Welcoming the true arrival of spring in the garden
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Welcoming the true arrival of spring in the garden

SPRING opened her locked wardrobe this month with the arrival of La Feile Brid.

Many seem to think that March 1 is the ‘official’ start of spring but I’m sticking with the long-established Irish feast day.

A cock’s foot, the measure of daylight gained each passing day (since the winter solstice), is not a generous measure, but by now it has added a glorious thirty-five minutes of illumination to our days.

In as many days again, it will have grown to an hour and a half, sometimes more, during bright sunlit days.

For the past eleven months we have not alone been confined indoors by Covid-19 restrictions, but by darkness, and extremely variable weather conditions.

In fact, since autumn we have been challenged by storms, wind, rain, and of late, periods of frost, snow, and biting cold.

But lucky those who have a garden to tend, for there they found refuge in venturing out occasionally to admire at close quarters the brave blooms that shine in winter.

The sun has slowly and imperceptibly risen that little bit earlier each morning, warming the frozen soil and all it contains.

Soon, the hedgerows will stir into new fresh greenery and life will return beneath their sheltering stony skirts.

There is something new to applaud these opening days, not least the many varieties of crocus.

Coinciding with the snowdrops, crocus tommasinianus is showing colour but few realise that it is prolific at self-seeding.

A modest batch can turn into an impressive multiple in a very few years.

Mature gardens where it had perhaps been planted in minuscule numbers in the past, can seem filled now with the narrow, mauve flowers which fling back their segments at every burst of spring sunshine.

The most eager of its clan, they really can grow 'like weeds' - but never become a nuisance.

What you do not see are the seeds which lie hidden at the base of each tube.

These are generally thought to be distributed by ants.

However, the real joy of February and later are the camellias, arch deceivers no less, for they look almost too exotic to succeed outdoors as easily as they do.

Unfortunately, a snowflake, a blade of grass, a blackthorn shoot has more perfume.

No spring garden is complete without at least one early variety and the best (and earliest) include those sold under the species name Sasanqua.

Look for stockists on computers or laptops for they are rare enough on garden outlet sales tables.

This charming variety has graced our garden here for decades and it takes top position for reliability and performance year on year (an illustration of Yuletide has appeared on this page recently).

It blooms in the weeks leading to Christmas with a willingness that staggers and continues to the end of February and later.

Be assured also that they take kindly to pot culture.

Buy a decent sized, terracotta, or glazed pot for one of these, and fill it with a mixture of lime-free soil from the garden, to which has been added a generous dressing of leaf-mould, commercial potting compost, or pine-needles.

Plant into this mixture as big a camellia as you can afford, bearing in mind that the older you are, the more you need to invest in something that will not take a decade and more to reach a commanding size.

Debbie is a later variety for late March/April, a reliable, free-flowering, vigorous variety which I also rate highly, but if red is not in keeping with your garden’s colour scheme, opt for Jury's Yellow (very unusual) White Nun or Lavinia Maggi. I have only one word for all OF these: superb.