We've had a very mild winter so far here in Norfolk and every day that I venture into the garden in the morning, cup of tea in hand, I notice a few more signs of spring.
The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is one of the first hedging plants to flower and the blossom is a pretty addition to the hedge and to a vase to bring into the house. The first tiny blue Scilla flowers are emerging from the soil. They are unusual in that the flowers emerge from the bare soil before the leaves do.
The pale yellow primroses, usually a herald of spring, have actually been flowering away merrily since about November. I have a few as edging plants in the cutting beds as they don't take up a lot of space and the flowers are useful in tiny spring arrangements, lasting really well as a cut flower.
Last year, I planted some Hellebores in the dahlia bed, figuring that as they enjoy a certain amount of shade, they wouldn't be too affected by being shaded out by the towering dahlias during the hot summer months. Once the dahlias are cut down after the first frosts, the Hellebores gain access to some weaker sunshine during the winter and spring. It's worked really well and they are all blooming away happily. They really help to create vibrancy and life in the cutting beds during these winter months. I now have 14 different varieties in the garden and couldn't resist purchasing a few more on a recent shopping expedition to try the same idea up at our allotment plot. I cut some, leave some to brighten up the garden and press some of the beautiful flower heads for picture and card making.
I'm slowly adding to the clumps of snowdrops in the garden borders. These beautiful dainty flowers are a classic winter flower and there are a staggering number of varieties of snowdrops to grow. Mine are the common Galanthus nivalis supplemented by some double-flowered 'Flore Pleno' and the tall 'Elwesii'. I have invested in a November-flowering variety called 'Remember Remember' which I hope will clump up and justify the small fortune that I paid for a single bulb. I often pick just a few snowdrop flowers along with a few stems of colourful Cyclamen coum for miniature displays.
With record temperatures for February, we are making the most of the sunny days here in Norfolk. Spring really does seem to have come early with blossom appearing on our apricot tree and pulmonarias, grape hyacinths, daffodils and primroses all blooming early alongside the more traditional February fare of snowdrops, crocus and hellebores.
I do have to keep reminding myself that the 'Beast from the East' struck in early March last year and we had so much snow that the shops ran out of milk and bread. There is a chance of the wintery weather returning so it's important not to go too mad and plant out anything frost-tender until later in the year.
In the meantime, I will enjoy the early flowers, picking a few to bring inside for tiny spring posies and I'll finalise my plans for the annuals that I will grow this year.
I plan to sow some sweet peas under cover this weekend and will start sowing some hardy annuals in a week or two, once March is underway. There are some annuals that I always grow - cornflowers, marigolds, sweet peas and scabious, but I might not choose the same colours or varieties to grow each year. In this way, each year is different and there will be something new and exciting to place in the vase.
The 1st March signalled the first day of spring (according to the meteorological calendar) but here in Norfolk and most of the UK, it was also the 2nd day of deep snowfall which closed the schools and created havoc on the roads.
The first crocuses, narcissi and Iris reticulata were merrily doing their thing and brightening up the garden but ended up under a cover of 10 cm thick snow for nearly a week.
Just a week beforehand, I had hosted a 'Grow your own cut flowers' workshop and we found lots of lovely greenery and flowers to pick to make the lovely display pictured below.
The flowers above include trailing rosemary, Daphne odora, Viburnum tinus, Hellebores, and some early flower heads from the perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'. Winter-flowering shrubs have strongly fragranced flowers as they need to attract pollinators and they don't always have large flowers. This is a bonus when cutting as the fragrance of some flowers can scent the whole room.
Once the snow finally cleared it was a relief to see the spring bulbs still in full flower despite their blanket covering of snow. We are now experiencing milder temperatures and, with it, rain (sigh).
Rainy weather stops any flowers that there are from being cut but I do still have some pots of bulbs in the potting shed that I bring out a few at a time into the house where the higher temperature causes them to come into bloom. I have also started sowing some hardy annuals. The hardest part is deciding what to grow this year from the numerous packets of seed that I seem to collect each year.
March is a good month for sowing hardy annuals. By the time the seedlings are ready to plant out in about 6-8 weeks time, at the beginning of May, the soil will have warmed up and frost risk will be minimal. Hardy annuals can cope with some low temperatures but I leave the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos and Zinnias until April as I won't want to plant them out until the end of May when all frost-risk has passed. The exception are any that have a long growing phase before flowering such as Antirrhinums which should be sown in March with their fully hardy counterparts so that they will come into flower in June/July with the rest of the hardy annuals.
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