Nature Calendar: March in the British Garden
The traditional March winds may be expected to roar sometime during the month, but there will be compensating mild, still days as spring approaches.
Manyappear with the first signs of spring. Muscari are beginning to bloom in most gardens, as well as all varieties of crocus. The early saxifragas, including the wild golden saxifrage, are starting to flower, and the bergenias will also appear, but may be damaged by frost. Narcissus bulbocodium is in flower, as well as the first and the short-stemmed Iris unguicularis, which has been blooming intermittently all winter. The hardy cyclamen Cyclamen coum produces its frail pink blooms, which contrast well with the various blues of early gentians. The young fronds of many ferns begin to unfurl this month.
Woodland flowers to be found now include the wood anemone (Anemone nem-orosa), and, later in the month, the wood sorrel. Primroses, which are found particularly on sheltered banks, are in full flower. The kingcup and butterburr will be seen near streams and in open woodland. Sweet violets, greater stitchwort, ground ivy and moschatel appear on hedge banks, with such weeds as the daisy, hairy bittercress and many kinds of speedwell.
SHRUBS AND TREES
Flowering shrubs and trees again dominate the scene, the bright yellow of forsythia being especially showy. Magnolia stellata and M. soulangiana are in bloom. Camellias and Abeliophyllum distichum will flower in sheltered positions, and Mahonia aquifoliwn makes a colourful display. Stiff flower spikes hang from the bare branches of Stachyurus praecox. Several of the chaenomeles (japonica) are in flower, and the buds of the lilac are swelling. Once the cold winds die down, the almond will produce its beautiful deep pink blossom.
The flowering of the blackthorn (sloe) is said to coincide with one of the season’s cold spells. On the other hand, the catkins of the sallow, known as pussy willow, open when warmer weather brings out the first spring insects. The first dull-red flowers of the elm also appear.
The leaves of the hawthorn start to show, and the new red leaf growth of thecan be seen. The architectural beauty of dwarf conifers is conspicuous in the rock garden.
Once the cold weather breaks, the flocks of birds thin out, and there is a tendency for them to move about in pairs as the days lengthen. The rooks begin rebuilding their nests in earnest. Other early nesters are woodpigeons, thrushes, blackbirds and, among the water-fowl, mallard, moorhens and coot.
The first migrants are now due, among them the wheatear and the chiffchaff, which sometimes winters in the mild south-west of the British Isles. Even the first swallow may arrive in March.
The few British butterflies that pass the winter as adult butterflies emerge from hibernation. These include the small tortoiseshell, the peacock and the comma, all of which can be seen feeding in gardens, where they lay their eggs on young nettles. The brimstone also appears in March, but usually stays in the woods on the buckthorn plants.
Ladybird beetles are also due to leave their winter quarters, and the seven-spot and two-spot varieties visit gardens to feed on greenfly.
Young badgers and fox cubs are born in March, and young hares can be found lying in the shallow depressions in the ground that constitute their nests or ‘forms’. The antics of the adult male hares justify the description ‘mad as a March hare’. In the ponds, toads are beginning to lay their long strings of eggs. Grass snakes, adders and lizards come out to sun themselves on warmer days.