Work for the week

Late March through to mid April is a wonderful time to go walking in beech and broadleaf woodland for it is still pellucid and mysterious.

Later, when the leaves are fully expanded it will become enclosed, curtained off and darkened from the outside world. Until then, we can admire wood anemones and bluebells, essential constituents (along with primroses) of the spring tapestry now showing in all shady places. Those anemones in white and pink move and wander about at will, sometimes emerging between massed tree trunks where little else seems to grow while others move further to where the light catches their nodding blooms. In light or shade they love to dance in the March wind, harmonising with everything, and clashing with nothing. Take a walk on the wild side this weekend.

MAGNOLIAS: It surprises me every year that I do not have a magnolia tree. Gardening is like that though. I write about the best varieties and admire them from afar, but because of perceived space limitations the acquisition, the dream; the expectation, is never fulfilled. Am I too content to watch spring after spring pass from youthfulness to maturity without the delight of purple chalices under-planted with blue Muscari outside the bedroom window? Perhaps, before my weekly writing and very active gardening ceases I should invest in that tidy-sized variety called liliiflora nigra, for in a nearby garden it blooms stunningly. The effect is breathtaking. Then again it may be the case that one admires more what one does not have. What a funny lot we gardeners are.

LAMBS: Nearby fields are now dotted with tiny lambs, which show up clearly against the pale green of the new grass. Most are like fluffy white dots but among them are a few black ones. Rarely does one see a fully grown black sheep; their fleeces I suspect are not marketable, and so, such tiny creatures must go to the butcher. Lambs to the slaughter.

SWEET PEA: If you sowed sweet peas under glass late last year or earlier this spring then they’ll soon need planting out. They can still be sown outdoors now that we are into March, putting them directly where they’re to flower. Push the fairly large seeds about an inch deep into the soil. It would be wise to enrich the medium beforehand for these only give a good return when fed properly and watered freely.

DAFFODILS: If your daffodil blooms are being eaten despite the laying of slug and snail bait then blame earwigs. Like molluscs, these feed by night and sleep by day. They leave no slime trail and require neither leaf litter nor humus material in which to hide during the hours of daylight. Cracks, crevices and holes in walls are their favoured hiding places and unless the weather is extremely cold they’ll remain active every month. Just now their favourite food is daffodil blooms. Not the leaves mind you, but the opened and sometimes not so opened blooms. A few puffs of Kill-Ant powder (or any ant-killing product) sprinkled around the base of daffodils will settle the problem for good.

JAPANESE ANEMONES: The flowers of Japanese anemones are undeniably exquisite — in glistening white or many shades of pink — and last through several weeks in autumn, unblemished, defying even the early frosts. Clumps are best divided not in autumn but in spring, and late spring at that. In spite of the plant’s vigour (some would say invasiveness), divisions frequently die if taken at any other time. Garden centre plants can be put in now (if you have never had them), taking advantage of the increasing light and rising temperatures to quickly establish.

LOVE IN A MIST: As suggested last year, the sowing of a tiny area with an annual called Nigella brought joy to numerous gardeners. Try to do similar this spring. Commonly referred to as ‘Love in a Mist’, it aptly describes the misty-blue flowers which lie half-hidden within the plant’s finely-cut foliage. It has been grown by generations of gardeners, although nowadays multi-coloured forms are grown as well as the traditional cornflower blue. Nigella is very easily grown, but for fine bushy plants you should dig in compost or manure before sowing the seeds. The dried seed-heads are also widely used by flower arrangers and anyone can copy their harvesting methods. Simply wait until these are well developed then cut with fine long stems and hang upside down in an outhouse or airy room to dry. They’ll be fully aired in a fortnight or so. Left on the plants, the seed heads will eventually open to scatter their contents about the garden so that you’ll never be without them again.


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