Greenfingers - March 2016

I have not often ventured outside the kitchen door recently, but on the odd occasion when I have, the scent from the Sarcococca confusa, also known as Sweet Box, has been a delight, if not a little overpowering. This is an easy evergreen plant, growing to 1.5 -2m tall with a 1m spread after 5-10years, and is happy in the shade, producing small creamy flowers in early spring which turn into black berries later in the year. It can be pruned after flowering to limit the size or shape, allowing the new growth to cover the cut stems.

The smallest variety, S. humilis makes a valuable alternative to box for hedging, and intermediate sizes, S. ruscifolia var chinensis produces red berries from flowers which have a slightly pink flush, and S. hookeriana var. digyna has narrow, pointed leaves, the pink flowers and reddish stems.

Greenfingers0316Other hedges which provide a more substantial barrier are Berberis, Holly, Pyracantha and Blackthorn, and could be grown for security purposes. 

If the weather improves sufficiently for the ground to dry out, then there are some outdoor jobs to get on with, such as planting shallots, onion sets and early potatoes, and summer-flowering bulbs. Clumps of perennials can be lifted and split, and dogwood, Cornus, and willow, Salix, can be cut back to encourage colourful stems for next winter. The weeds don’t seem to have stopped growing all winter, so they need attention, and similarly, the grass may need a trim.

In the greenhouse plant strawberry runners in hanging baskets – clear of the slugs, and other flowering baskets may be started off, perhaps using plug plants as suggested last month. Plant up dahlia tubers to produce shoots for cuttings or an early start before planting out in May.

Give some thought perhaps to alternatives to gifts of cut flowers for Mothering Sunday, which is on March 6th, such as summer flowering bulbs.

Astronomical events during March include a solar eclipse on 9th, unfortunately not visible from the UK, but Jupiter will be at its closest approach to the Earth on 8th. It will be a bright object for most of the month, with several moons visible through binoculars.

Pete Smith