Into the third month of the year and we should now be seeing the cheerful signs of early spring. Spring should start the birds singing afresh. We should expect to see green returning to the garden as freshly-burst buds bring life to our patch. Let us see what my Garden Journal for March actually shows.
I began by recording, “March begins as February leaves off, freezing temperatures day and night often dipping into minus figures. The soil is solid, frozen and unworkable. Snow, sleet and frozen rain showers are frequent visitors. The Met Office count March as the first month of Spring but us gardeners know that it is the last of Winter. Dan Pearson in “Natural Selection” writes, “A cold start t the month always feels more appropriate to me, because it is better to go slow when there is so much to do and so much to take in. I prefer the feeling of caution that is generated when there is a beast waiting in the wings – it takes away the assumption that this might be the start of Spring.”
Nevertheless we carry on doing garden wildlife jobs, repairing and repainting nest boxes.”
Opposite I looked at one of my favourite spring bulbs, Iris reticulata and shared my Japanese brush paintings I enjoyed doing so much. I noted, “Iris reticulata bulbs are one of our first to come into flower following on from Snowdrops and Winter Aconites. Their rich blues and purples look good with Carex.
These Irises are native to Russia, the Caucasus and Northern Iran, but we grow them in our temperate gardens where they thrive if planted deeply. Our favourites are Iris r. George and “Harmony” but neither of us are keen on the “washed out” look of “Katherine Hodgkin”.
After looking at my Iris paintings we can turn over to a double page spread concerning firstly snow and then the wildlife in our Avocet garden.
“As we pass the mid-point of March we awake to the third appreciable snow fall of the winter. Luckily this fall has not been sculpted into drifts so we hope that when it melts we are left unscathed. It will however prevent us from getting out there and enjoying our early year jobs.”
“Wildlife is busy in March with frogs cavorting in our wildlife pond and leaving large clumps of spawn among the plants that sit in the water close to the edge. Birds are pairing up, displaying, singing and carrying nesting materials to their nests under construction. We have a pair of Robins nesting in our woodstore and House Sparrows have taken up residence in the nest boxes we recently re-furbished for them. We watched them pulling grass stems out of the snow and taking them into the boxes. We have created lots more bee homes and repaired any damaged older ones.”
We discovered our brightest coloured frog we have ever seen – a lime green bellied frog.”
Over the next page we look at some of the important jobs we have been busy carrying out during the month of March.
“March is a busy month for us gardeners and because of this it is a month we really look forward to. Each week we create a “to do” job list and get busy preparing for the year to come and of course ensuring our patch is up to scratch for our visitors this year.”
“We cut comfrey leaves for liquid feed, pruned leaves off the Epimedium to help us see their fresh flowers and topped up the log edging around our wildlife pond.”
“We fed our trees with wood ash from our woodburner and checked tree stakes and tree ties.”
“A big project is developing our new fern garden, a raised bed to fill the gap left by the removal of our oil tank. We came up with this crazy idea and hope it works! Planks of wood became a raised fern garden.”
Turning over to the next double page spread I wrote about buying new plants and I shared my paintings of a surprise find below the snow. I wrote, “We have been in plant buying mode often this March, some Hebes to replace some that have gone too woody and untidy, Ferns to add to our collection and stock our new “raised fernery” and more Ivies to cover concrete fence posts.”
“Hebes “Purple Shamrock”, Bronze Glow” and “Mrs Winder” and Ferns, “Polystichum setiferum “Plumosum Densum”, Dryopteris affinis “Polydactyla Dadds”, “Dryopteris austriaca “Crispa Whiteside” and Cyrtomium falcatum.”
“We have also been busy dividing perennials such as Sedums.”
“Secret beneath the snow! When the snow drifts melted and once again our golden flint gravel could shine in our Beth Chatto Garden, we found a sad looking perennial stem and its seedheads. It usually stands firmly upright as a statuesque reminder of its summer and autumn beauty. Eryngium pandanifolium can grow to 7ft tall, its spiny flower stem rising from a grass-like batch of equally spiky foliage. The flowers are coloured a strange dusky maroon colour.”
I painted this secret with water-colour pencils and artist pens in greys and blacks.
My final page in my entries for March features a quotation from a nature writer, John Lewis-Stempel and considered how it relates to our own patch.
“The nature writer, John Lewis-Sempel, in his new book titled “The Wood” wrote of March, “Robin sings with gusto, trying different refrains, experimenting. He is the philosophical songbird.
Hedgehogs now out of hibernation from their watertight nests of grass and moss. As I’m sitting in my chair one shuffles absentmindedly over my wellingtoned feet.
The wood is “filling out”. There are no longer clear views through the trees. Gone is the sense of space, and light. The trees are crowding in.
The blackbird has finished her nest in the Elm. The nest is a perfect bowl, of grass, straw and twigs and plastered inside with mud. Years will pass, but the mud cup will last.”
Here at our Avocet garden we have virtually no fresh leaves open yet just bursting buds on just a few shrubs and trees. House Sparrows are nesting vigorously now collecting nest materials and at the end of the month we observed a Robin busy building a nest in a Robin nesting box we had made and put up in the Shade Garden.
In every other way Spring is slow to show any enthusiasm.
Our next visit to my garden journal will be in April when we hope Spring may have made some effort to get underway.