Well spring has definitely sprung even if many people are too sunk in apocalypse gloom to notice much. But as gardeners we do notice and being outside in our own little kingdoms is a wonderful way to escape from the stress of it all and reconnect with nature. I saw my first yellow brimstone butterfly yesterday, necklaces of black toadspawn decorate the pond, bees are buzzing and the birds are rejoicing. And the sun is shining. So come with me and see my top ten March blooms. There is so much to chose from, but I want to select blooms from the whole month and not just now.
Early each March I rave about Azara microphylla. It has glossy, green leaves and the flowers are tiny and insignificant. But it is the most fragrant plant in the garden and the delicious vanilla scent travels several metres. I would like to have this tree dotted about all over the garden so that the scent would be everywhere. It comes from Chile and a hard winter can damage it, so mine is in a sheltered spot and it has always recovered from any frost blackening. It is incredible that such tiny flowers pack such an olfactory punch.
Edgeworthia chrysantha is another slightly tender shrub, its beautiful, custard -yellow flowers actually smell a bit like custard if you get up close and sniff them. They can get damaged by frost. Last year I covered mine up with fleece but I didn’t bother this year. The flowers emerge from silky white buttons and they have a hairy appearance. This shrub is native to China and Japan where its flaky bark is used to make expensive paper.
Scented flowers always come top of the list and the vigorous Clematis armandii is very sweetly scented. You can get it in pink or white. The star-shaped flowers are borne in great abundance.
Still on the scented theme I have Osmanthus burkwoodii. It has small evergreen leaves, not unlike those of Azara microphylla. The clusters of jasmine- like white flowers are very strongly scented .
March is the month for Flowering Currant and in terms of scent we are going from deliciously scented, to a flower which a lot of people say says smells of cat pee . But I quite like it because it smells of spring and childhood to me; when I was small every garden used to have one. I have dug up loads of the pink Ribes sanguineum from all over the garden but I have left one bush as it is so lovely for early vases and if you pick it in bud the flowers turn out white. And as you see the bees love it.
The true white one, Ribes sanguineum ‘White Icicles’ is much more sophisticated and blooms earlier at the beginning of March.
Even more sophisticated is Ribes laurifolium ‘Amy Doncaster’ with large clusters of chartreuse-green flowers. It comes from China. This plant sprawls about rather and is better if you train it up something, it doesn’t grow much taller than 1 metre. There are other varieties available but none of them has such large clusters of flowers as Amy.
Ribes speciosum is a weird kind of gooseberry with lovely shiny leaves and dangly ear ring-like flowers which look like fuchshias. I grow it against a south facing wall as it is not reliably hardy . But it does scream against the red bricks, I would prefer a white background. It comes come California.
And now the cherry blossom is starting and will come in waves throughout April. My March ones start with the neat Prunus ‘Kursar’ which blooms right at the beginning of the month. This has lovely dark blossom and a good leaf colour in autumn. It is one of Cherry Ingram’s hybrids and if I had a small garden and could only have one cherry, this would be it.
To the left of the tree above is the grassy path which I have been waiting all winter to make into a proper path. At last the sog has dried up a bit and it will shortly be transformed. I haven’t got the brick laying skills of Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who knocks up brick walls and paths all the time with the greatest of ease. So mine will be a much simpler affair.
The slow growing shrub Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is pretty in winter with its tangle of criss-cross branches and now it is a joy with its palest pink blooms. ‘Ko-jo-no mai’ means ‘flight of the butterflies’ which is appropriate if you think of the flowers as really small butterflies. All Prunus incisa varieties are known as Mount Fuji cherries because this is where they grow wild.
In the front garden I have weeping white cherry which someone else planted years before we came here. I like it because I find white blossom irresistible. I think it is the weeping Fuji cherry.
I have some more ornamental cherries in my maids -in-waiting area.
I shall plant them in the huge area reclaimed from the encroaching hedgerow last autumn. I have waited all winter for the area to dry out and now because of the plague I can’t get hold of a man with a rotavator. So I am going to have to get out there with my spade. I dare say it will do me good -or possibly kill me; it is about 30 metres long.
Stachyurus praecox is a delight in March. It has pendant strings of primrose -yellow beads hanging from its naked branches. Actually, ‘beads’ is not the right word, if you look at them closely they are like little bells. It is supposed to like slightly acidic soil but it does very well for me. It comes from Japan where it grows along forest edges. I don’t know why more people don’t grow it as it is a beautiful shrub.
So far I have featured trees and shrubs, but the flower beds right now look like Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’, except without the orange trees and the nymphs of course. Having said that, the famous picture does feature Chloris, although nobody who meets me could confuse me with a swan-necked nymph. Or any kind of nymph.
Spring flowers are a special joy and there is an abundance of them now. Seeding everywhere if you start with just a few, are the dear little Corydalis in shades of pink, blue and purple. I saw it growing wild last year in the Gargano region of Italy. The name is Greek and it means ‘crested larks’ which is pretty if a little fanciful. I have not got to grips with the difference between Corydalis solida and Corydalis cava; ok, I know the first has solid roots and the second, hollow, but I am not going to dig them up to look at their roots. I have bought several named ones over the years but they seed around merrily in a range of colours. The pink Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ has many pink children but the red ‘George Baker’ seems to disappear. As for the glorious blue ones, they don’t last and they don’t seed around, at least not in my garden.
March is also the time for a pretty, compact, little pea which is perennial and grows into ever bigger clumps. It is called Lathyrus vernus. It is native to forests in parts of Europe and Siberia but mine grows happily in full sun. The pink form Lathyrus vernus ‘Alboroseus’ comes into bloom first.
And now the purple form is flowering too and I notice it has had a baby.
I am a little frightened to grow too many euphorbia since my daughter had to go to A&E a couple of years ago after rubbing her eyes after handling it, even though she had washed her hands. She was lucky that there was no permanent damage. The white, sticky sap of these plants is awful stuff; if you get it on your skin and go into the sun you will get terrible blisters. We gardeners grow many poisonous plants but this one is to be respected. But still they are a lovely sight in spring and I can’t be without the glowing buttercup yellow bracts of Euphorbia polychroma which grows from neat rosettes.
I couldn’t be without the shade loving Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae or ‘Mrs. Robb’s Bonnet’ even if I wanted to, as it romps away wherever it wants to. It is a useful plant for the shade though and the panicles of yellow flowers are a lovely sight. Mine will have the blue flowers of camassias growing through it soon. I expect you have heard the story of Mrs Robb, a Victorian lady, bringing this plant back from Turkey in her hat box. Hence the common name. I wouldn’t fancy putting this in my hat box, if I had such a thing.
I have had to miss out so many beauties; lovely blue spring flowers would fill a post of its own so maybe I will devote one to just blue flowers soon. But for now I will finish with my favourites because amongst my many plant obsessions fritillaries come up there with snowdrops and roses. So here goes. I will start with the peerless native Fritillaria meleagris, or the snake’s head fritillary. This will spread in meadows to make a pleasing Priamvera effect, as long as pheasants don’t bite all their heads off as they often do in my garden.
I love the little bells of Fritillaria michailovskyi from Turkey. This used to be rare and difficult to get hold of but Dutch nurseries have been busy propagating it so now you find it everywhere.
The flowers of the fox- smelly Crown Imperial are opening up now, I have it in yellow and orange. This is the tallest fritillary. The bell shaped flowers are topped by green tufts. They are beautiful inside too. My yellow ones come into bloom first.
And then the orange.
These lovely fritillaries have been grown in our gardens for centuries. If your clumps stop blooming, dig them up when they are dormant and replant them with some fertiliser and good compost.
The lovely plum- coloured Fritillaria persica needs a sheltered spot because it comes into growth early in the year and the emerging stems can be damaged by frost.
My favourite is the buff coloured Fritillaria verticillata which grows on tall stems with curling tendrils on the top. The bell shaped flowers are tessellated with brown pencilling inside. I have been told that this is actually Fritillaria thunbergii rather than Fritillaria verticillata. But I have studied pictures of the two and I can’t see the difference. Whatever its name this clumps up nicely over the years and is very pretty.
So here are some of the flowers which are giving me joy at the moment no matter what is happening in the world outside. Please share with us some of your favourite March blooms. It least there is no danger in getting up close and personal with your plants. As long as it is not euphorbia.