The Green Scene – The turn of the year

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind. Photo: Stock image.

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind. Photo: Stock image.

It has been a long winter but nature never dies. Spring beckons and invites us to greet the great awakening of nature. Slowly the days are getting longer and we will soon be able to sense spring in the winds as they get busy carrying pollen from tree to tree. The cycle of life continues. The soil is beginning to warm again.

Soon we shall welcome the silvery green tops of the snowdrops and the beautiful crocus peeping through the soil as the sap slowly rises. All kinds of blossoms are getting ready to explode into colour. This is the loveliest time in the gardening calendar.

So let me introduce you to some unforgettable spring blossom.

Spring would not be spring without the beautiful magnolia in full bloom. Magnolia Soulangeana is one to look out for. The beautiful rhododendron praecox with its lilac flower and the golden shoots of the forsythia. We welcome viburnum bodnantense dawn with its lovely scent and colour.

The fanfare continues, vibrant reds and yellows dominate. Look out for magnificent camellias with their beautiful foliage and exquisite flowers. Look out for camellia donation and the singlevar, golden spangles.

Of course, at this time of year trees also produce a fine display of spring flowers – the lovely flowering cherries are the most popular spring flowering tree the world over.

One for a small garden or container is the beautiful prunus amanogawa. The gardener welcomes the advent of February and March because of the gradual resurrection of vegetation and the time is quickly approaching when the work begins in earnest, so let me share a few thoughts and suggest a few tasks for this time of year.

Complete the pruning of roses and plant them if required as soon as possible. As March approaches, you can plant or sow sweet pea. Begin planting gladioli corms at fortnightly intervals for a continuous display. Plant onion sets and shallots and finish the planting of trees and shrubs.

Hardy annuals of all kinds can be sown in the open ground where they will flower. Begin the cutting of your lawns and if you wish you can sow a new lawn in early April. For hardy annuals try calendula, clarkius, sunflower nasturtiums – the list is endless.

Good ground preparation is important. Late March is ideal for planting potato tubers with successional sowings every month until July. Your spinach loves dappled shade and plenty of organic matter and sowings. It should take 12 weeks to mature. Sow some white Lisbon onions on a regular basis and maybe this is the year to create a herb garden.

You can plant all kinds of hardy perennials such as hollyhocks, Michaelmas daisies, iris and delphiniums. You can also sow asparagus, carrots, beans parsnips and onions, dwarf early peas, lettuces and radishes. Plant strawberries in firm, well-manured soil, 15 inches apart. Plant lily bulbs where they are shaded and cool in the summer yet still enjoying full sun.

Incorporate plenty of leaf mould and heather compost into the soil. Try the beautiful regal lilies and lily auratum – both scented. To bring butterflies into your garden, plant buddleia davidii in a sunny position in ordinary soil.

Prune hard in February and to attract bees it is important to plant a number of nectar-secreting flowers. Many perennials and shrubs are favoured by bees for their nectar and planting annuals is also good.

So as spring approaches and everybody is revitalised, as an experienced gardener I marvel at the miracles happening all around me. It is wonderful that a small speck of matter no larger than a pinhead which I sow and look after can grow into a plant or a tree and bring forth bloom and fruit – for me it is a spiritual experience – evidence all around of God’s presence in the world.

Let’s finish with the words of the late great Robin Williams:
“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!”
(From Robin Williams, Weapons of Self Destruction).

By James O’Doherty