The riot of colourful blooms in our gardens and hedgerows this spring has never been more welcome, says new gardening writer June Cynthia
One of the few advantages of lockdown has been that many of us have had more time on our hands, so make the most of it this spring and use ‘your seeing eye’. Whether you’re in town or the country, you’ll be amazed at what delights await you. A solitary bee looking for nectar, a chrysalis about to emerge and birds busily looking for soft nesting material or a new nesting box. Not to mention the wonderful sound of thrushes and blackbirds singing their little hearts out to claim their territory.
And what could be more uplifting than the daffodil, the national flower of Wales. It never fails to bring joy to the heart, as Wordsworth penned over 200 years ago:
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o’er the vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
From the Amaryllidaceae family, the daffodil is traditionally worn on St David’s Day, the 1st March. Nowadays, we're more familiar with the cultivated varieties. These beautiful flowers, originated from the wild daffodil, are altogether different in size and structure from the ones you see growing in our fields and gardens today.
The wild daffodil (narcissus pseudonarcissus) can be identified from its cultivated cousins by its pretty pale yellow petals, but much darker yellow trumpet. The plant itself is shorter in height and is clump forming.
What: The daffodil is affectionately called the lent lily.
Where: Choose a naturally moist area in either a semi-shaded or an open sunny position. It is also happy in an open wooded habitat, on banks, near rivers or lakes. If planting in your garden, avoid planting the bulbs up against a wall because they may not get the moisture they require and walls retain heat and could stunt their growth.
When: Plant from around September to ideally the end of October.
How: An ideal planting depth is around twice the height of the bulb, four to six inches deep and four to eight inches apart, in preferably moist well-drained soil. Miniature daffodils should be planted in the same way as above but planted three to five inches deep and four to eight inches apart. Both varieties thrive in fertile soil with a pH value of between six to seven
Top Tips: Let your daffodils die down naturally. Do not be tempted to tie them into bunches whilst drying out. Wait patiently until the leaves are crisp and brown before removing them. They will reward you for your patience.
Interest: Daffodils are unusual in that they are hermaphrodites - ie they have both male and female organs, much like the earth worm.
Warning: All parts of the daffodil are toxic, so keep an eye on children and animals.
PLAN NOW FOR SUMMER COLOUR
While we enjoy our spring flowers such as the daffodil, we can also plan ahead to the summer and begin planting a variety of colourful blooms, such as the rose. Ideally planted from October to March, we still have a bit of time left, so here’s a little more about this British favourite.
What: The rose is from the rosaceae family
When: Plant now. What could be nicer than to treat yourself to a beautiful rose bush whilst they are available as both potted and bare-root plants. Unless sending them as a gift, then do try the most cost-effective way of building up your rose collection by ordering bare-root plants, as you can make a considerable saving. You've still got time, but make this a ‘must do’ priority as bare-root stock roses are selling fast.
Where: Rose bushes are very adaptable and provided they are given the right conditions - i.e soil and the correct maintenance, water, food and harmless insect/fungal care etc - then they will dazzle you with their exquisite fragrant blooms. Most popular positions are near or over an arbour where you can sit for an afternoon cup of tea or in my case, on the patio next to my favourite rose Gertrude Jekyll (pictured above) with a glass of refreshing wine. Or indeed by an open window or doors to enjoy that intoxicating perfume permeating throughout your rooms.
When: Plant your precious little beauties between October to March, although I've still managed to secure an order as late as April. They will bloom at their best from mid-summer and throughout June, July and August. And some varieties repeat flower. Gertrude Jekyll is one of these, so choose well and think carefully about the suitability of where you want them to grow and how high. Think about complimentary colour schemes and most importantly think about their fragrant perfume.
How: Plant in a fertile soil, i.e. a mixture of well worked clay/garden compost or even horticultural sand and a little grit to help drainage. I am also a great believer in using mycorrhizal fungi, as I've tried it and have found it to be very successful. Soak your bare-root rose bushes overnight ideally. Dig a hole approx 18 inches deep and around 18 to 20 inches wide, placing the removed earth into a large shallow container or wheelbarrow. Mix the earth with the well-worked clay, garden compost, horticultural sand and grit for drainage. If using mycorrhizal fungi, hold your soaked rose bush upright over the intended hole and sprinkle the fungi onto the roots of the plant. Pat the fungi around the roots. Place a small amount of the soil mixture at the bottom of the hole, splay out the roots of the rose bush, place the bush into the hole and gently back fill, making sure you cover the graft section. Also make sure you don't leave any air pockets between the roots. Add the remainder of the soil mixture leaving it level with the top of the hole. Gently heel in and add a little mulch around the plant. Keep well watered but don't over water. Potted roses can be planted as above but apply a little mycorrhizal at the base of the hole and the sides of the soil around the rose. The depth and width of the pot will determine the size of the hole plus a bit extra. Keep well-watered and mulch around the plant.
JOBS FOR MARCH
As well as enjoying our daffodils and planting our roses, there are other jobs we can start in our gardens. For instance, now is a good time to take stock of what plants have survived our arctic winter, as well as to make a note of the dead plants which need replenishing. Or you could just fill your days by painting a picture of your garden.
Some of our garden centres have remained open during the pandemic and many offer a garden tool sharpening service which is a must before the season takes off with a flourish. Support them when you can by buying their plants, bulbs and seeds etc., and maybe treat yourselves to some new tools or gardening gloves. Even have a coffee if we are allowed! Whatever you do, use your seeing eye to take in your garden; the one thing that has kept us sane all these long months.
June Cynthia is a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist and award-winning florist and gardening expert