Spring begins at the Vernal Equinox which falls on March 20th this year and means that daylight hours equally match the hours of darkness (this happens again at the autumn equinox in September).
March brought a wintry feel to the weather, beginning with a cold snap and temperatures about 4 degrees below the seasonal average. Although cool, days are sunny and the longer daylight hours are now very noticeable; spring is on the way and the garden is beginning to wake up, although weeds have continued to grow during the very mild winter months. British summer time begins on 27th March (Easter weekend).
There are a range of flowering plants to look for during March and April – the Magnolia, Prunus and some of the rock plants including Saxifrages. Magnolias are classified as trees and shrubs and there are many different types. Two flowering at this time of year are M. Stellata and M. Soulangeana. Prunus incisa or the Fuji Cherry is one of the first flowering cherries; it has large, soft white or pale pink blooms, is a medium size tree with year round interest – scarlet leaf colour in autumn and small dark fruits (inedible) in summer.
Rock plants are an attractive, diverse compact group with some special delicate varieties including the rock jasmines, Aubrietia and Primula. The Saxifrages make their flowering appearance during March; S. apiculata has pale yellow flowers with bright green foliage, it grows to about four inches. S. Elizabethae also has yellow flowers but these are darker and the foliage is more compact.
The rockery is for the enthusiast and an interesting way to garden either in limited space or as part of the larger gardening landscape. Saxifrages, Aubrietia and Primulas can also be grown in shallow containers with suitable compost covered in a layer of gravel. These hardy, compact plants do well in window boxes, alongside seasonal specimens to achieve year round interest. The compost needs to be free-draining and gritty for rock plants and they tolerate poor soil conditions, and for this reason are often found growing in paths, crevices and walls.
And finally, with spring almost here it is time to refresh window boxes, add seasonal flowering plants – primroses, dwarf narcissus, delicate violas and the showy pansies alongside the usual evergreens such as ivy, dwarf conifers, thyme and grasses.