03 April 2013 By Billy Hawkins
The Spring equinox has come and gone, the clocks sprang forward but the spring weather has not sprung and I haven’t got a spring in my step – yet.
On the 5th March, a Tuesday, seared into my memory as it may be the only piece of summer we get (only kidding), the sun shone, the birds sang and Brimstone butterflies cavorted along the hedgerow. I love these butterflies in their sunny yellow finery as they display and bicker along their territories. The males emerge first, after sleeping away the winter in thickets of ivy and other dense vegetation to patrol ceaselessly along their ‘patch’. Other males venture onto their territory and suddenly there is a flurry of activity as they tumble and soar together. After a few days of posturing and defining territories, the females emerge. They have a similar leaf-shaped wing but are pale, almost white and are often mistaken for the dreaded cabbage white butterfly but they are not interested in your brassicas! Sadly, the weather was only suitable for one day of fluttering and now I expect they are sulking in the vegetation waiting for warmer days – as am I.
However, on that sunny day, we were able to start on the annual spring clean-up on the nursery. All my container-grown plants have a layer of compost (plus any weeds) removed from the top and agood helping of new clean compost added as a top dressing. This gives the plant some extra nutrients as well as making them look fresh and healthy. At the same time I clean the grit beds they stand on of weeds and other accumulated debris. I stand my plants on grit beds rather than on black membrane as it keeps them cooler, and moisture retained in the grit will increase the humidity around the roots, lessening the chance of them desiccating from heat – what heat I hear you exclaim! It also means that I do not have to water so frequently, which is good for sustainability as well as my pocket!
Since then winter has returned with a vengeance. I guess it is my fault because I was heard to say in early March that I thought the worst of the winter was over. Well that came back to bite me on the...
So what to do? Well not a lot really. There is little to be gained by planting or sowing too early especially tender annuals and perennials. The ground is cold and plants have been sensible and not started into growth. I still have several different snowdrops in flower as well as winter aconite and Scilla mischtschenkoana ‘Tubergeniana’ (what a long name for an early spring squill), which are usually in flower at the end of January, supplying nectar for bees foraging after a long winter. Time is best spent cleaning out the garden shed, tool and mower maintenance and girding your loins for everything that will need to be done all at once! (Image: Scilla mischtschenkoana ‘Tubergeniana’)
For me it is a little more worrying. I need to produce several plants for the Chelsea Flower Show Gardens and time is of the essence. Germination has been slow, erratic and rather poor this year and plants that were potted 6 weeks ago have barely started into growth. No matter how much I breathe on them, cajole or even downright swear at them, they have steadfastly refused to budge. A hint of sunshine and somehow they look better and you can see them growing in front of your eyes. But sunshine has been severely lacking and light levels have been on the scale of grey, mud and drab. Not much reason to burst into growth or song.
But it will get better and seasons do have a habit of catching up. Never mind that you may have oriental poppies flowering at the same time as your daffodils or tulips doing their thing along with the Delphiniums. It gives each season something new to admire or moan about – would we have it any other way?