With each passing day the light extends, the sun rises a minute earlier and life in the garden begins again. The birds are a plenty and returning to the bird boxes, the solitary bees are checking out the insect house and that feeling of sunshine on my face brings contentment.
After months of dark, gloomy and cold days there is hope of another season of growth. I’m excited to spend time outside and am already busy pulling out the pesky weeds that seem to awaken from their winter slumber earlier than anything else. The exquisite golden daffodils pushing through the frozen ground remind us of the resilience of nature and of new beginnings. I am content, I am safe and filled with hope for this year – I am lucky.
Ukraine accounts for 25% of the world’s sunflower seed production. In addition, around 57 percent of total world exports of sunflower oil come from Ukraine (State Statistics Service of Ukraine). It must be a magnificent sight to take in all the fields of yellow as the crop matures contrasting with the wide blue of the sky – the national flag embodies this beauty. This year I’ll be planting sunflowers to honour the brave people of Ukraine who are faced with the unbelievable horror of war and the destruction of life. Plant sunflowers in recognition of their struggle and their hope for a future of freedom.
While the sunny days of March may fool us into thinking that summer is on the way and it might be time to unwrap our tender plants, take a breath and remember that while freezing nights turn the bird bath into a mini ice rink its really still too early! Check your wrapped plants and on sunny days by all means loosen the fabric to allow for a little movement of air but keep an eye on the overnight predicted temperatures and cover them up again at night. Having made it through the winter it is a shame to lose or damage plants with the cold.
I have plenty of pots of bulbs on my terrace. I love to see the green shoots develop into beautiful irises or narcissus. Some pots only have a few bulbs because I over plant them with winter shrubs, hellebores and pansies and some big ones are packed only with layers of bulbs. The smallest planted at the top like crocus followed by narcissus and then tulips. This means my pots bring me flower and colour from February until May. If you only have a balcony or terrace it’s a great way of bringing long lasting colour to your pots. When they have finished I often dig them up and plant them in the garden where they will multiply and re-bloom the following year. I especially enjoy doing this with narcissus, they multiply beautifully and now I have clumps of many different varieties which I cut for the house.
If you didn’t manage to plant bulbs in the autumn fear not take a trip to your local garden centre or DIY shop where you’ll find a wide variety of bulbs already in bloom. These pots should really be kept outside but could come indoors for an evening to decorate a table for a dinner.
My biggest task at this time of the year is to add bags and bags of new soil to my beds. Gardening on clay can be quite unforgiving. In the hot sun the soil bakes and dries out, it turns to concrete and the water just runs off it. By adding humus, leaf mould, home-made compost and a few bags of store bought goodness I try to avoid the concrete look. I should mention that while clay soil takes a while to warm up in the spring, it remains warm for much longer in the autumn thus allowing for greater cropping and a splendid show of flowers until well into October.
While I’m very eager to clear up after the winter, I do try to leave much of the garden undisturbed. I’ll weed around the roses which is easy now before they put on too much growth but I’ll leave the winter debris and leaves which may be housing hedgehogs, mice and lots of insects and I’ll enjoy watching the birds flitting in and out of these areas with nest building on their minds.
At this time of year I keep the bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds and I pull out a small round table with two chairs so that I can enjoy a cup of tea and take it all in. I’m invariably accompanied by my dog, a robin or two and occasionally my preferred garden helper, hence the second chair.
I’m eager to start sowing seeds and thrilled to have a small stock of Grace Alexander seeds again this year. I’ve got sweet peas and flowers for cutting and flowers for bees. If you are interested drop me a note and I’ll send you the list. Last year’s stock is 50% off as the seed viability reduces gently after the first year.
Sweet pea seeds love a long root run and I usually to planting the seeds in empty toilet rolls, I’ll fold a small double layer of newspaper over an open end and secure it with string, fill the toilet roll pot with seed compost and start sowing. The beauty of this is that the whole pot can be planted out into the garden when the seedling are ready, usually in May. However on a recent trip home I found a set of deep pots and carried them carefully back in my hand luggage, yes I am mad – do let me know if you see them locally.
It wouldn’t be spring without a mention of the boxwood caterpillar. Check you plants, hand pick and destroy small infestations and consider treating with Delfin from Andermatt Biogarten twice a year if you have issues.
The season of the plant market is about to start and after little or no activity in this area for the past two years I am excited to support the organizers of these events and the small growers who return with their plants. Here are a few ideas for you diaries. Camélia en Fête, Château des Cologny, 26-27 March. If camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas are your thing this event in Cessy, 15 kms from Geneva is the place for you. The plants come from a specialized nursery near Lucca in Tuscany, their expert grower who manages the production will be present to answer your questions about growing these beauties. Journées des Plantes au Lac d’Aiguebelette, 2-3 April, about 40 minutes south of Annecy this market brings growers and vendors from all over France. Premier Marché aux plantes de printemps, Arboretum du vallon de l’Aubonne, 14-15 May. We are familiar with the autumn market but now for the first time a spring event will be held at the Arboretum. This small but jam-packed market with a number of growers from Vaud and Valais should not be missed. Its also a great excuse to enjoy the arboretum if you have not already visited. Marché de printemps de la ville de Vernier on Saturday 7 May, is where you will find heritage varieties of vegetables and salads from the Swiss association Pro Specia Rara. Marché au Plantons, Ferme de Budé in Petit Saconnex in Geneva is delighted to welcome you back for this lovely event. The organic and Geneva grown seedlings can be reserved on-line in advanced until 15 April and will be ready for collection at the Marché on Saturday 7 May.
Keep an eye out for the opening days and events of the big gardens in the area including the Château de Prangins near Nyon, the Château de Vullieriens above Morges and the Jardin des cinq sens in Yvoire.
I’m delighted to be continuing my collaboration with L’heure du Thé and am planning two gardening workshops to complement the vente de printemps 6-8 May in Chéserex. The workshops will be held outdoors in the beautiful walled garden the first on edible aromatic containers, Wednesday 4 May and summer floral containers on Thursday 5 May. Let me know if you’d like to sign up.
Enjoy this gentle return to the garden.