Early spring is with us now

Crocus and snowdrops give colour in the spring

A frog in the pond in Gina’s garden

First published in Gardening

GINA PARKINSON welcomes frogs, new shoots and the return of crocus and snowdrops.

THE garden is full of new beginnings and song as gaps in the beds fill with early spring growth, while the air fills with the sound of birds beginning their dawn chorus. The pond is populated with frogs arriving from their winter hide-outs; soon it will filled to bursting as more hop in during the month. Bulbs are pushing through the earth and the bare branches of deciduous shrubs are breaking into life.

Colours in our garden tend to be muted at this time of year; yellow from winter jasmine and winter honeysuckle, clumps of cool white snowdrops and lime-flowered Helleborus argutifolus.

Richer colour can be had with Lenten roses, Helleborus orientalis, which can bloom in wonderful winey shades of deep plum and red. Ours are all white, but they are marked with veins of deep purple around their central stamen.

While daffodils are only just beginning to pop up, crocus are well into flower in the raised bed I am starting to fill with low-growing rockery plants. Many of these are semi-evergreen, so the gravel covered soil has looked interesting for much of the winter.

Now the lilac crocus are appearing it is beginning to take on a new lease of life; it won’t be long before the broken pots and flat stones scattered about are covered in sedum and miniature phlox and aubrietia tumbles down the wall.

This bed was also home to a colony of bees last year, discovered when I was putting in some new plants. The soil suddenly collapsed into a large hole out of which flew a swarm of irritated insects, later found to be bees, but I dropped everything and ran to the house in fright.

Venturing down later, the bees had settled and lined the walls of the hole. I found a large, pot and wedged it over the swarm. Eventually they disappeared below ground and we spotted them throughout the summer flying in and out of their terracotta door.

While bees and summer rockery plants are in the future, the crocus are here to enjoy, as they pop up among snowdrops and spreading Lamium galeobdolon in this raised bed. The lamium is a bit of a thug and we have a lot of it about the garden, where it is useful for covering areas of bare ground. It offers hiding spaces for insects and the silvery variegated foliage looks good for much of the year.

In March, new leaves are lovely, heavily marked with dark red which offers a good contrast to the pale hues of snowdrops and crocus. In only a few weeks it will be an on-going task stopping the long stems from choking the plants in this bed but, for the moment, their March display can be enjoyed for its fresh beauty.

Weekend catch-up

THE potato season is almost upon us so it is time to start buying seed potatoes and begin to chit them. Potatoes are traditionally planted on Good Friday, although it is perhaps a better idea to keep an eye on the weather and do it as the risk of frost recedes.

This could be in mid-April, although we could be well into May before we are safe. It is possible to get some first earlies in this month, but bear in mind that new shoots will need to be covered either with banked up soil or fleece should we get a cold spell.

Our seed potatoes have been ordered, so there is nothing to be done until they arrive, except for saving egg boxes. These are ideal trays for chitting, which is when the potatoes are left in a cool, light place to develop shoots. It can take up to six weeks for them to be ready for planting, making March a good time to get the first batch started.

In the vegetable patch

GARLIC planted last October will be shooting up and weeding should be kept on top of. As soon as the weather gets mild, weeds pop up so they will need to be attended to as often as possible. This way they never get to set seed or develop the strong roots that making pulling them up more difficult. Regular hoeing between the rows of garlic is enough to keep the area neat.

Gardening TV and radio

Tomorrow

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ World. Peter Gibbs, Pippa Greenwood, Chris Beardshaw and Matthew Biggs help gardeners from Haynes in Bedfordshire. Meanwhile Matthew Wilson reports on the progress of the Olympic Park in London. The gardening weather forecast is at 2.40pm. (Repeated from Friday).

Friday

3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Panellists Chris Beardshaw, Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew are with members of the Wolverhampton Horticultural Society. Eric Robson is in the chair and there is also a guide to gardening in March. (Repeated on Sunday at 2pm).

8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. It is time to take off the slippers and don the wellies as the official start of spring starts tonight with the new series of Gardeners’ World. In the first programme Monty Don plants bare rooted raspberries, Carol Klein visits an ancient woodland site and Joe Swift begins his guide to garden design.

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