Singing the blues-end of March

March is howling out on a Greenland storm, tearing at the newly opened  blossom on the Cherry Plums, battering the daffodils and ripping branches from the Corsican pines. One of the trees has sustained two major branch losses and we feared the whole crown would be ripped out of the tree, but it has thus far survived. It may be time to have the tree taken down before the inevitable happens; you can see in the image how gappy the crown is compared to the other tree and the whole top growth os supported on a partial stem.

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We spent March working to clear away part of the hedge boundary so we can begin to integrate the meadow properly into the garden. It has been very hard work stripping meadow turf, disposing of it and turning the soil, removing couch grass spade by spade. The hardest part was removing the supply of buried bricks and stone from under the grass-none of it much use, unfortunately. The bricks are old, but every one was broken. We needed to level sections of the bumpy meadow and lay new turf where the brick debris was.

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It takes few words to say what we have done, ans may hours labour to achieve it. This is the view from the meadow looking back to the house, with the fork of victory stuck in the levelled bed. I have planted one Stipa gigantea as a trophy! From the other direction, the view looks like this:-

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The borders are beginning to colour up despite the cool weather, and the colour is blue. Anemone blanda, chionodoxa, Forget me Not and Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ are weaving through the beds as brightly as patches of sky. I’m delighted by the spread of the chionodoxa, seemingly at home in a realtively shady border, and the forget me nots promise to turn into a river of colour. They are beautiful at the start of the season when the leaves are fresh and tidy and  the whole plant is compact. Blue Ensign is a lovely pulmonaria and although the leaves are plain green the clear colour of the flowers is rewarding. Another plant to spread through the garden.

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Of course March is about daffodils and the Daffodil walk is looking splendid. There are quite a few blind bulbs this year so perhaps it will be time to replant in the autumn.  I suspect part of the planted area may be too dry and shady to sustain the bulbs for more than a couple of seasons.

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Primroses are flowering on the sunny bank and beginning to spread from the seed grown plants I put in last year. Another patch is seeding happily through the gravel in a shady part of the garden near the house-not the soil conditions that make you think immediately of primroses, but the plants obviously haven’t read the manual. Its great when the plants choose where to place themselves.

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And similarly, this gorgeous clump of Red Riding Hood tulips has decided a position in sun in gravel is ideal, I planted the bulbs after they flowered two years ago and last year they did nothing at all. It was a pleasure to watch them  appear this year, first the leaves like little hostas and then the scarlet flowers. The speed of change displayed by this  clump was dramatic, as it is in little patches all round the garden. Spring is definitely waiting behind the lion’s roar.

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the end of february

March roared in like a lion last night, but before we move into the delights of daffodils and new growth, I thought I would show the results of a month of labour, and for my own reference, a few garden views to remind me what I both like and dislike about the garden in February.

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We have almost finished the new vegetable beds and compost bins. Two of the beds still need to be topped off with more soil and compost but five are done. The slope is south facing and the site well drained. Watering will be an issue but we are hoping to rig up some form of rainwater collection when we lid the compost bins. The beech hedge, when it grows,  will provide shelter from westerly winds and the box planted around the other three sides will offer a little protection as well as being a decorative feature. There may be a lovely wooden cold frame in the offing too, adjacent to the compost bins and under the shelter of the existing beech boundary. We topped the paths with coarse woodchips, deep  enough to insulate the bottom of each raised bed frame and to provide an all-weather surface to work from. Its been very rewarding to do this ourselves, and a great way to burn excess calories from Christmas!

Away from the new garden, Spring flowering has begun.This clump of daffodils is always the first to flower and the bed by the house, nominally a herb bed, has the choicest hellebores too. The daffodils have been open for a couple of weeks now but i have no idea what variety they are-just a standard yellow.

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Standing further back you can see the jewel box border, a phrase I  borrowed from David Culp who uses it to describe a bed in  his beautiful Pennsylvania garden at Brandywine Cottage. It is narrow, at the foot of the gable wall to the barn, hot, dry  and west-facing. I did a lot of clearing last autumn and only left the more choice plants. This is where I am expanding the collection of little things-irises of various kinds and where I am planning to grow more Agapanthus for later colour. This is one of my favourite February corners.

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if I back round the corner and crouch down there is a pretty combination of double snowdrops, black flowered self seeded hellebore and purple iris. I inherited the hellebore but like to think I  have enhanced it with the other plants, although on a grey day the hellebore is not very apparent.

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Crossing the lawn to the west side of the garden there are two long beds, one with the two old apple trees and the other with two yews. We have done quite a lot of clearing in the apple beds, as well as pruning the trees and clipping the Prunus lusitanicus and Eleagnus bushes and cutting down the large Miscanthus. This spring the snowdrops have flowered well and I have planted Epimediums  and Japanese painted ferns to carry on the prettier elements. There is quite a lot of Alchemilla mollis in here that might need editing this year, as well as yet more Crocosmia. Have I ever edited the Crocosmia in the garden and still it comes…

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Between the two long beds and the boundary beech hedge is the daffodil walk. it is pretty worn from our constant matching up and down to the new meadow this winter, with wheelbarrows and whatnot, but it will doubtless recover when the spring comes. We planted a Liquidambar near the boundary but there is more editing to do here. A Sorbus is suffering here and some of the shrubs still need “reviewing”.

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The daffodils are well-grown already-another couple of weeks and there will be flowers. The last picture shows the top of the walk, behind a future project-the yew tree border or Black Hole border, as I have been known to call it.

At the southern edge of the original garden, looking north towards the house is the pond, all the irises cut down. It is  dull at this time of year although the marsh marigolds are already sprouting. We haven’t cleaned it out this year…we will be sorry later on. The dying copper beech is smack in the middle of the lawn. it has been “unwell” for years, apparently and eventually it will be removed. For some reason the otherwise saw-happy gardener is reluctant to do the decent thing on this tree, saving his attentions for otherwise healthy specimens he doesn’t like….

I planted a Cercidyphyllum japonica nearby-you might just spot the white name tag in the picture, bottom left,  and I am hoping it will thrive, as the Magnolia stellata nearby  does. I have a lovely Ciornus florida to plant too, when I have a few minutes.

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The South border is beginning to bloom- happy, self seeding primulas and the first pulmonarias are in flower . I am lifting and splitting some of the larger perennials in this border in between building tasks. The delphiniums are still waiting for that treatment and I’m thankful that February here has been cold enough to restrict early growth. The wire mesh on the border is an attempt to protect cyclamen bulbs from the rabbits/voles/moles/mice/pheasants that are determined to dig up and/or eat them. The Escapologist Chicken has been known to venture here too. I love this border when it is in full growth or when, like now, the dead vegetation has  been cut down and the new growth is beginning.

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The current focus is on beginning to integrate the garden with the new meadow, a subject for a future post, as well as raising quantities of plants in my wonderful Vitopod propagator, a Christmas present from the other half. It’s all going pretty well so far, and the house is filling up with seedlings hardening off whilst it is too cold to put them into my unheated greenhouse. I’ve got my eye on a rather lovely wooden  Swallow greenhouse that I have fallen in love with….there would be room in there and perhaps power too. I live in hope.

Happy March everyone. Everything in the garden is going to step up a notch this month, so I hope you are all raring to go.