This Month in the Garden with Derek Cox

Even on a wet, dreary day during March many of my alpines are putting on a lovely display of colour and these remind me of the days when I was able to climb the Alps in Switzerland photographing alpines. Saxifrages are amongst some of my favourite plants. As a consequence I grow around 50 varieties, not only in my rockeries and screes, but also in a large natural stone horse trough and an artificial stone sink. Many are in flower during March, but others will flower during April and May producing flowers of white, cream, pink and even red. A number also have lovely silver encrusted leaves. During the warm weather of late February and early March numerous bumble bees were out pollinating the early flowers.
In a border I have a nice clump of Pulsatilla vulgaris whose rich blue flowers contrast greatly with a bright yellow Primula that is growing close by. I grow five varieties of Violets and the first of these to open is a very dark blue and although this forms a good clump it does not seem to seed so readily as the lighter blue forms.
I grow three different forms of Photinia x fraseri in the borders at the rear of my garden. The variety ‘Red Robin’ is widely grown it is not only evergreen, but also its new red growth contrasts with its green leaves. The variety ‘Pink Marble’, pictured above, gives an even more contrasting show as it has cream variegated leaves with shocking pink new growth. The variety ‘Red Robin’ is a strong grower and ideal to use as a screen, or if pruned will form an attractive hedge. Here I must point out that Robinias, as with all large leaf evergreens, should be pruned and not clipped, if clipped the leaf ends will turn brown.
As I drive around Syston I see many Magnolias coming into flower, most of these are Soulangiana hybrids whose large, cup-shaped flowers are freely produced in colours of white, white stained purple or even reddish-purple.
All of the Soulangiana hybrids flower from late March until the end of April, so often the flowers are spoilt by late spring frosts. In my own rear garden I grow Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’, which is different in that it produces pale pink, star-shaped flowers during late March and April, in the ten years that i have grown it the flowers have never been spoilt by late frosts. I prune all of my Magnolias as soon as they have finished flowering, this keeps them not only more compact, but also if given a good mulch of garden compost, or well rotted manure they will produce a stronger new growth on which the following years flowers are formed.
I also prune many of my Rhododendrons after flowering, especially the early flowering ones such as ‘Boskoop Ostara’ whose shocking pink flowers appear during late March and April.
During early March I purchased my first early potatoes ‘Rocket’ and ‘Charlotte’, which were then set up in cell trays in my garage.
During late March the potatoes were planted out in 50 litre black tree tubs which stand in my cold greenhouse. I put a 6 inch (20cm) layer of compost in the tubs and after setting five potatoes on the compost cover them with another layer of compost, and then a second five potatoes are set on the compost and also covered. As the new growth appears I add more compost to within 2 inches (75mm) of the top of the container. Every evening I cover the potatoes with a double layer of horticultural fleece to prevent frost damage.
During April of last year my niece Kate presented us with Clematis ‘Special Occasion’ which I up potted into a 12 inch (30ccm) square ornamental container which had a four feet (1.2m) obelisk In it. This year, despite the container standing against the North East wall of my garage this Clematis was in full bud during late March and a mass of pale lavender flowers by mid April, which is very early for medium sized Clematis to bloom.