How I wish for the temperatures last march, one of the warmest march months on record. Now we are heading for the coldest on record, but it has had its advantages. Bare root hedging is still available – last year the growers stopped lifting before the end of February. But the best thing about a cold march is that the daffodils last so much longer and this year they have been glorious.
But this is such an important time of year when some tasks are imperative or you will miss the seasonal boat. One of my customers has been avidly watching Sarah Raven and has persuaded her husband to dig up an area of lawn for a wild flower bed. You don’t have to have a dedicated area; a few seeds of mixed hardy annuals sprinkled, (when the weather turns a little milder for germination) into the bald areas of flower bed will reap the rewards. Equally your soil does not need feeding. These chaps naturally enjoy an untouched wild meadow. Do you remember the display that Truro had in the beds in the last couple of years? I am sure it was a cost cutting exercise; wild flower seed being so much cheaper than bedding plants, but yet so effective and long lasting. If you have the space and can mark out areas with dry sand just trickled from a bottle, mark out drills for the seed in each area and sow a different variety in each patch. When the seedlings are 5cm or so high thin them out, keep them damp and sit back and await the display. There are hundreds to choose from but all the seed companies now put together mixed packets too.
- Sow annual climbers as soon as we have slightly milder conditions; try ipomoea or Morning Glory or just ram in a few nasturtium seeds. Climbing nasturtiums up a pergola or support can be absolute gems and a little less untidy. Black eyed Susan (thunbergia) is a real gem too, lasting until the first cold weather.
- If you have a greenhouse or conservatory buy bedding plugs now too. Protected from the cold which will check their growth they can be potted up and gently hardened off to go outside in late May. Don’t be tempted to put them out too early. Checked growth from cold nights will spoil the plants. Be patient, whatever the weather does, and leave until the end of May, they will last longer. I have often waited into early June when the weather has not been warm enough but I have displays into October and beyond.
- Plant new herbaceous plants. These are the ones that are perennial, i.e. last from year to year but die down in winter. They are my favourites. Don’t buy the plant in flower, buy the one next to it which will last longer and check flowering times so that you have a spread of flowers over the summer season. And don’t just buy one, buy three or five. Plant in clumps of odd numbers, somehow it looks better. Of course your tulips have probably just raised their leaves and will be late. Let them and the daffodils die down naturally. Yes, I can hear you saying’ it’s a mess’ whilst they die, but all the goodness is in the leaves and goes back into the bulb to feed them and multiply them for next year. And a little liquid feed applied while they die will help for next year too. Avert your eyes from the dead daffs and feed your roses. Many gardeners feed when they prune but the food often sits on cold soil. Feed now as they are start into growth. A proprietary rose food or a good layer of garden compost on roses and herbaceous borders will keep the warmth in and the water.
- Many of the old gardening books will tell you to trim some hedges now. Please don’t. All hedge trimming should be left until later when the birds have fledged. Farmers are not allowed to trim after 1st March for fear of losing rural payments and that’s a good maxim for all of us. If a formal hedge needs trimming do it quietly and carefully by hand.
- I start leeks now in deep pots in the greenhouse and plant into deep holes when they are the thickness of a pencil, filling the hole with water to let the soil settle around them. These are main crop leeks and can be left a little later as early sowings risk them running to seed.( I did actually start some in January in the tunnel and hoping to grow some very long ones for the Veryan Show.
- Don’t bother with peas. Well if you have to, now is the time to sow, directly into the ground. Remember to put in sticks for support and await the marauding mass of tendrils and leaves that will cover your plot in a matter of weeks!! Sowing every three weeks will repel the glut. My maxim with veg is to grow the ones that are expensive in the shops that saves space in the veg garden.
- Depending on the weather you can really get going with summer crops now. Spinach, carrots, turnips radishes, lettuces, cabbages and summer caulis.
- Don’t forget Christmas! If you want big caulis, savoy cabbages and sprouts for Christmas lunch put the seed in now ready to plant out the grown plants in early summer. Transplant from their pots when there are 2 or 3 true leaves. Don’t let them over grow in the pots, they never grow well once planted.
I was in Roseland Surgery one morning and a very senior gent who was waiting said ‘Aren’t we fortunate to have this facility, booking an appointment, same day? My mate in Ealing has to queue and hope.’ He is correct. His words stuck in my mind, we must be more grateful for those things and people that we may just take for granted. I am forever moaning about the weather so let us be more grateful, the daffodils have lasted longer in the colder weather of March and everything will catch up when the sun comes out.
And it will, I suspect with a vengeance to make up for lost time. I am an optimist!