A brief taste of spring before harsh winter returns

Saturday, March 31, 2018

What a contrast to March 2017when it was almost the perfect spring and there was so much to write about. This month several episodes of winter (worse here than the "Beast from the East") slowed plant growth to a crawl and prevented any meaningful outdoor work, as did the continuing side affects of my chempotherapy. So apologies for less exciting news items to report on. 

Waiting for the planting  conditions to improve this small collection of recently acquired polyanthus light up and perfume the small tunnel on a really cold day. Such a delight!



The weather stole all the good lines and picture opportunities. 

Weather readings:

19 days with a temperature below zero. Min -7C on 1/3, Max 12C on 13/3 Precipitation on 18 days with 5.4" recorded during the month -  falling  snow on 6 days. Sunshine on 9 days.








 Moira brushing snow from her car. One of several times she had to do it.


 Although it wasn't desperately cold we had the first icicles during the winter


 Unusually some of the larger ones were frozen sideways by the persistent wind







Garden update

In a brief lull in the weather and rather to my surprise, being how early in the month it was, it was possible to do some systemic weedkilling all over the garden, especially in the main borders where the bittercress had begun to grow away strongly  long before many of the herbaceous plants had begun to show. It seemed to me the ideal opportunity to attack the weeds with "Roundup" in order to reduce the amount of later hand weeding. What also made this possible was that there were no flowers on the bittcress to set seed before the weeedkiller had done its work. To my surprise within 2 weeks the weeds were substantially compromised and much reduced. A hoeing is now all that is required. 



Whilst in that mode, from our friend Richard Bramley, I borrowed a Calor Gas flame thrower to attack weeds and moss on the paths and drives which had coloured the paths green.What a frightening piece of kit is was! Highly effective too but not in confined spaces. Sorry no selfies of me in action!!



The polytunnels as usual provided work opportunities on the many days when outdoor work was not possible. Under cover of cold frames most of my nursery stock avoided the extremes of the weather and largely came through OK. With plants in pots it is important to remember that they do need a modicum of watering but not to the point where the pots become waterlogged.

Brassica seedlings sown on 20/2018 


 Sweet peas having germinated on shelving placed on the polytunnel crop bars to keep them away from rodents that will otherwise chew all the emerging seedlings. As an extra precaution mouse traps are needed when pots are transferred to main tunnel benches. Depending on the weather these plants should be ready to plant out after hardening off by mid/ late May.


Velthemia bracteata grown from seed sown 4 years ago giving delight on a very cold day and a reminder of the joys of producing plants from seed.



Having waited for weeks to remove the lights from the cold frames the weather took a turn for the worse but most plants have survived well cocooned by a covering of snow.



What's looking good?

A few brave daffodils started to put on a show but not in the numbers you would expect in March. At least there will be plenty more to enjoy now during April.

 Narcissus "February Gold" at last in March lived up to its reputation of being the first to flower here


Narcissus "Jet Fire" coping well with a thich layer of snow.



A long established favourite of mine is narcissus "W.P Milner" an old cultivar that behaves and looks much like a species form.  It has taken a few years to bulk up as many true species do. 



Flowering spring shrubs are one of the cornerstones at this time of year but few are showing any signs of emerging  flowerbuds. 

Magnolia stellata devoid of any leaf or bud colour



Only Pieris are showing any vigorous signs of flowering


In regard to many hydrangeas which in the cold snap of late April last year had their flowers destroyed, fortunately they  were not that far advanced this year and their buds are still being protected by a generous covering of tightly furled leaves.

 Heathers and recently planted hellebores creating a pleasing combination and proving just how hardy they are.


 The Beech Hedge walk became a jewelled garden with a dusting of powdery snow on the hellebores and cyclamen in particular.




 Even plants without flowers like this arum itallicum  are embellished by the snow



Wildlife and Countryside

A couple of mallard ducks sighted on the Paddock Pond recently but no evidence yet that they are a breeding pair. Also in the pond frogs have made a  second spawning in between the 2 very cold spells this month which is just as well as the first spawn was badly frosted. Will we see any toads this year? Their absence from garden ponds has already been commented upon by numerous friends with ponds.

In the Koi Pond we lost this fish which had been struggling for some time with fungus. Cold conditions most likely exacerbated its demise.



I can't wait to be feeling well enough to go garden visisting again and adding to the portfolio of pictures to publish every month, starting with RHS Cardfiff on 13 April. Just a reminder on this one that Farmyard Nurseries will have a Floral display and plants for sale at the show. For more details of the show go to www.rhs.org.uk/cardiff 

Finally my treatment and lots of "down time" has given me the opportunity to catch up on some long abandoned garden reading, my current favourite of which  "Hugh Johnson In the Garden" I recommended to readers several months ago, a few of whom purchased the book and have enjoyed reading it. I was just typing this when my all time favourite plant journal dropped through the letter box. There is a good range of gardening publications to chose from, but like many gardening friends I am often disappointed by the content of some of them, much of which for the keen plants person seem to be "dumbed down". So here is my latest recommendation: "The Plantsman" published quarterly by the RHS is available to RHS members for an annual subscription of £29 or to non-members for £37. Every edition adds substantially to my knowledge and awareness of plants. Look at the current Contents page to see if it could do the same for you. Definitely money well spent.