‘No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn’ – Hals Borland
Early march can be a drab time for gardeners in the West of Ireland. Maybe there are a few bulbs out, but much of the flower garden is only beginning to come back to life. Why not create a spring flower bed that will gladden your eye and your heart and create a happy expectation of what is to come?
You can do this by devoting a flower bed or part of the garden to making a heather bed. Heathers are generally frost hardy and resilient so no matter what the elements throw at us at this time of year they always provide a lovely distraction.
Heathers come in three main species. These are the Ericas, the Callunas and the Daboecia, which generally have much larger bell-shaped flowers. (St Dabiocs Heath is fairly rare in Europe but it is widely naturalised in the West of Ireland and is also available in some nurseries.)
Firstly, prepare the soil by using ericaceous compost or lime-free peat – compost that is naturally slightly acidic – as heathers don’t as a rule like lime. (Erica Carnea is one exception, being quite lime tolerant, and good varieties include December Red and Darleyensis).
Next, using spring flowering heathers; those that are flowering now in the nursery or garden centre; plant them in groups of three or five, and by next year they will be spreading out to fill the space. Don’t just plant the odd lone heather, as they really only have impact in a larger group. I know this, as I spent last autumn digging up my lone plants and placing them in groups of the same colour and species in one bed, and they look really good now.
The garden centre or nursery will have a range of colours from white to pink and red.
There are different foliage varieties available that range from dark green to lime and bronze, which creates a good impact even when they are not in flower.
If you would like to have all-round seasonal flowering then add some summer and autumn flowering heathers from the Calluna and Dabioca species, and you will have a bed really that produces impact without a lot of maintenance.
Mix it up
The heathers can be under planted with spring flowering bulbs in groups of five or nine. These include crocus, dwarf daffodils, narcissi, grape hyacinth and dwarf tulips.
They will add extra interest and colour and the heathers will hide the bulb foliage as it dies down.
To extend the interest and the flowering season you can add dwarf azalea plants near the front of the bed and rhododendrons towards the back. All these are acid loving plants so they will live happily together.
Garden tasks for March
- Wait until the soil is fairly dry before standing on it as clay soils can be damaged if walked on when wet. Patience is a good virtue at this time of year, as weather can change unexpectedly.
- Prune roses before the buds open.
- Start your flower seeds under cover either in the greenhouse or cold frame
- Plant out sweet peas or start them indoors if the weather turns cold again
- Plant out shrubs when the soil has warmed up. This is the ideal time to plant out geranium, Oriental poppies and astrantia
- Cut back shrubs like buddleia and caryopteris
- Plant summer and autumn flowering bulbs
- Cut back the ornamental grasses to stimulate new growth
- Divide hostas and sedums before they start the spring spurt
- Divide herbaceous perennials now before they take off. This will create more plants and stimulate old woody plants. Dig them up and separate or cut them so that there are roots as well as new shoot in each section. Replant these adding good compost to the hole. Discard old woody sections.
- Cut back growth of winter flowering hellebores to stop the spread of disease to the plant.
- Mulch beds with compost
Patsy O’Sullivan is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Gannon’s Hotel. The club’s aim is to learn and share information about growing flowers, fruit and vegetables.
The membership is a mix of experienced growers and beginners. Next meeting is tonight, March 1, and the talk is on ‘Garden Planning’, by experienced gardener Heather Morahan.