What a whacky few weeks lie ahead. The first day of March officially signals the start of spring. The name comes from the Latin Martius after Mars, the Roman God of War and seems sinisterly pertinent at the time of writing.
The 14th is the pivotal ‘Save A Spider’ day hotly followed by the ‘Ides of March’ on the 15th, an anniversary most school kids remember as the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC. And, it’s the Australian Grand Prix. Things are hotting up.
Next comes the Spring Equinox on the 20th when the Earth’s axis momentarily stands still, neither inclining away from, or gravitating towards, the sun. Then with two skips and a jump and we are into the Spring Tides when the sun, the moon and the earth are all aligned. But on top of all this frippery, it is blossom time. After months of colourless days and nippy nights you couldn’t hope for a bonnier spectacle.
When I lived in the South of France it was almond blossom that danced onto the stage first followed by the cherries; hectares of pink powder puff orchards and sapphire blue skies, it was like opening a book of happy thoughts. Sometimes local farmers spoilt this fragile beauty by burning old rubber tyres amongst the trees to keep the frost off the buds with black clouds of acrid smoke suffocating the cold air. If you have ever been out early on a frosty morning enjoying the sun rise behind the icicles that drip from the branches like melting swords you might think this practice a bit blunt but it seems to be effective.
In the UK the blossom contender for pole position is an imposter, the cherry plum, (Prunus cerasifera) A confusing name because it is not a cherry, it is a wild plum, albeit tamed, but originating from the same family. Wait for a warm spell and this ephemeral, pale little flower will dance on the air announcing that we are off on our blossoming way closely followed by blackthorn, more cherries, apricots and peaches, with apples and pears the hindmost. However there are nasty traps lurking as is so often the way with gardening. Bullfinches, pretty as they may be, are attracted to the fruit buds and destroy them with heavy pecking. And fruit trees belonging to the said Prunus family are prone to bacterial canker; a disease that forms in midspring infecting stems and leaves.
Treatments, both chemical and non-chemical, are available (check the Royal Horticultural Society’s web site) but I harbour a soft spot for the Old Wives’ lore wherein, ‘Hanging mothballs from the branches discourages feathered invaders and prevents leaf curl’ and the equally gratifying proposal of, ‘growing nettles around the tree roots to deter bacterial infection by enriching the soil with nitrogen, formic acid, iron and phosphates.’ Blue chip advice. The Old Wives also say, incidentally, that those potatoes grown in the vicinity of cherry trees suffer from less blight.
The top bananas in my opinion, especially in a small garden, are the crabapples, Malus John Downie and Golden Hornet. They provide flowers in the spring, fruit in the autumn and jelly for Christmas. As March closes down making way for April the flowers of the moment have to be daffodils and narcissus. Crowds of them collect everywhere; roadsides, railway cuttings, parks and gardens all bursting with a sunny disposition. Giving a bunch of flowers is never easier or less expensive. The Welsh have a saying that if you spot the first daffodil of the season your next twelve months will be filled with wealth. Right, I’m off to Merthyr Tydfil with a bunch of forced dafs and for 10% I’ll hang around outside people’s front doors at the beginning of March and bank a fortune.
By Alex Dingwall-Main – Garden Maverick