It is early March and suddenly overnight the front garden has erupted with the first crocus’s of the year and they are hot on the heels of the snow drops which kicked off last week and almost ready to break into flower are the miniature daffodils , tete a tete , so from now until end of April will see a succession of bulbs coming in to flower …… now is also the time to mark out mentally the empty spaces between bulbs so that you can plant up next autumn with extra bulbs for next Spring .
This morning the first frog spawn of Spring arrived overnight in the water garden and from now on the normally shy frogs will congregate in the ponds , have coffee and a chat etc. before getting down to some serious love !!
There is nothing so exciting in gardening terms to match the first crocus , snowdrops and early daffodils as it is the signal that Spring is finally here and that from now until end of November we have the new growing season to look forward to ….the flowers of spring are cheap and cheerful and sometimes it is only in close up we realise just how extraordinarily beautiful they are as the following photographs from the front garden show …. for the technical minded I used the differential focus technique in combination with a long telephoto lens shooting with a wide aperture to isolate the background and shot slightly against the sun for the back lighting effect ……. and for those of you who don’t bother with the details I just pointed the camera and got lucky !
Sometimes it is hard to beat the common wild yellow cow slip or primrose for beauty ….. seen all over the countryside at the moment self seeding in ditches and high banks …. I also grow the rather recently bred expensive crimson leaved primrose but it blooms later in April and in my view is a bit of a fad and won’t last in the popularity stakes .
I was in a friend’s garden today and she had some nice clumps of snow drops which is the plant of the moment in late February Irish gardens …now there are over five hundred varieties of snow drops or galanthus , from the greek word gala meaning milk , to be professorish but she had one particular clump which was a new variety to me and really lovely and when I admired it she immediately said she would divide it up after flowering and give me some .
That is the way with gardeners , they are generous and will usually share , give a rooted cutting or divide a plant but there is an etiquette involved and a few years ago Snezana fell in love with a plant in a friend’s garden and kept saying throughout our visit how nice the plant was …. no budge however from the other side and later Snezana expressed disappointment and surprise at not being offered even a tiny offshoot … surprised because her experience of Irish hospitality up until then had been like that of the housekeeper Mrs. Doyle , in Father Ted “ ah go on , go on , go on ” !!!
I explained that 99% of the time an expression of interest in a plant or a flower In someone’s garden will result in the immediate offer of a piece however if not offered you take the hint and don’t press it as in some cases that particular plant may have been uniquely sourced at great expense or the plant may be so tender it won’t allow division , also it could be the wrong season to divide it or in some cases the owner prides themselves on having something really unique that they don’t want to share …in any event it is their right to offer … so La Petrovska , muttering under her breath , returned empty handed after her very unsubtle attempts to extract a piece of the plant !
Personally I only express an interest if the plant is really unique and grabs my attention and I cannot readily source it in a garden centre …. once with tetraplanax rex in Helen Dillon’s garden where the redoubtable Helen handed me a spade and said help yourself and that carefully nursed specimen from last August has survived it’s first winter here outdoors in a pot albeit in a sheltered location under a bamboo clump and will be planted out in a permanent location in May after all threat of frost has passed …. and two years ago I first saw a mass planting of geranium nudosum on a visit to Mount Congreve with a gardening friend who said no problem I can give you loads of that .
As our garden here has all types of locations spread across almost eight acres , wet , dry , shady , water logged etc. it can find a spot for any plant so I am delighted with donations from fellow gardeners whose garden is chock a block and where the plants need regular thinning out . Also I try to oblige all requests for plants from here and the most frequently requested I find is euphorbia characais which grows well here and self seeds all over the gravel garden and I always have a few potted up specimens at the ready .
The following photo shows a selection of recent gifts of perennials waiting to be planted out , a lovely form of snow drop , diarama bulbs ( Angel’s Fishing Rods ) , darmera ( indian rhubarb ) and some huge lily bulbs , crinum lilies also known as swamp lilies which come from southern US States such as Louisiana and Florida and grow almost two metres high and which I am looking forward to growing …apparently they like wet ground but well drained and in full sun and are stunning in flower in late Summer .
What every gardener hates though is the light fingered visitor who will walk off a with a piece of plant behind your back without asking and in Dublin apparently there are a pair of old ladies who even on the hottest of days carry umbrellas which when unfurled once by accident in one garden revealed a treasure trove of plants illicitly gathered and hidden inside the rolled up umbrellas !
As I have an opinion on gardening and am prepared to write about it you may think I practice all types of gardening …not so as for example I don’t have a green house and secondly don’t sow flower seeds for summer bedding etc. Green houses in my experience , even the smallest of them are intensive work and if you are not prepared to spend quite a bit to heat it during the winter , you are confined to using it between April to November and end up with huge quantities of tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers , more than you can eat just when the shops are flooded with them in July and August …anyway I have enough to be doing outside between April and November .
I had a green house for twenty years in my Rosslare garden and used it extensively for the first year then it languished unsightly and unloved for the next 19 years with a very nice lime green slimey mould growing on the inside of the glass !
Ah but the joy of growing your own organically I can hear you say ….. organic yes but what about all the commercial fertiliser and town supply water not to mention bought in peat for the growing base … I don’t believe organic is any different in taste to shop bought tomatoes for example …. yes there can be a difference if you source and plant a heritage tomato like Ailsa Craig but the resulting great taste is from the variety not the “ organic ” and I still remember after thirty years the heritage tomato I nicked from the Duke of Devonshire’s greenhouse at Lismore castle ….. but again probably half the taste was due to the fact I nicked it from an English Duke’s castle in Ireland !!
Prince Charles visited Lismore Castle in March 2004 for the birthday party of the Duke of Devonshire and although Irish / English relations have progressed over the years to the friendly situation we have now where the Queen was accorded a tumultuous welcome when she visited Ireland in 2012 however back in 2004 one irish disident republican protestor stood on the road outside Lismore Castle with a sign that said “ Charlie go Home ” as Charles and Camilla’s car swept by ….. I remember watching it on Sky News in Bosnia that night and thinking there is something familiar about that guy with the protest sign …. familiar indeed as on rewinding the tape I saw it was my Father !
Fast forward now to 2008 when as Head of the Customs Service in the Seychelles I was nominated to head up the welcoming delegation at Mahe International Airport to welcome Prince William as he arrived on a flight from Kenya to begin a holiday on one of the Seychelles Islands …….. as he came down the gangway I met and shook hands with the Prince and escorted him to the VIP lounge and over a coffee mentioned to him that a few years ago my Father welcomed his Father to the Duke of Devonshire’s Castle in Lismore with his “ Charlie go Home ” banner ….. fathers eh !!
Now until end of March is a good time to transfer plants into different locations and this week I have been locating wild ferns in a shaded woodland area outside Clonmel that I have had my eye since last summer ….. loads of self seeded wild ferns there and I dug up a few buckets of them and planted them in similar shady conditions in the garden here , helping on each new plant with lots of leaf mold and John Innes compost in the planting hole and hopefully they will take when growth starts up again in earnest in April .
I am also cutting back all the garden grasses just now particularly the miscanthus before active new growth starts , a pity as the dried winter foliage still makes a good show but as with everything there is a tipping point and if left a week or two longer there is a danger you would be cutting off new growth .
What I love about early March in the garden are the lengthening days , the rise in ground temperature and the sense of urgency to get out there and get the various jobs done … that sense of urgency that just isen’t there in January and February as you know March is the last chance saloon to divide plants , cut back and move stuff that is either not doing so well or has done too well and has got congested and today I took rooted slips of lamium better known as dead nettle, a terrific shade loving ground cover plant which does well in dry positions …… the beauty of lamium is that it spreads by throwing out tendrils and where they touch the ground they root and you can get literally hundreds of rooted slips each year from an established clump .
A group from the Waterford Horticultural Society were here yesterday for a look at the garden in advance of their main visit in August and I was talking about dividing some clumps of giant reed , arundo donax , which have been in situ for about six years and as a result have got huge but I would like to take some divisions for the new grass border and was wondering out loud how I would manage it as the roots would be tough ….. ask a group of gardeners anything and chances are somone from the group has done it and so it was here and apparently the only way I will be able to divide them is with an axe … so it’s man up time again !
I am pretty cack handed with anything mechanical which is why for example we don’t have a chain saw here …. well I like all my bits and pieces such as fingers / arms and legs and would like to hang on to them for as long as possible and driving a ride on lawn mower is a top achievement for me !
Speaking of ride on lawn mowers , a few years ago I rented some jet skis for my sons when they were visiting me on the Croatian coast and they kept insisting I try one so against my better judgement , Snezana and I hired one and set off from the beach …. slowly slowly about the speed of your average ride on mower to the shrieks of laughing and encouragement from the on lookers including my lads which didn’t help at all let me tell you ….. nothing speedy you understand as we put putted away out of the harbour at a stately old lady pace …. we or I as it was me who was driving was obviously a shipping hazard and really upset the macho croatian guy who hired out the jet skis so he called us in ( normally it’s only bold boys who drive too fast who are called in …. which obviously wasn’t the case here !) and took back the jet ski and his parting comment still hurts ….. “ get some man courage ” !!!
But I digress as I was mentioning a visit by the Horticultural Society in advance of their main visit here in August which they had booked last October ….. I am always a bit nervous about such visits as gardening club members can be a mixed bag who sometimes come off the bus after a long drive and just want a cup of tea not a long traipse around another garden and I sometimes feel this garden is not suitable for the majority of their members as (a) it involves quite a bit of walking around almost eight acres and (b) it is not a pretty pretty garden with defined perennial flower borders ..in other words a bit wild for their taste and I would prefer that they know in advance what they can expect or to be fair … not expect . In this case there was no problem and even though the middle of February is not the best time to view a garden they were happy and so the full Society visit will take place in August .
Finally a word about scent in the early Spring garden and one thing that your snow drops , daffodils , crocus’s , helleborus . cow slips etc. have in common … they have no smell but there is one early Spring flower that never fails to drag you back to childhood with it’s great smell and that is the common wall flower , the old cottage garden perennial that all our Grannies grew … stick it anywhere in a sunny position , even in poor gravelly soil and every year without fail it will flower and flower right up to November .
The wall flower is regarded as common and sometimes not only ignored but looked down on….. but for me I never pass mine without bending down to smell and suddenly I am back in short pants in my Grandmother’s cottage in Ballintaw , Co. Limerick as an eight year old !