Head Gardeners blog: March

10 March 2023

March is here and we can see the wonderful signs of spring all around us.  We have lighter evenings and warmer weather to look forward to.  The natural world and our gardens are bursting into life.  Tiny buds, unfurling leaves, emerging bees and spring flowers are here to encourage us back outside.  March is certainly the month to celebrate daffodils.  Here in the UK, we have 36 species of daffodil, but their popularity as an ornamental plant has led to the creation of over 26,000 cultivated varieties!  The wild daffodil is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family which also contains Agapanthus, Alliums and Galanthus (snowdrops).  The name comes from Greek mythology, with the nodding head of the daffodil symbolising Narcissus gazing as his own reflection.  I think that this is most apparent with Narcissus cyclamineus – their bright yellow flowers have narrow, reflexed perianth segments and slender trumpets which appear to be gazing down at the grass.  At Furzey Gardens we are very fortunate to have thousands of these beautiful daffodils.

Our gardeners have been busy tending to our candelabra primulas.  Some have been lifted and divided, which rejuvenates the plants and creates lots of new well-rooted crowns for replanting.  Unfortunately, we lost some plants this year in the severe frosts.  However, I have ordered 400 new specimens to fill the gaps and create new colonies.  Candelabra primulas are very hardy and long lived as long as they don’t dry out.  They are happiest in bog garden conditions, pond edges or stream banks, but will also grow well in damp, shady borders.  Plant them in bold groups or drifts for the best effect.  They look wonderful when combined with foliage plants such as hostas and ferns.  Most of the primulas in this group will hybridise, so if you want to keep their offspring the same colour, you will need to grow them in different parts of the garden.  We will continue to weed and mulch around our primula beds to ensure they are at their best for visitors to admire.

Narcissus cyclamineus and daffodil display at Furzey Gardens

I am very excited to announce that we will have a show garden at the BBC Gardeners’ World Spring Fair at Beaulieu next month.  Our theme is “Garden Retreat” and we plan to represent the essence of Furzey Gardens with our design and planting scheme.  We will include plants such as Rhododendron sinogrande; Matteuccia struthiopteris (shuttle cock fern); Osmunda regalis (royal fern) alongside a wonderful selection of native woodland plants.  We have made the eco-friendly decision not to buy in any plants for the fair.  Instead, we will be borrowing plants from Furzey Gardens and our nursery.   We hope that this will capture the true essence of the Gardens and give visitors a chance to experience a little of the magic for themselves.  We’d love to see you at the fair next month, so do consider buying a ticket.

You will notice Magnolias starting to flower this month.  Magnolia is a large genus of about 300 flowering plant species.  They are beautiful shrubs and ornamental trees which bring show-stopping glamour to the garden.  Their beautiful flowers range from pure white through to deep magenta and often have a lovely fragrance.  At Furzey Gardens we have several stunning specimens, including Magnolia x soulangeana Alba, commonly known as the Tulip magnolia.  This is one of the most popular early flowering trees in the UK, grown for its huge, pure white, goblet-shaped flowers, which are flushed purple-pink at the base.  It is an excellent magnolia for smaller gardens.  If you want to grow Magnolias in your garden, they will prefer neutral or acidic soil in a sheltered spot, away from strong winds.  Avoid frost pockets, as frost can damage the flowers in spring.  A spot which gets plenty of sun will ensure a good display of flowers.  You can plant a magnolia in late spring or autumn.  Add an acidic mulch such as bark, and water regularly while it establishes.

Magnolia Susan and Magnolia x soulangeana Alba

Some Rhododendrons will start flowering this month, including Rhododendron macabeanum.  This amazing shrub has dark leaves up to 30cm long, and large flowers in dense rounded trusses which are bell-shaped and pale to deep yellow in colour.  We have one of the largest specimens of Rhododendron macabeanum in the UK at Furzey.  If you have a Rhododendron in your own garden, enjoy the exuberant, colourful blooms over the next few months.  Once it has finished flowering, you can remove the spent flowers, cutting just above a set of leaves.  This deadheading encourages the plant to put its energy into new growth.  You can also deadhead plants such as winter pansies to encourage flushes of new flowers throughout spring.  Deadhead daffodils as they finish, but let the foliage die back naturally as this will feed the bulb ready for next spring.  You can also prune hydrangea, buddleia and fuchsia plants this month.

It’s a great month to get a head start in your garden, by fertilising your beds.  A layer of compost or well-rotted manure can be worked into your beds to prepare the soil for the growing season ahead.  A general-purpose fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone will work very well in most gardens.  It is a great time of year to re-surface paths before plants start to grow and smother them.  We have been busy doing this at Furzey, so that visitors can safely navigate the Gardens and enjoy them.

Rhododendron Macabeanum and pigmy shrew at Furzey Gardens

Many species of insects “hibernate” or overwinter in our gardens, including ladybirds, butterflies, moths and bumblebees.  To do so, they need to find somewhere sheltered to hide.  Old wood, such as tree trunks and piles of logs and sticks are excellent, but they also love long, dried out stems in a herbaceous border.  Be mindful of this when you are clearing your garden.  If you do want to tidy up your borders by cutting down such stems, it is a good idea to stack them in the corner of your garden to allow the insects to safely finish their overwintering.

When we focus on encouraging nature in our gardens, we often turn our attention to bees, butterflies and birds.  We are encouraged to support hedgehogs – but what about other small mammals?  Have you thought about encouraging wood mice, field voles, dormice, bats or shrews?  I was very happy to find a small pygmy shrew last month.  Whilst it had sadly perished in the harsh frost, it was very encouraging to know that it had made a home at Furzey Gardens, increasing the biodiversity.  Something as simple as allowing one area of your garden to remain wild and overgrown, can provide a habitat for small mammals.  Deadwood, sticks and leaves all create excellent ground cover.  Small mammals are an excellent food source for predating birds, so if you want to see an owl or other bird of prey in your garden, create an environment where small mammals will thrive.

As you begin to spend more time outside again, I would encourage you to take the time to look down and bring your attention to the many tiny plants which you might otherwise walk past.  One example would be to look down at ground level near the tearooms at Furzey Gardens this month and you will be treated to the sight of Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-snow).  They have delicate, star-like, sky blue flowers.  They may be tiny, but they are truly spectacular – especially on a sunny day.  Do get in touch to let me know what tiny treasures you have noticed in your garden or out in the natural world.

There is a lot going on at Furzey this spring and you can keep up to date with all events on our website www.furzey-gardens.org. We are now taking bookings for Mother’s Day afternoon teas in our cosy thatched tea rooms and we are also looking forward to a garden trail for the kids at Easter.

This article originally appeared as the monthly In The Garden column in the Lymington Times, buy the paper on the second Friday of every month to read the next column first.

Chionodoxa, Glory-of-the-snow

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