Well, I suppose spring is here. Sort of. And very wet and soggy it is too. And it is being very capricious and threatening to flounce off again at the weekend. I am late in the month to show my favourites, but after so much cold and ice most of them seemed reluctant to put in an appearance. And who can blame them? But at last my favourite March shrub Stachyurus praecox is displaying its dangling yellow beads. I love the way these flowers appear on dark brown branches before the leaves. I used to have one with creamy variegated leaves called Stachyurus chinensis ‘Magpie’ and that solved the problem of a dull looking shrub in summer. I haven’t seen it offered for sale for a long time.
Flowering currants are coming into bloom now. But I don’t count the ubiquitous pink Ribes sanguineum as a favourite. I have a white one which is much prettier in my eyes. It is Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicle’. I like it with the ghostly white bramble Rubus biflorus behind. The ‘ghost’ on the left of the picture is my Edgeworthia chrysantha which is draped in fleece to protect it from ongoing frosty nights.
Ribes laurifolium is a very special flowering currant with clusters of creamy green flowers. If you want to buy this plant then look out for the one named ‘Mrs. Amy Doncaster’ as it is the best form. It is very floriferous and more compact. These plants do tend to sprawl and so they look lovely trained up a wall. The flowers are slightly scented and they don’t smell of old tom cats like the pink one.
My favourite blossom tree is at its best in March. Prunus ‘Kursar’ is a small tree which is laden with small dark pink flowers.
Another cherry looking good in March is the winter flowering Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’. In milder winters it blooms throughout the winter months, but not this year.
My third March blossom tree is the one which lives in the old greenhouse. (Not the shiny new one, obviously. ) This is an apricot, Prunus armeniaca and bees are busy working it and ensuring me a good crop of apricots this year. It is supposed to be a dwarf but has ideas above its station and keeps making a bid for freedom through the upper windows. I have had to cut it back this year.
Cornus mas has clusters of little yellow flowers in March and a full grown one is a glorious sight against a blue sky.It has edible fruit in autumn.
March is daffodil time of course, I have inherited carpets of these in the orchard. I don’t know the names of any of these large flowered ones as they don’t excite me enough to bother learning them. I love the dainty, small ones. In the greenhouse I have the exquisite, pure white Narcissus ‘Xit’. I am sure it would be tough enough to live outside but I like it at eye level so that I can croon over it in comfort.
When Wordsworth waxed lyrical about his ‘host of golden daffodils’, he was talking about our lovely native Narcissus pseudonarcissus which seeds around generously. I love to grow it with primroses.
Narcissus ‘February Gold’ is another good early one for naturalising. It is badly named though because it never blooms until March.
To go with all the yellow in March it is lovely to have some sky blue flowers spreading into little lakes. Chionodoxa luciliae does just this. Its name means Glory of the Snow , ‘chion’ is ‘winter and ‘doxa’ is glory. It grows just below the snow line in the mountains of Turkey.
For years I used to confuse chionodoxa with little Prussian blue Scilla siberica. I had to remind myself that chionodoxas put their chins up and scillas look down. Actually scillas are a much deeper blue.
I also have a very pretty little starry form of scilla called Scilla biflora but it does not spread as fast as Scilla siberica. I read in Bowles ‘My Garden in Spring‘ that if you grow scillas and chionodoxas together you get seedlings of a bi-generic hybrid called Chionoscilla, so I shall give that a go.
Another little blue treasure with striped flowers is Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica which is a long name for such a diminutive flower.
Chionodoxas come in pink too. This is Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’ which is pretty but not as special as the blue one.
OK, you are thinking that I am featuring more than ten blooms, and I admit that I am cheating a bit by counting all the ribes as one, all the prunus as one and all the little blue and pink jobs just mentioned as one. I know it is stretching it a bit, but I do need space to feature one of my absolute favourite March blooms and then there are three more in the greenhouse that I want to show you. So a little sleight of hand is necessary.
Corydalis is Greek for ‘crested lark’ and what a lovely name for these little darlings. Corydalis solida comes in red, ‘George’ Baker’ or pink, ‘Beth Evans’ . I also have the pretty creamy white one called Corydalis malkensis , mauve Corydalis cava and Corydalis pumila. They all grow together and hybridise in a delightful way. One hybrid is the delightful named Corydalis ‘Blackerry Wine’. They soon make little tubers, but in summer they disappear from view so you have to be careful not to put a fork through them.
Now for three pretty plants in the greenhouse. Clematis cirrhosa might sound like a horrible disease, but it is a winter- flowering clematis which is supposed to be hardy. But I don’t really believe it could come through a winter like this one unscathed and so Clematis cirrhosa. var. balearica lives in a pot on a shelf in my new greenhouse where it can cascade downwards and delight me with its unblemished creamy bell-like flowers.
And now for something completely different. Its flowering is eagerly awaited every spring. It is the Chilean Nasturtium, Tropaeolum tricolor which grows from tubers. Each winter it puts out very fragile, wiry stems which need something to grow up. I have a friend who grew this successfully in a very sheltered courtyard garden, but I have tried it against a warm south facing wall and lost it, so now it lives in the greenhouse where its bright red face with a gaping yellow mouth edged with black lipstick can be enjoyed at close quarters. I have recently acquired the closely-related,yellow flowered Tropaeolum brachyceras and I am eagerly waiting to see its flowers.
As it will be Easter this week end I shall finish with a plant that is known as the Easter Broom. It is called Genista x spachiana, although there seems to be some confusion as to its name and it is sometimes listed as a Cytisus. I have seen this growing outside but I prefer to keep it safe in the greenhouse. It is so deliciously fragrant that I would recommend it for its scent alone although it is very floriferous.
Next month I shall need to use even more stratagems to feature just ten favourites because there are so many treasures just waiting for a bit of sun to claim my attention and compete for the title of favourite April blooms. In the meantime, I would love it if you would share your March favourites.