Seeing the calendar click over to March is confirmation that the universe is unfolding as it should, that the cycles of nature are out there, at work, while we huddle inside around the fire waiting for the weather to slowly warm our corner of the world. It’s interesting that the days have been lengthening and the sun approaching closer since late December but it has taken until now for the cumulative daily effects to become apparent with hints of spring appearing in odd corners.

I think that we’ve been lucky so far this winter; it has been relatively dry and mild. Checking again with the province’s snowpack advisory shows that snow levels throughout the province are in good shape, which is reassuring (so long as they don’t all melt at once come spring). There should be plenty of water for gardening this coming summer. They are looking to measurements on April 1st to determine for sure the yearly totals (http://bcrfc.env.gov.bc.ca/bulletins/watersupply/current.htm).

My tulips are behaving in unusual fashion – the smaller species (turkestanica & tarda) have been slow to appear above ground, as have Chionodoxa, while later blooming tulips like Appledorn are off to an early start with short spears appearing above ground a few weeks ago. Iris reticulata is right on time though. I had a handful of Cyclamen coum under my Japanese maple that have not appeared at all and now I fear the worst. That is quite a mystery and if they don’t show up – they should have started sometime in January – then I’ll have to dig for the problem. I think that Cyclamen and other bulbs should be amongst the last plants to go into a garden, amongst the shrubs and perennials, to avoid disturbing them while they are settling in. They don’t deal well with construction projects.

I spread both mushroom manure and soil amender on the garden this fall (from Meadows Landscape Supply); the colour of the manure, much lighter and redder at first than the soil amender, which was almost black, has now aged to about the same colour, barely distinguishable where the one blends into the other. The amender was easier to spread, being more broken down, better looking and I’m hoping that it will be closer to neutral in terms of ph than the manure. The amender is essentially a compost, containing some manure as well as other organic residues and is an attractive mulch that will improve the looks of a garden through the winter months and, more importantly, return to the soil organic elements that will feed the microorganisms that in turn feed the plants.

A garden club member tells me that he doesn’t mulch his beds as the plants tend to get out of hand and outgrow their bounds. This got me thinking that I have banished many plants from the garden over the years, such as Salvias, Perovskia, Achillea and many others for precisely that reason. They bounded up to twice the advertised size and ate their neighbours. So that is something to consider when regularly mulching a garden; that you would then be wise to grow plants that love rich living. Thankfully, there are plenty of beautiful shrubs and perennials that answer the call.

If your garden is large enough then it is possible to have a separate bed with poorer soil, in the sun, to accommodate the leaner feeders of the plant world, many of then equally beautiful to their high-living cousins. Even poorer soil is necessary if you want to plant a herb garden. These plants, mostly native to the Mediterranean and other similar climates are at home in poor gritty soil that is well drained – the opposite of what is normally found in a rainforest garden. Planting a meadow too requires a similar poor soil to accommodate the grasses, bulbs and wildflowers that are at home in that type of environment. I’ve wondered where I would get poor soil if I were to attempt such a project (which I can’t – no room).

Lets hope that we make it through, unscathed by fickle March, and that we are standing on the threshold of a glorious gardening year.

Jim Thorleifson

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