of damp and dappled shade .

In the middle ages it was called pilewort as it was used in the treatment of piles and while William Wordsworth is better known for his love of daffodils as in “I wandered lonely as a cloud ” he also wrote a poem about the humble lesser celendine called

The Small Celandine

There is a flower , the Lesser Celandine

That shrinks like many more from cold and rain

And at the first moment the sun may shine

Bright as the sun itself it is out again !

The Lesser Calandine , Front Garden , 20th March 2024

The Lesser Calendine at first looks like a creeping buttercup , ranuculus repens , which is a really invasive thug with deep roots which is difficult to get rid of but the calendine is a dainty little thing that appears only in Spring and then is gone by early May , the perfect garden or house guest !

the Lesser Calendine appeasrs and spreads in early February but is gone by early May

I also love the wild flower called Lords and Ladies which likes damp dark areas and you find it mainly in the hedgerow where it will thrive at the base of trees that only leaf up in late Spring  and for about six weeks in early February / March Lords and Ladies will thrive then die away completely  without fuss , a terrific foliage plant .

Lords and Ladies wild flower , Back Garden , 30th March 2024

The leaves are poisonous but the root which looks like a small  potato is edible and nutritious when baked … a name for the plant in the 16th century was starchwort as it was used as a starch for clothing and collars .

A really welcoming sight in March is when the American lyncestris better known as the American skunk cabbage , throws up it’s show stopping yellow flowers , gorgeous although short lived , a week each at best but followed by huge paddle like leaves that last all summer and which is the reason I grow it .

Americanus lyncestris , American skunk cabbage ,bog area in the Water Garden , 30th March 2024

The american skunk cabbage is considered an invasive water plant in the Eastern US where it has colonised rivers and lakes but in Ireland and the UK it is not prolific or a problem . Rarely for sale in garden centres but if you see it grab it , it is a waterside perennial and needs boggy or waterlogged ground with some shade and if it is happy will self seed for you … there is a white flowered variety but the yellow one is a stronger plant with bigger leaves .

American skunk cabbage in the Lower Bog Garden , 30th March 2024

My final favourite wild flower for damp Spring conditions is the marsh marigold or Caltha and this is a real beauty with glossy erect leaves and masses of golden flowers in early March , grows in a tidy clump and never invasive which is a pity but after flowering you can divide each clump into four or five pieces which you can plant immediately into their final positions where they will easily take and happily grow away until flowering time next March .

There is a wild version of marsh marigold which we have in the swamp area but again not invasive or a problem plant but while the flowers are the same as the commercial variety the clump is not as pretty .

Caltha , the Marsh Marigold , Lower Wood , 30 th March 2024

The marsh marigold would be my favourite go to plant for any waterside area and most garden centres stock them in Spring .

Of course we all have our favourite spring wild flowers but space has run out and I haven’t mentioned either the candelabra primulas or the cowslips , both gorgeous plants .

The common cowslip , Front Garden , March 2014

We spent March cutting back the willows in a race before they come into leaf as otherwise it can hurt the tree and we work well together on that project as the other gardener here uses the chain saw and listens to me on where and when to cut but she has a tendency to get carried away when I am not around to check her enthusiasm for cutting down things and this week I came upon a hebe she had gone full Brazilian on … the usual effing and blinding from me  ensued and I didn’t do it on purpose from her … drastic measures were called for so I hid the battery on her chain saw for a few days until peace broke out !

We have a large forest area planted with common conifers which are mostly grown for commercial use which was planted in 1985 before we bought the house in 2000 otherwise I would never plant this type of tree as they cut out the light and allow very little plant life on the forest floor .

John and Michael , cutting out some dead trees in the Lower Wood , 10th March 2024,

The forest area is managed by Snezana who is quite proprietorial about it and every year we arrange to have dead trees cut down and we also thin out too closely planted trees  on a regular basis and now the forest is quite open and easy to walk through and as more light comes in there are a lot of self seeding hollies and elder trees creeping in . In March we arranged for John Tierney our regular tree surgeon to cut down thirty five trees over two days which were cut into blocks and harvested into the wood store and as a result we are totally self sufficient with our house wood burning stove … it is exhausting work for a week , hauling and stacking the wood but worth it to have your firewood which is a very satisfying feeling .

Carrying out the wood , 4th March 2024

I learnt the art of wood stacking in Macedonia and Bosnia and am almost up to their standard now !

Our wood shed is full . 24th March 2024

Colour in the Garden March 2024

The Back Garden , March 2024
The Marsh Garden , Lower Field , March 2024
The Front Garden , March 2024
Variegated Vinca , Back Garden , March 2024

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