When does the elusive season of spring actually start? Does it happen in the first week of March? It's a question that people ask every year. Especially when there's snow in the air and the garden is freezing. Well, the answer is both yes and maybe.
The meteorological calendar splits the year into four equal seasons and therefore, yes, commences on 1 March. Hurrah! The astronomical season follows up behind, so it takes a little longer. Even though it might still feel like winter some years, the spring has still sprung! But, if it's still feeling chilly, you can rest assured that soon the spring sunshine will help to warm things up.
The spring equinox is actually 20 March and after this date the day is longer than the night. Now there's an uplifting thought.
The advice for all is to make your own enjoyment. If you love to see bright, fresh flowers, then plant some in your own garden. You might be a bit late to start planting spring bulbs once the beautiful season has arrived, but there's still plenty of time to pop in some perennials.
Hellebores, for example, look amazing in March and there are many other groundcover perennials daring to flower too.
Pulmonaria (above) is arguably one of the best groundcover perennials for early spring. Also known as lungwort and Jerusalem sage, this trouble-free plant thrives in many types of soil including clay. It can cope with north-facing sites and damp (but not completely waterlogged) soils but doesn't like to dry out in the hot spring sunshine, should we be lucky enough to have any! The rather amazing purple and pink flowers tend to change to blue. Its foliage is almost as appealing, with its white, silvery speckles and low-growing habit. It looks wonderful when planted with Hellebores, Cyclamen, Heuchera and Tiarella. Even Hostas. Plant Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' if you want plain green, lush foliage with striking blue-violet flowers. It makes a great carpet under a flowering Magnolia tree.
Of course, it's also the season for Erysimum, the perennial wallflowers, which will be standing like blazing sentries very soon provided they were planted in time.
Then there are wonderful shrubs such as Chaenomeles, also known as flowering quince. These can be trained as rather unruly climbers, if you wish. Just remember to enjoy the plump, gorgeous flowers in early spring before they turn into edible fruit which can be cooked and formed into a jelly.
And how about that lovely small tree, Amelanchier? It will be budding, ready to burst forth with its pink or white star-shaped flowers any moment now. And no mention of early spring is complete without acknowledging the heady scent provided by Daphne shrubs, particularly D. 'Jacqueline Postill'.
So much to savour, and so much to do, once you venture outdoors.
If winter was mild, it means that many lawns haven't had a completely dormant season. They'll be looking rather ragged in March. So this is a great time to get your grass into gear. March is generally the starting point for lawn care and you can kick off by aerating your patch. If you don't have any fancy equipment, it's not a problem. Just spike your lawn with a fork. Be generous and push your prongs down into the turf as far as you can go. It's almost impossible to aerate too much, so do as much as your patience can endure. You can treat moss with a ferrous sulphate-type dressing if you wish, but you might find that aeration alone improves the drainage and thereby the moss problem.
Then it's time to get out the mower. Use a high setting and just take the top off the grass sward. Smarten up the edges using a half-moon edge cutter and you'll be amazed by the transformation.
Soil such as clay can be both a blessing and a curse. It's full of nutrients and good at retaining moisture, but it is heavy and can be slow to drain. You can improve it by digging in bulky organic matter. Leaf mould, compost and coarse grit are all good additions. Alternatively, you can top dress with mulch and allow the worms to take it down. A golden rule for clay is to keep off it during winter and throughout wet weather. It compresses the soil and squeezes out all the air. Plant things that like the conditions such as Hawthorn, Amelanchier Magnolia, Berberis, Hydrangea and many different conifers. Roses can also be happy in clay, provided they have some organic mulch. Many perennials will also cope, including woodlanders such as Hellebores and Japanese anemone. You can also grow vegetables in it too, such as cabbages, cauliflower, squash and onions.