So much colour exploding in our gardens now that winter is loosening its grip and Spring is given a chance – longer days, some sunshine but still chill nights and cool temperatures yet … the sap is rising, buds are bursting into leaf and blossom and the woodland floor is a bright mosaic of primroses, crocus, hellebores, narcissus, anemones, pulmonarias and more. OK not tulips just yet – this is a touch of artistic license provided by Covent Garden Flower Market!
… and a calming touch of green, with the unfurling scrolling fronds of the Antarctic Tree Ferns which have spent the winter indoors.
Meanwhile, propagation picks up the pace in the Glasshouses at Petersham Nurseries – cuttings of perlargoniums vie for space with sweet peas and all manner of flower and vegetable seedlings – while dahlia tubers are brought gently back to life…
I’ve drafted this following piece for the Petersham Nurseries website March Blog – I’m late actually but we’ve been very busy! – and while it is a catalogue of many of the plants in store rather than a ‘what to do in your garden’ listing, it gives a flavour of what is colourful, fragrant and interesting at this time of year, and what is just becoming available to tempt our summer sensibilities… I’m bound to have missed some important additions to our stock lists – there are lots of perennials and climbers coming in later this week – but I think it gives more than a flavour of the Nurseries just now….
“Whoosh – March is rattling along apace already and we’ve been busy filling up the nurseries with all manner of colourful, fragrant and showstopping plants. After the very comprehensive February blog, I don’t feel too bad about the lateness of this piece – I think I gave you quite enough to consider over the past few weeks – but now there are more exciting things to be getting along with – and more time to do them in.
The days are noticeably longer and we have had some lovely sunny warm days – chill nights mind you – and some chill days too. Spring has made a welcome and undisputed appearance but the weather is still fickle and what we can can do in the garden is very dependent on claiming a few hours on the milder brighter days. But what a lot is going on, how much is there to do!
We are at just the right point in the gardening year for clearing out the old, dividing perennials to propagate and reinvigorate favourite stalwarts and for putting in new plants and propagating our own. The ground is warming up, there is plenty of moisture around. Before these new plants are called upon to perform with flower or fruit, they can nestle down into the ground and put out some fresh roots to connect them to the reservoir of food and water, in readiness for the demands we expect of them.
The choice of plants is expanding every week and the Nurseries are crammed with perennials and aromatics in ever greater numbers. Herbs for the Kitchen Garden include all manner of thymes, mints and rosemary, chamomile and hyssop, savoury, chives and more – the range is expanding each week. Standard ‘lollipops’ of rosemary are already in flower, to compliment the fragrant lavender standards which will be in flower this summer. French Lavender, with the butterfly ‘feathers’ on top of the flower heads are already in flower and are a welcome antidote to any grey days that persist. English Lavender Hidcote, Munstead, Vera and Old English compliment the range.
The promise of colour comes with all manner of potted bulbs – scented Narcissus Bridal Crown and multi-headed Tete-a-Tete, fragrant hyacinths and Lily-of-the Valley, colourful tulips ready for containers or the border and Alliums thrusting their first leaves above ground – Gladiator, Purple Sensation, Christophii and the white Mont Blanc are all in stock now.
Our extensive catalogue of new-season perennials has also made a welcome appearance with several benches overflowing with Spring and summer stars. Acanthus and Anthemis, shade-loving Brunnera, Bergenia, a host of different Dianthus, never-to-be-without Erysimum Bowles’ Mauve, evergreen euphorbias and subtly coloured foxgloves, several varieties of herbaceous geraniums, Pulmonaria in flower (including the gorgeous rich Blue Ensign), Phlomis, scented Sweet Violets and rounding up the alphabet with Zantedeschia!
Peonies and poppies have arrived too – a selection of blazing scarlets, soft pinks and striking whites in this first order with more varieties to come.
Primulas and polyanthus – including the very beautiful Gold Lace and Silver Gold Lace – and hints of the hedgerow with Primula veris – combine with violas and trailing violas, ranunculus and jewel-bright anemones, cushions of pink and white saxifrage and white and purple campanulas that will add a welcome boost of colour to containers and window boxes, combined perhaps with some of the bulbs for a long-lasting display.
For the shadier places in your garden, we have put together a collection of plants that will thrive in a variety of situations – brunnera and lamium, a collection of ferns, foxgloves and many, many hellebores (though these last two will shine in sun too), clipped box and blood-red Acers, skimmias and the first of the Pieris, intensely fragrant Daphne odora aureomarginata and the still-fragrant winter box, Sarcococca. Pulmonarias with plain green or spotted leaves offer sapphire blue flowers, or pearl, or amethyst and are a magnet for the early foraging bees (the hellebores are a-hum with activity too). Chaenomeles will suit a sheltered wall in sun or partial shade and flower in scarlet, pink, apricot, white and lime – my favourite this last one, Kinshiden. Deliciously scented fruit will follow.
Our roses are budding now with the promise of lush growth this summer and a profusion of flower. The time is just right for planting new roses, allowing them just enough time to bed down and connect with the soil before we can reasonably expect the floral parade to start in June. Plant them deeply, adding some mycorrhizal fungi to the exposed root system, so that they have absolutely the best start in life. This is the last chance to prune shrub and bush roses – really really the last chance for gardens hereabouts – so get the secateurs primed and set to work!
Inside our glasshouses, we have been propagating madly for our Kitchen Garden and the Cutting Garden. You can follow our example with a huge selection of bespoke seeds from Thomas Etty and Franchi available for the flower and vegetable garden. We have a superb collection of Sweet Peas seeds as well as growing seedlings (in Glasshouse 2) for those tight on time or space.
Scented Pelargoniums aren’t ready just yet – it will be a few weeks – but we have our favourite Attar of Roses, Pink Capitum, pale Lady Plymouth, Orange Fizz and more to come – including the deep dark Lord Bute. Not long to wait for these.
Summer flowering bulbs and perennials are available – imagine a great display of anemones or home grown ranunculus later this spring, or fragrant lilies and dahlias this summer – many choice names and the first of the Babylon Dahlia tubers for sale have just arrived and are one of our absolute favourite flowers for the late summer border. Flowering irrepressibly right until the first frosts!
We have a selection of apple trees including the Family Apples which have three varieties grafted onto one tree – and if you missed our fruit tree workshops a few weeks ago, we will be happy to explain the sometimes bewildering subject of rootstocks so you get absolutely the right tree for the space you have in your garden.
Magnolias are making a welcome appearance – I think we are a couple of weeks behind the curve compared to last year, but their pure white or pink blossom really is just around the corner. Grown as shrubs or standard trees, they provide a huge fanfare of blossom, to be closely followed by the glamorous ornamental Cherry trees with single or doubly-double flowers.
So much to enjoy now and so much promise for the weeks and months ahead, it really is time to get outside and prepare for the season ahead. The weather may be fickle but the sap is rising and I’m hopeful for a long, long fruitful and floriferous growing season for us all!
We look forward to seeing you at Petersham Nurseries this Spring. Our horticultural team will be happy to help with any questions you may have. Our School of Garden Inspiration has a wide curriculum of informative, practical and well, inspirational, workshops right through the year so please ask a member of staff about these too!