Coming into March I like to think that spring is now just around the corner. The skies are still grey but when the sunshine breaks through it seems to bring a bit of real warmth with it. Unfortunately the heavy snowfall a couple of weeks ago has injected an enormous amount of water into the ground and wet ground is slower to warm up than dry. But the lengthening days are also telling the plants to prepare themselves for growth and though there are not yet a great number of flowers in the Gardens there are definite signs of renewal to be seen, buds swelling on branches and green points pushing up through the soil.
In the Lily Garden the winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is flowering and giving off its sweet fragrance amongst lilac crocuses and a range of different hellebores. In the Iris Garden the dwarf varieties are delightful. Known as reticulated or netted irises (Iris reticulata), they emerge from the soil toward the end of January and flower for several weeks, surviving even the cold and snow. ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ is a pale blue and yellow variety which has also been planted in the new Winter Garden bed D and ‘Katherine’s Gold’ is a pale yellow sport of this same hybrid. They are easy to grow and they should increase quite quickly over several years, giving a mass of early colour each spring.
Primulas are now beginning their season, low-growing yellow varieties already displaying in the Winter Garden and the Paeony Beds, but it should not be long before their taller cousins, the candelabra primulas also open up, most happily growing in a shady spot where their feet will remain damp. Consequently they thrive in the banks of the stream above the Takata moon bridge. Bergenias are also in flower; we have a couple of different varieties in the garden. I must confess I prefer the darker coloured flowers to the more common pale pinks but it looks like we are struggling to maintain any this year, rabbits having already nibbled away at many of the tender young shoots.
But perhaps the best display at this time, and one which is sometimes overlooked, is in the Heather Garden. Situated on a sunny bank that allows for good drainage, the mounds of mature winter heathers create a wonderful show of pinks and whites. From year to year different sections of heathers are renovated and new varieties introduced but the large well-established plants are an impressive sight, forming a rolling landscape of their own. Erica carnea ‘Lohses Rubin’ is a deep magenta in colour, Erica ‘R.B.Cooke’ is a paler shell-pink and Erica ‘Winterfreude’ is closer to crimson. But whatever the variety, with very little care, they come back reliably each year to brighten up this late winter period.