Springing into life
March is the month when it all begins to happen in the garden. The dark days of winter are behind us and the days are getting longer- in fact by the end of the month, days will be longer than nights, which is always a cheering thought. Although conditions can still be cold, windy and wet there is more warmth in the sun when it does appear and the ground is warming up too. Crocus, Hellebores, Daffodils and Fritillarias are in flower, and in hedgerows and woodlands across the country native primroses are coming into flower.

It’s time to Spring clean your garden
Fork over the soil in the borders, removing any weeds, and cut back any dead stems of perennial plants from last year, being careful of any emerging buds and young foliage. Once the borders are tidied, a feed with Fish, Blood & Bone, however gruesome it sounds, is a good idea at this time of year to nourish and enrich the soil so that it can support healthy plants. Feeding your roses now too, will encourage vigorous growth, promote larger blooms and help prevent disease.

Get extra plants for free!
Now’s a good time to divide clumps of herbaceous perennials, such as Phlox or Lupins, that have either become too large, or flowered poorly last year, or perhaps just lost some of their shape and vigour, with all the old, weak growth in the middle of the plant dying off, and all the new growth on the
outside of the plant. By lifting these, and dividing them into half, or even quarters, and replanting them, not only will you be invigorating the plant, you will also have more plants than you started with – great for giving away to friends and neighbours. Doing this every four to five years will keep your herbaceous perennials looking good and growing well, with a good shape. By lifting these, and dividing them into half, or even quarters, and replanting them, not only will you be invigorating the plant, you will also have more plants than you started with – great for giving away to friends and neighbours. Doing this every four to five years will keep your herbaceous perennials looking good and growing well, with a good shape.

Next step, mulch the soil
Mulch is simply a good covering, 5cm (2 inches) deep, of organic matter such as garden compost. If you do not have a compost heap then farmyard manure or soil improver are both sold bagged and ready for use and will do the same job. Mulching is important because it stops weed seeds from germinating, seals in winter dampness and prevents the soil from drying out, and last but not least, as it decomposes it feeds the soil helped by worms and micro organisms that break it down.

Spring favourites
With warmer days come the early spring flowering shrubs, all easy to grow and reliable, such as Chaenomeles or Flowering Quince, which is a spiny, perhaps rather untidy shrub, but easy to train against a wall or fence and producing single, large, apple blossom-shaped flowers, in shades of pink, red or peach, with double-flowered varieties available now too. The flowers are followed by green spotted fruit that turns yellow in the Autumn. It’s high in pectin so makes great quince jelly!

Another old, yet always-popular, shrub is the Forsythia, with its stems covered in bright yellow flowers. Then there is the Camellia, a spectacular plant for Spring, with large single or double flowers in all shades of pink and red, as well as white. These plants originate from the edge of woodlands, growing in dappled shade, so need a sheltered spot, away from frost and protected from hot summer sun and drying winds. Camellias need an ericaceous soil, and if your soil conditions are not suitable, they make a superb plant to grow in a large container. Another spring favourite are the Magnolias with their single, double or tulip-shaped flowers in a wide range of colours. Magnolias are a very old group of plants indeed, having been on the earth for anything between 20 and 95 million year and were originally pollinated by beetles, as they pre-dated pollinating insects such as our friends the bees by a few million years!

Turning Japanese…
Towards the end of March, ornamental cherries start coming in to blossom, with many different varieties, heights and shapes with masses of pretty white or blowsy pink blossom – and they’re easy to grow. A particularly good plant is Prunus Incisa kojou-no-mai, a dwarf, slow growing white single-flowered cherry originating from Hondo in Japan, growing to 5-6ft (150-180cm), and coming into bud now at a garden centre near you! It’s ideal for a small garden or grown in a container, and the leaves provide good Autumn colour. It looks fantastic when grown with Azaleas, Camellias, Rhododendrons, Ferns and early bulbs for a Japanese-style garden.

Finally, now’s the time to plant your spring bedding and flowering spring bulbs, as well as the herbaceous perennials available now in 1L pots, which come in bigger sizes as the season progresses.

Feasting on herbs and vegetables
If weather conditions allow, prepare the soil then sow broad beans, early lettuce, rocket, radishes, parsnips, spinach and early varieties of carrots. If the weather is mild, plant onion sets and shallots and towards the end
of March plant early potatoes, which can be protected by covering the soil with horticultural fleece. Now is also the time to sow hardy herbs and plants and divide perennial herbs such as mint.

And fruit…
Plant rhubarb and pot grown soft fruit, such as blackcurrants, white and redcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries, which will all provide good fruits for this year’s summer treats. To grow blueberries you’ll need ericaceous soil, so if the ground is not suitable, you can grow them in tubs using readily available ericaceous compost. Your tub will then provide good year-round interest via flowers, fruits, and good Autumn colour from the leaves, not forgetting all the health benefits of those little nutritional powerhouses, the blueberries themselves!health benefits of those little nutritional powerhouses, the blueberries themselves!

On a warm windowsill, or in a heated propagator, sow tomatoes, sweet peppers, aubergines and chilli peppers. And enjoy the fruits of your labours, come the summer…

Looking ahead - a summer colour bargain
Plug plants are available now in colour-coordinated packs of 8 flowering and foliage plants including geranium, osteospermum, petunia, bidens and fuchsia. These can be grown on, either in 9cm (3inch) pots, or planted up in a container, hanging basket, tub or windowbox , then grown on in a warm, frost-free greenhouse, giving you instant colour from mid-May onwards, to last throughout the summer. Not bad, for something costing well under ten pounds!

Creating your own mini garden inside
Recently there has been a lot of interest in growing groups of plants in terrariums and bottle gardens. This trend started in some ways by accident when Dr Nathaniel Ward, living in the very smoky and polluted East end of London in 1829, was keeping chrysalises of moths in sealed glass containers. Within a couple of weeks he noticed some fern seedlings growing in the soil, and that the plants were flourishing inside with the humid and damp conditions. Glass cases were subsequently developed. Known as ‘Wardian Cases’ they were used to bring back plant specimens from across the globe, and when the plants travelled in these luxury living conditions, their survival rate rose to 95%, compared to 5% previously!

Terrariums can be almost any size, from large jam jars to glass and metal terrariums, or you can use the protected environment of a large bowl or giant glass jar – it doesn’t have to be a ready-made terrarium. What to grow inside them will depend on light levels, temperatures and moisture. Open terrariums, or open-sided terrariums that have more ventilation, are better for creating a cacti garden; using cacti compost, plant up with cacti, lithops (living stones) and succulents.

Try to plan the display before planting up, with tall plants at the back, small plants at the front. Look at different colours, shapes etc for contrast. Once planted, use stones, horticultural grit or perhaps some dried bark round the plants to give that dessert feel. Flat stones look particularly good, and for children, feel free to add a small model dinosaur!

For an enclosed container, try your hand at a tropical planting scheme using bromeliads, ferns, chamaedorea (parlour palms) and fittonias, or create an air plant garden using just tillandsia (airplants) and bark.

Terrariums also provide ideal conditions for growing the fascinating and slightly sinister-looking Carnivorous plants like Nepenthes, Sarracenias, Venus Fly Traps and Drosera (Sundews). You can add pieces of bark and moss, using moss from the lawn is fine, providing moss killer has not been used. Remember to use special carnivorous compost for planting up, and water with rainwater, which is what these little insect-eaters love. It’s easy to maintain your miniature landscape, and it can look really natural within the house.

Looking forward to sunnier times ahead
Next month, we’ll be looking at lawn care. Until then, keep safe and well, and remember the Van Hage team is here to help with any gardening questions you may have. Enjoy the Springtime and happy gardening.
The Van Hage Team