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The March Garden 2023

The March Garden 2023

At last March is with us- it can sometimes feel that it takes a long time coming but as the first month of spring it is always well worth waiting for. It is the month when the garden is able to throw off the shackles of winter and to come alive again with lots of beautiful plants to tempt us outside once more. However, the weather in March can be very changeable so gardeners need to be cautious and not rush into sowing too early or indeed to do too much physical work too soon!


In the March 2021 blog I concentrated on our own garden here in west Wales in the low hills above the beautiful Teifi valley. This featured the snowdrops giving way to daffodils, the ground layer of wonderful hellebores with other early flowering herbaceous plants such as Brunnera, Pulmonaria and Primula as well as shrubs such as Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Cornus mas and Camellia.


The March 2022 blog came from the glorious gardens at Aberglasney which are always well worth a visit at this time of year. The highlights included the large drifts of daffodils and crocus, the trained fruit trees in the Lower Walled Garden as well as the carpets of Myosotis (Forget-me-not), Helleborus, Bergenia, Primula, Cyclamen coum and the spring shrubs Pieris, Daphne and Camellia.


March is a busy month for the gardener with top dressing the beds and borders to be finished, the division of perennials and the pruning of roses, dogwoods, Buddleja, Lavatera, Sambucus (Elder) and Leycesteria (Pheasant Berry). If rose pruning is a bit of a minefield for you then my February 2021 blog might help to throw some light on the subject. This contains some general principles of pruning and also looks at the different types of roses and their slightly different pruning requirements. Basically March is the time to finish the pruning of all the rose types apart from the ramblers which because they flower on older wood are pruned in the late summer at the end of the growing season as opposed to the beginning.

For this year’s blog I am going to sing the praises of growing your own vegetables and fruit. I did briefly look at ways of starting to do this in May 2020 in the early days of the pandemic when we were all spending more time at home and in whatever plots of land we had available and when many people perhaps for the first time were considering what gardening had to offer them.

For me the answer to the question ‘Is it worth it?’ is always a resounding ‘YES’, not just because it can help to reduce food bills but also because of the many other benefits it can bring. I may be biased but I really do believe that vegetables and fruits picked young and fresh from the garden taste much better than most shop bought produce. Moreover, if you grow your own you know which chemicals have, and perhaps more importantly which haven’t, been used in the growing process. Growing our own not only means  healthy eating for us but also a healthier environment for the creatures which share our gardens as well as  healthy living for us due to the physical and mental benefits we gain from the whole process.

 Growing Vegetables

Vegetables are generally considered to fall into one of seven groups. Those in each group have similar growing requirements which are different in some ways to the requirements of the other groups.

Group 1. 

Permanent Plants        e.g. Rhubarb and Asaparagus

Group 2.

Brassicas                     e.g.Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Swedes and Turnips.

Group 3.

Legumes                      which means that seeds are contained in a pod. They also ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air and therefore improve soil fertility.

e.g. Peas and Beans.

Group 4.

Alliums                           e.g. Onions, Leeks, Garlic and Shallots.

Group 5.

Root crops                   Plants with swollen tap roots e.g. Beetroots, Carrots and Parsnips.

Group 6.

Potatoes                       These are stem tubers rather than roots but are often included with

The ‘roots’.

Group 7.

Salad crops                  e.g. Lettuce, Tomatoes, Cucumber and Peppers.

Crop rotation-yes or no?

Basically it is beneficial to grow the different groups on different pieces of land each year.

For this reason in a large vegetable bed or allotment, crop rotation is often followed as it minimises the risk of building up soil diseases and allows crops to benefit from the previous one eg. Legumes fix nitrogen which can be utilised by Brassicas which require a good supply.

Most rotations are over three years with Alliums and Salad crops included with Legumes and Potatoes with Roots.


Plot 1 Brassicas Roots Legumes
Plot 2 Roots Legumes Brassicas
Plot 3 Legumes Brassicas Roots


In many garden situations, however, rotation is not as straightforward as, for example, personal preferences may mean that only crops from one or two groups are grown or space may be limited. However it is certainly better, as far as possible, to avoid growing the same group in the same place year after year with the possible exception of Runner Beans.

Growing conditions

Most vegetables do best if you can give them all or most of the following:-

  • As open, sunny site away from overhanging trees.
  • Level or only gently sloping land.
  • Some shelter from the strongest winds.
  • Fertile, well-drained soil with at least 30cm/1ft of top soil.

Growing Methods

There are several methods of growing vegetables depending usually on the amount of land available and the quantity of vegetables required.

  • Allotments – these are usually 1/16th or 1/32nd of an acre.
  • Large plots within the garden.
  • Bed systems.
  • Containers – including growbags, hanging baskets and potato planters.
  • Potager gardening – from the French kitchen garden where vegetables are grown mixed in with ornamentals. Vegetables are chosen for their decorative qualities and then grouped to display them to maximum effect. The only requirement is that the soil fertility is maintained at a high level.

Bed Systems

A modern approach where the plot is divided into a number of narrow beds (1 – 1.25m/3 – 4ft wide) separated by paths so that the beds can be cultivated without walking on them. Once created they can be managed as ‘no dig’ beds or ‘reduced dig’ beds. They usually require some form of edging to contain the soil such as timber, bricks or blocks. This system has several advantages:-

  • Planting can be denser.
  • Cultivation can be carried out in most weather conditions.
  • Crop rotation is easier.
  • As the beds are usually raised a greater depth of top soil and better drainage is achieved.
  • Crop protection with cloches or covers is easier.

There are also several advantages to the ‘no’ or ‘little’ dig systems.

  • The natural soil structure is preserved.
  • Soil organisms are not disturbed.
  • Weed seeds are not brought to the surface.
  • Moisture loss is reduced.
  • Less hard work!

A simple raised bed system in June with Runner Beans, Peas and Lettuce


  • Ideal if space is limited or only paved or gravel areas are available
  • Particularly suited to compact, quick maturing crops

e.g.      Lettuce, Radish, Beetroot

Leafy vegetables such as Spinach, Chard and Rocket

Dwarf Beans

Tomatoes, Peppers, Aubergines and Cucumbers

  • Generally the larger the container the better and it must have good drainage.
  • Use peat free compost rather than garden soil either special vegetable compost or John Innes No. 3 on its own or mixed with a soil less compost. Containers need to be top dressed with new compost each spring and changed completely every 2 or 3 years. Fertilisers are important to maintain strong, healthy growth. Use a base fertiliser on planting such as chicken pellets or blood, fish and bone and follow with liquid feeds during the growing season e.g. seaweed or tomato fertiliser.
  • Watering is the key to success. Containers can dry out quickly and regular watering keeps crops growing strongly and healthily.
  • Another key to success is to pick crops when they are young and at their very best.

It’s surprising how much produce you can get from just a few containers

Seeds or young plants?

This really depends on the quantities of vegetables to be grown. Growing from seed is much more economical but it does take longer and involves more processes. Growing from seedlings or plug plants is probably better if you only want a few plants at a time and it certainly gives a head start.  On the other hand it is more expensive and there are only a limited number of varieties available.

Fruit growing

In many gardens fruit growing takes third place behind ornamental and vegetable gardening, mainly because people feel that fruit growing takes up too much space. However, there are now many dwarf or compact varieties which can be fitted into smaller spaces or even grown in containers. Also the fruit garden can make a contribution to the ornamental garden since many fruits have an attractive permanent branch structure as well as their flowers.

Types of fruit

Tree Fruit

  • Unrestricted – trees grown in open ground but can be different sizes depending on different root stocks.
  • Restricted – trained to make them more compact and easier to harvest i.e. cordons, espaliers, fans and step-overs.

Soft Fruit

  • Bush Fruitg. Gooseberries, Currants.
  • Cane Fruit which require support e.g. Raspberries, Blackberries.
  • Strawberries – unlike other fruits in that they are herbaceous and short lived and, as a result, are more suited to the vegetable garden.

Best growing environments

  • Fertile, well drained soils preferably at least 60cm/2ft deep.
  • Sunny position to help ripen the crop.
  • Shelter from strong winds.
  • Away from frost pockets.
  • Ideal sites are gentle slopes facing South East, South or South West.

Edible Flowers

This is certainly not a new idea, e.g. the Romans used many flowers in their dishes such as Fennel, Violets, Roses and Pot Marigolds and Orange Blossom has been used for over a thousand years in eastern cuisine. However, it is an idea which has had a new lease of life in the last few years.

Just be aware that although the following have been used cooking for many years there may be detrimental individual reactions to these flowers.  For example some people react to the pollen produced by the flowers and it might be a good idea to remove any pollen bearing parts before eating.

Below are some suggestions for food and flower combinations.

  • Beef with Marjoram and Sweet Rocket.
  • Chicken with Thyme, Hyssop and Lavender.
  • Fish sauces with Pot Marigolds, Fennel, Chive and Dill.
  • Baked potatoes with Pot Marigolds and Chive.
  • Pasta with Pot Marigolds, Courgette, Sunflower and Chive.
  • Salads with Primroses, Violets, Borage, Sweet Cicely, Chives, Pot Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Sweet Rocket, Evening Primrose and Mint.
  • Tomatoes with Basil and Marjoram.
  • Fruit salads with Borage, Hollyhock, Mint and Evening Primrose.
  • Cakes, meringues and desserts with crystallized Primroses, Violets, Violas, Cowslips, Rosemary, Rose, Pinks and Borage

If you have been following my blogs since January you will know that each month I have been suggesting some good ‘bee friendly’ plants with reference to an article in the January edition of the RHS magazine ‘The Garden’. In January the main recommendation was a winter flowering heather Erica carnea and last month it was the Goat or Pussy willow, Salix caprea, with its wonderful catkins full of both nectar and pollen. This got me thinking about catkins in general which are very interesting in their own right. A catkin is a form of inflorescence- that is a group of flowers on a single stem. They are usually pendant and consist of scale-like bracts (modified basal leaves) and tiny, unisexual ie male or female, usually petalless flowers arranged in a spike. At this time of year they are mainly found on Hazels (Corylus) and Willows (Salix) although later they will also appear on Birches (Betula) and Alders (Alnus). The garden form of the Goat Willow is Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’ with its weeping branches covered in grey male catkins which open to reveal the bright yellow anthers which bear the nectar and pollen. Going back to the bee friendly plants I am delighted to say that for March the main recommendation is the wonderful Pulmonaria or Lungwort. This is a genus of about 14 species of deciduous or evergreen, low-growing perennials with slowly spreading rhizomes. They are found in the wild in Europe and Asia in a wide range of habitats including mountainous areas, moist woodland and stream sides. They are grown for their early flowers, often being among the first perennial blooms, in late winter or spring. The flowers are funnel-shaped with five spreading lobes in colours ranging from pink, red, violet, purple, blue and white. As an added attraction blue, purple and violet flowers are often pink in bud and therefore seem to change in colour as they age. The leaves are usually large, ovoid or elliptical and hairy with attractive spots in white or silver. Following flowering the leaves can become less attractive sometimes due to mildew and it is best to remove them completely which encourages a new set of ‘summer’ leaves to develop. Pulmonarias are very good ground cover plants for a shady or part shady position in woodland, between shrubs, in a wild garden or at the front of a bed or border. Other plants on the March list are primroses (Primula vulgaris), flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), Helleborus x hybridus and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). I know that the latter might not be welcomed by many gardeners but if it can be tolerated in perhaps wilder areas it is a very important source of early nectar.

Finally on this theme of gardening with wildlife in mind I would like to mention a blog I wrote in March 2021 which you may wish to refer back to. It contains eight ideas for making our gardens more ‘wildlife friendly’- three of which are about providing shelter, nest sites and food; four about increasing the variety of plants in the garden with the final one about providing water in some form from a simple saucer on the ground to creating a pond. If you want to know more about pond making then blogs from January and February 2021 contain lots of ideas to keep you busy! Don’t forget that all of the ‘pandemic’ blogs are still available in the archives and are listed in the June 2021 blog.

If you are reading this before Saturday 4th March it would be great to see you at the first talk of the year at the Old Railway Line at 9-30am in the top end of the restaurant when I shall cover the main topics from this blog, show off some wonderful plants and attempt to answer any general gardening questions which might arise on the day.  Other talks, all of which are free to attend, will follow on the first Saturday of each month until and including October.  Details of the dates and topics can be found  on the website.  The April blog and talk will be about ‘beds and borders’ which gives me plenty of scope to be as wide ranging as I like!

Until then enjoy your gardening and take care of your back!


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