March is really the start of the gardening year. As the days get longer and there is a little more heat in the sun, those first exciting signs of life appear in the garden. The green buds on roses and other shrubs are expanding, shoots on perennials like peonies elongate and the rhubarb leaves unfurl. The downside, of course, is that the lawn starts to look shaggy and in need of a haircut and the vegetable beds are covered by a ‘moss’ of weeds.
For the gardener, as for all of us, life is more fun if you see your glass half-full rather than half-empty. On a fine day it is lovely to be outside in the fresh air doing something in the garden as opposed to being cooped up indoors during winter’s long months.
By now, you may be in the full tide of Dutch hybrid crocuses, the largest kind, which are purple, mauve, white or stripy. They may not be refined but they do make a tremendous and gladdening show – and they self-sow like mad! Ideally, you plant them in the autumn but, if you ‘didn’t get around to it’, enjoy those of others and make a note to plant them in turf in six-months’ time. Planting in turf is the ideal, as long as it isn’t in self-conscious circles under a tree causing the mower to, reluctantly, leave the area uncut for a few weeks to allow the crocus ‘grass’ to finish its cycle (which won’t be until the end of May). The gardens of RHS Wisley have vast lawns spangled with multi-coloured crocus, often with several photographers at work on them. As always, Wisley is worth an outing.
Now is the time to be splitting and replanting perennials. It is cheap and easy to propagate these border essentials. As you admire the young growth on clumps of delphiniums, asters, crocosmias and ornamental grasses, look for the biggest and strongest. It is easy to lift the plant with a garden fork and to split it into new clumps, each with at least a few roots and shoots to survive. But once replanted, you can have multiple copies of your favourites. If space allows, several of the same plant massed or repeated through a border are so much more effective than sad singletons.
Happy Gardening, Giles Derry
Dates for your diary
Tuesday 12 March 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. Shrubs of distinction. Shrubs are the ‘bones’ of our gardens giving structure and depth. John Negus will show slides and talk about the range of shrubs we can use and inspire us to choose things other than ‘the run of the mill’. Please join us to share your shrub successes and failures. Guests and non-members (both £2) are always welcome.
Saturday 6 April. Spring Flower Show at 2.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. This is our first show of the year, so why not have a go? There are classes for bulbs and other flowers, domestic produce such as marmalade, a cherry cake or Bakewell Tart (recipes provided) and walnut cookies (yummy) as well as handicrafts. Or simply drop in to see the hall transformed by the colour and scents of spring flowers; a breath of fresh air after such a dark wet winter.
Tuesday 21 May 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. A spoonful of herbs. Linda Warren will talk about the fascinating herbs we can grow and use in the kitchen and home. Parsley and mint are fine but there is so much more to try, grow and use. Come and find out more. Guests and non-members (both £2) are always welcome.