Gardener's ramblings - spring 2017
Anna Tolfree, one of the hard-working gardeners at Stowe, invites us to explore the the month of March, and describes beautifully what the approach of spring means to gardeners everywhere.
I love March. Quite a bold statement I know, but it holds so much promise for one small month. It heralds the start of Spring, the possibility of warm sunshine on your back (enough to take your coat off sometimes and revel in the warmth), the birds really start to sing and chatter to one another while hurrying around gathering nesting material, a true burst of colour from all the spring bulbs you carefully planted back in Autumn will start to slowly appear as emerald green spears shooting through the dark soil and of course the sowing of seeds for the garden. It is this last one that really excites me. Even now as I am writing this I am sat next to a propagator full of seedlings strongly growing in their warm environment. It is this excitement that gets me through winter, that’s not to say I don’t like winter with its wonderfully frosty mornings that make gardens look beautiful with the frosted dead seedheads and the bright evergreens almost glowing within the garden, but, by the time I get to February I am ready for a change.
It all starts in January for me with the flicking through the numerous seed catalogues that we all get sent and the excitement of thinking what I can grow this year in the garden. Sometimes it might be old favourites that I don’t think any garden should be without, like Sweetpeas with their glorious fragrance that can be enjoyed both in the garden and when cut inside as well, Nicotiana for the same beautiful fragrance and beautiful trumpet shaped flowers , Calendulas for their beautiful simplicity of bright orange daisy like flowers and I could go on but there to many to mention as I am sure you also have your favourites you wouldn’t be without. So as well as the old favourites are the new varieties that the seed companies have produced for us to try to tempt us down different paths and make us try something new, which may become another staple we want in our garden. For me at Stowe I have to be careful and cannot run away with the excitement of new varieties as I might at home in my own garden for we want to keep the history of Stowe and for this reason we only grow trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and seeds that were available in the 18th century. You may think this is boring but we want to create a sense of how the garden would have looked down to the last detail. This involves us checking the date of introduction of anything we want to introduce into the garden which in itself is fascinating as it is amazing how early on some of the trees and shrubs were being bought over to this country. So I will carry on this month sowing more seeds under protection and potting them on into their own pots to steadily grow stronger under glass before they are taken into the garden to be enjoyed by our many visitors.
The pruning for us has all but finished as nesting season officially begins on 1st March so we end our pruning season by this day to let them have their privacy in rearing their young. With the end of pruning begins the other tasks I need to complete this month. I have grass encroaching over gravel paths that should be straight but as the grass creeps ever forward I must get it back in line, which is sometimes a difficult and back breaking task, but when finished it looks so much better for it. This will also be carried out in areas where the grass is encroaching on flower beds. It is a good time of year to do it as it neatens up the borders and makes the task of clipping the lawn edges later on in the year easier. Oh and I mustn’t forget the glorious task of weeding. I have to admit I don’t mind weeding as the difference afterwards can be so pleasing to eye and is also essential to ensure that when your herbaceous perennials, bulbs or annuals start to grow they want the best possible start without being choked by weeds. I will also be planting out more shrubs in different areas of the garden, some where there are already borders and I am gap filling and others in new areas of the garden that we have been busy restoring and will soon be open to the public.
I shall be keeping an eye out for all the new growth that heralds Springs arrival with the start of the buds on trees and shrubs starting to uncurl themselves from their long winter sleep and slowly yawn and stretch their way open. I shall be looking for the wonderful bright and cheerful yellow nodding heads of the Daffodils (that make even the grumpiest of souls smile when they see them), the tiny purple jewels of the Crocus and the bright sapphire blue of Scilla sibirica. These last beauties are such an intense blue next to the dark soil and even on the cloudiest of days shine out. I shall carefully weed my way round all of these while they put on their glorious display until the next lot of beautiful Spring bulbs appear next month. All of these can be found in around the garden hiding in little corners where they have carefully self-seeded themselves or right out in the open in large swathes for all to see and enjoy. So enjoy the start of spring for its warmth and excitement of seed sowing ready for the year ahead.