Gardener's ramblings: March

Three arches guide water from one lake into another at Stowe with a dusting of snow.
Published : 21 Mar 2018

Gardener Anna Tolfree takes you through the triumphs and tribulations of her latest work in March at Stowe in this behind the scenes blog.

Spring is here! I remember writing once saying that March was my favourite month and describing how everything in the garden starts waking up this month and how much I enjoy it. Well it’s the 1 of March today and as I’m writing it’s currently (not kidding) a blizzard of snow outside with a temperature of at least – 4c and 40mph winds. It couldn’t feel further from feeling like the start of spring today.

The team have been busy clearing the gardens and New Inn from snow after heavy snowfall from 'The beast from the east'
Four people clear pathways of snow with shovels at Stowe
The team have been busy clearing the gardens and New Inn from snow after heavy snowfall from 'The beast from the east'

These sustained cold temperatures will really test not just us gardeners but also our plants. Normally with very cold frosty days during winter we worry about our plants that are in pots as they can get frozen very easily. The frost causes the water in plant cells to freeze, damaging the cell wall. Frost-damaged plants are easy to spot; their growth becomes limp, blackened and distorted. Evergreen plants often turn brown.

It’s often made worse where plants face the morning sun, as this causes them to defrost quickly, rupturing their cell walls. Even hardy plants and tough evergreens that are in beds can also be damaged by prolonged spells of severe cold when soil becomes frozen. Roots are unable to take up water and plants die from lack of moisture. All you can do is wait it out until the weather has warmed up enough and check plants over for any damage. If the plant has survived but has damaged areas these can be pruned out and then give the plant or shrub a feed as this will help it regain some of its healthy vigour for the start of the spring growing season.

On to warmer thoughts when spring does bring us some warmer, sunnier weather and we can really get out into the garden and start enjoying ourselves. Seeds can be sown for the garden in the form of annuals, vegetables or even grass seed.  It’s this last task that I shall be doing.  I’ve been restoring an area of the Western Garden called the Labyrinth for the last two years and am finally finishing off the last few jobs, one of these is the grass paths.

Getting stuck in, the team from Nuffield Health lent a helping hand with mulching in the Labyrinth at Stowe
A group of adults bend over with shovels muching at stowe
Getting stuck in, the team from Nuffield Health lent a helping hand with mulching in the Labyrinth at Stowe

The Labyrinth has winding grass paths running through evergreen shrubberies. The shrubs and trees have now been planted, so now I need to remove old tree stumps from the path areas, then I can rotivate the soil, rake it level and then sow the grass seed. By the end of April I hope to have all the grass paths open within the Labyrinth for people to able to enjoy this newly restored area.

Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Eighteenth century plan of the Labyrinth in the Western Garden of Stowe, Buckinghamshire

I shall also be repairing the grass in various areas around the garden but especially in the secluded area behind the Temple of Venus. Mole hills have been numerous this year, especially in this part of the garden. This is one of the areas at Stowe where we hold weddings and events, so I need to start repairing the lawn sooner rather than later so it will look good for our peak event season.

The Temple of Venus glows in the sunlight at Stowe
A bright sky is above the Temple of Venus at Stowe. The Temple has a centre room with portico and steps, adjoined to two curved wings of colonnades and pavilions. It's finished in golden coloured stone, with four busts in niches.
The Temple of Venus glows in the sunlight at Stowe

Of course, there are benefits to mole hills and a big one is the soil....it is beautiful. It's fantastic for use in seed sowing as the moles have made the texture of the soil wonderfully fine and crumbly, so I’m always secretly pleased I have a few mole hills to be used for this purpose. Once the excess soil has been removed the bare patch of soil is given a light raking then grass seed applied and then raked again. As long as the weather is warm and the ground is kept damp from a few rain showers the grass should start to grow within a week or so and within a month the patch should be barely noticeable.

These cheeky moles leave hills across the gardens
A black furry creature with pink pointy nose pokes it's head out of a mud hill. Its a cheeky mole
These cheeky moles leave hills across the gardens

Other jobs I want to complete this month are the final bits of tidying within the garden. Cutting back of dead herbaceous growth that was left to provide winter interest with frosted seed heads, which is also good for wildlife over winter. I’m also still clearing the last of the leaves from autumn....they keep appearing from somewhere. But most importantly I shall enjoy watching the first few spring bulbs with their emerald green spears emerging from the soil after their long winter sleep.

Happy Gardening