Garden Views-03-March 2019

March began with cooler, wetter and windier conditions, rapidly deteriorating into named storm ‘Freya’ which arrived on March 3rd, with heavy rain and winds gusting to 65 mph. Daily maximum temperatures fell to about 7 degrees C. Late February’s balmy conditions already seemed a distant memory. Occasional sleet and the occasional rainbow added to the generally gloomy feel to the weather.

The month continued with brief occasional glimpses of sunshine, no frosts, and plenty of strong winds, grey skies and rain, but on balance a big improvement over this time last year, when we had brighter skies but temperatures of minus 13 degrees C, caused by the arrival of the “Beast from the East”.

In spite of the poor weather and light, the garden looked pretty good in most areas, though back reference to previous March images shows a big drop off in many plantings of daffodils – particularly N. ‘Jetfire’, and  N. ‘Tête-à-tête’. I rashly assumed that all daffodils will increase year on year. Whilst some forms like Tenby daffodil, Narcissus obvallaris, and N. ‘Brunswick’ seem to do so, and continue to flower (though Tenby isn’t so good in this respect), many of my trial beds are showing marked declines within just a few years. The N. ‘Jetfire’ have been in for nearly 15 years in very poor conditions, and maybe got knocked by last year’s weather extremes, but this tailing off and lack of seed production to allow natural replacement is pushing me towards simpler floriferous and fecund forms, such as N. ‘Topolino’ and native N. pseudonarcissus.

A real delight from the end of the first week, was me finding the first Snake’s-head fritillary flowers, Fritillaria meleagris, appearing from the short, high meadow turf, from the bulbs which I planted out last September.

Bees had very limited chances to forage in early March and so needed a small top up with candy around March 12th.

Throughout the month the greater numbers of daffodils from last year’s plantings lifted the scene, and the several Pieris cultivars bloomed very well, and early.

Camellias surpassed 2017’s display, with many now growing above head height and becoming covered in blooms. With hindsight, I wished that more of them had single flowers, which are visited by bees, but the light bulb moment of concentrating on planting insect friendly flowers in a garden hadn’t arrived with me when this part of the garden was laid out!

Finally on March 22nd, the weather relented, and the month finished with a run of slightly warmer and sunnier weather, under the influence of another area of high pressure. The honeybees seized the moment to begin to bring in huge quantities of from the vast numbers of mature Pussy Willow trees, Salix caprea, which adorn our largely poor, and extensively managed land, particularly in the valley bottom beside our stream, on March 21st, below. And look at the increased numbers by April 1st, below, still a cool day with moderate breeze.

I’d never realised how valuable these common, sprawling, elderly trees are to our insect life in early spring.

Not to be outdone by dramatic bee activity, some of our garden common lizards, Zootoca vivipara, put on regular relaxed basking shows on the standpipe near our vegetable beds, which catches the late afternoon sun.

Here’s a garden walk of photos taken on March 26th, to show how things were looking as we headed into a benign end to the month.

The last week of March, in spite of fairly modest temperatures with minimal light frosts, pushed the light levels recorded in the month up a little, but these were still certainly on the low side compared to many Marches of recent years, at just 273 KWH. The monthly rainfall total, at 241.05 mm, was the highest March reading I’ve recorded since I began to include this on these garden views pages, confirming that March isn’t always a nice “dry” month up here!