Kathy's Garden Diary

March 2018

Ramblings of a Mileham Gardener

by Kathy Gray

I am writing this on the last day of February 2018 with thick snow on the ground – the most we have seen in Mileham for several years. However, before the snow descended, there was quite a lot out in the garden – snowdrops of course, along with aconites, crocus, Cyclamen coum, (as opposed to Cyclamen hederifolium which flowers in autumn) some hellebores and the delightful Iris reticulata. Pictured is Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ and I am also particularly fond of the cultivar ‘Harmony’, a velvety dark blue iris, touched with white and yellow. The problem with these little iris is that they do not always come back year after year. However, I still think they are worth planting for the pleasure they give at this time of the year. They do well potted up in the autumn and kept in a cold frame over winter ready to be put on show in February/March. An early iris that does endure is Iris unguicularis – also pictured. These tough plants, which are scented, will flower as early as December and carry on through to March. They thrive in a dry, stony soil so will flourish where other plants will not. They do, though, need to be planted in sun.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Photo: © Tony Gray

Iris unguicularis

Photo: © Tony Gray

Plants that are also reliable include the winter flowering shrubs. My absolute favourite is Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. See the photo. Not only are the flowers so attractive but the scent is absolutely wonderful. For a number of years, it was nigh on impossible to get hold of this plant for various reasons, but now they are available again and I know that Trevor Harrison has some in stock at Creake Plants, priced £14.50! You may also like Sarcococca – another evergreen shrub with insignificant but highly scented flowers. Or how about Garrya elliptica –again an evergreen shrub, good on a North wall and with long decorative catkins. No scent admittedly, but again a plant which will provide some ‘bones’ in the garden throughout the year.

Once the earth has warmed a little we can really get busy again and one job that is always worth doing is to mulch the flower beds. It stops weeds (but weed first before applying!), feeds the soil and keeps in moisture. Use well rotted farmyard manure, processed conifer bark, leafmould, spent mushroom compost – there are a number of alternatives. Fairhaven Water Garden sell bags of wonderful leafmould. Well worth the effort of driving there to pick some up. You get 4 bags for about £12.

If you like them (and who doesn’t) it’s time to sow sweet peas if you did not do so in the autumn. I still always soak the seeds, although I’m not sure it’s totally necessary these days. If possible, sow in root trainers or deep pots as they have long roots. Put them somewhere sheltered – a greenhouse for instance as they will need some warmth to germinate. Once they are about 4 inches high pinch out the tips to get better growth. I am just planting Lathyrus odoratus ‘Cupani’ an old fashioned sweet pea with smaller flower, but wonderful scent.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Photo: © Tony Gray

If you haven’t already done so, prune late flowering clematis cultivars belonging to group three (mainly the viticella type) to just above a low pair of healthy buds 15 – 30cm above soil level. Cut back Buddleja to knee height and also cut back grasses such as Pennisetums and Miscanthus before they get too far into growth, although I found to my cost just before the snow that they are already growing!

Take this time to look at your garden and think what, if anything, needs changing. Do you need more evergreen shrubs so you have interest all year round and have you enough foliage and form in the garden? Flowers are lovely and essential, but plants with good form and foliage can add a lot to a garden. How about some coloured stems such as Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ with its red stems over winter or perhaps a small tree with interesting bark such as Prunus serrula? Are all the plants ‘earning their keep’? Sometimes we hang on to shrubs or perennials that are past their best or have never done well – be bold and take them out. After the initial shock, you will enjoy choosing something else for that spot.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the NGS yellow book and the St John’s Ambulance leaflet – both available in Mileham Village Shop- so you can plan some garden visits later in the year.

Above all, enjoy your gardening!