This Month in the Garden, March 2014, with Derek Cox

In the past I may have mentioned that I have five different varieties of Violets most of which grow beneath the shade of trees and large shrubs, and these usually flower during March and April. However, during mid February I came across a clump growing in an exposed position whose violet-blue flowers had already opened. I could have put this down to the mild, but very wet winter months, but all of the remaining drifts of Violets showed no sign of flowering.
My sandy loam is inclined to produce early growth and during mid February, my perennial Alstroemeria’s had produced six inches, 15cm of new shoots. This is not unusual as in previous years I have seen this superb perennial produce very early growth, only for frost to kill the growth back to ground level during March and April.

As my soil is very well drained my Alstroemeria’s are very resilient, and they always produce a multitude of new shoots, and as a consequence a mass of beautiful flowers.

Despite the very wet weather, on fine days I have managed to get out into the garden, mainly to prune both late flowering Clematis and shrubs. Any Clematis that flowers from late June until October will need to be pruned hard back, in many cases to within 6 to nine inches, 15/22cm from the ground. After pruning back, give each plant a handful of general fertilizer and then mulch with garden compost. When I prune back Clematis Jackmanii to nine inches, 22cm, it will then grow up into the top of a 10 feet, 3m tall standard Ligustrum lucidum ‘Tricolor’, which goes to show the growth Clematis can make in a season. As I pulled the old growth out of the crown of the variegated standard Ligustrum I came upon a small branch that had reverted to green, all reversion should be removed as soon as it is seen, if not, the green will soon dominate the plant.

Many years ago, at the rear of my house I constructed a 15 x 15 feet, 4.5 x 4.5m gravel scree in which I planted numerous alpines. In amongst these I planted five different varieties of Cyclamen Coum, and over the years, these have seeded over most of the scree to form a magnificent winter show of white, pink and almost red flowers. The small rounded leaves vary from deep green, green variegated with silver and almost pewter coloured. What amazes me is this Cyclamen is native to Turkey, Lebanon, the Caucuses and even Northern Israel and yet the flowers remain bright and cheerful even after 10 degrees of frost.

The shrubby, evergreen Pittosporum’s are native to New Zealand and although reasonably hardy, the winter of 2010 killed all of the three shrubs that had been in my garden for a number of years. However, as they have such attractive foliage I replanted Pittosporum Tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ beneath a golden variegated standard Euonymus ‘Sunshine’ where its purple-black winter foliage stands out in stark contrast. Two years ago, as it looked so attractive I purchased a plant labelled as Pittosporum Argyrophyllum, its blackish young stems and small wavy edged, silver variegated leaves resemble those of most Tenuifolium varieties.

However, not knowing the plants provenance, I then planted it in a 12-inch, 30cm ornamental pot and over wintered it in my cold greenhouse. Two years on and it needed repotting, I usually carry out this job during mid March, but as the weather was so bad I decided to work in the greenhouse and repot this Pittosporum. What a job I had getting the plant out of the pot, luckily I have an old bread saw which I used to cut all the roots away from around the inside of the pot, I also sawed off the bottom one third of the roots. I then repotted the plant into a 25 litre black tree tub, using half-and-half John Innes no3 compost and multipurpose compost; the newly potted plant will remain in my cold greenhouse until May.