Diary of an Orkney gardener – March (part 1).

 In Blog, Caroline Kritchlow

Greetings from the ‘Far North’… I am delighted that you are reading my first ever blog for the prestigious CALEY!

Brace yourselves for tips on dealing with wind (of the meteorological kind), suggestions on planting that will survive the most brutal of weather and of course some discussion on unique obstacles that we face due to our island location.

I need to confess at this juncture that I am a bit of a horticultural numpty regarding Latin names and that my use of exclamation marks can be extensive…probably because I live in a place where dealing with extremes is a daily occurrence.

I love March for a number of reasons, firstly because it’s my birthday! Always an exciting event when I need no excuse to visit the garden centre and spend my gift vouchers on pots of enticing spring bulbs. These will be strategically placed in those little gaps that exist in the long borders at this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion we do have a number of thriving nurseries on mainland Orkney and a bustling garden centre. Not on the scale of course of the Hopetouns and Simpsons but always a shopping delight nonetheless. Tranquility Nurseries even runs a thriving online service, this always strikes me as being mildly ironical as many nurseries from down south won’t post plants up to our wonderful island.

Last year I battled with the RHS to change their policy on not supplying plants to Orkney. I am pleased to say they listened to reason and we can now peruse the catalogues and indulge ourselves with a purchase or two.

March also marks the moment when I dust off the cobwebs in the potting shed, shake the spiders out of my gardening boots and brace myself for some serious horticultural action. The weather has improved; the soil is drying out and beginning to warm up and those narcissi planted way back in October are putting on a splendid display.

Narcissus ‘Golden Bells’

The coveted ‘Golden Bells’ variety are not yet up but I am looking forward to their resilient presence in early April.These canary yellow treasures lasted into early June here and they survived a hurricane last spring! On my recent visit to Edinburgh Botanics I discovered in the alpine house a pale yellow version Narcissus ‘Julia‘ which I intend to source ready for autumn planting.

Narcissus ‘Julia’

‘Tete a tete’  are doing a great job for now. Their sturdy dwarf stems can withstand wind speeds of up to 50 mph and as I type, a hooley is building up and no doubt there will be some losses today.

My one hundred azure blue Iris reticulata have already proven to be victims to the spring storms, their heads proving too heavy for their delicate stems and I am already planning to plant the more resilient Iris histrioides next October in their place.

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