Roddy Llewellyn's March garden
PUBLISHED: 12:26 17 February 2011 | UPDATED: 11:59 28 February 2013
Love your herbs
Yourherbs will love you all the more if you give them some care and attention during March, and while youre doing it you can dream of all those delicious scents that pervade the air on a balmy summers day.
Containerised herbs can be re-potted, cuttings can be taken and dead foliage removed.
Outdoor plants can have the soil gently loosened around their base and mulched.
As I write my outdoor herbs are looking distraught. My French tarragon, despite its protecting glass cloche, has been reduced to brown leaves and twigs and my wild rocket isnt looking much better. However, I will be surprised if either of these two stalwart herbs does not bounce back with renewed vigour once the ground warms up.
While on the subject of these two herbs, dont bother with Russian tarragon because it doesnt taste of anything, and give so-called salad rocket a miss because its larger, fleshier leaves do not have the strength of taste of its wild cousin and it is too susceptible to pests and disease. About the only herb to have escaped the ravages of the December weather is my parsley that looks remarkably perky.
We are constantly being told how lucky we are because there is so much choice these days. I disagree. When it comes to herbs there are so many different species of the same genus it ishard to know which to choose.
Years ago, I visited a specialist nursery, asked for marjoram and was told they stocked 24 different kinds. Being a specialist there was advice to hand, which cannot be said for so many other outlets. So, in my ignorance I said golden marjoram please, that popular and very useful plant that forms a golden carpet in early summer at the front of the border. Little did I know that this is purely an ornamental plant with little if any culinary use and that I should have acquired Origanum majorana (sweet marjoram) or Origanum vulgare (wild marjoram) for my salads and stews.
I have become increasingly fond of peppermint tea, made with fresh leaves (with a dash of sugar) as an excellent antidote to indigestion.
All mints can be contained by planting them in a pot submerged in the soil so the rim is just showing, otherwise they rush about. In the same nursery there were 65 different kinds. Where to start?
Jekka McVicar (www.jekkasherbfarm.com), who has been growing organic herbs since 1984 and who is Britains herb guru, tells me that Mentha x piperita (black peppermint) is the mint of choice for an infusion. She also recommends Mentha spicata (Moroccan mint) for the best clear iced, spearmint tea for summer.
When it comes to thyme, of which Jekka has 49 different sorts, she suggests Thymus pulegioides (broad-leaved thyme), with pink flowers and larger than normal leaves if you want to combine aestheticism with practicality. This is a good-doer with leaves of excellent flavour. Of the rosemary, she thinks there is little to beat Rosmarinus officinalis (green ginger) with pale blue flowers and a compact, upright habit. If you garden in clay, consider R. arbiflorus, a tough white-flowering variety which, unlike most other rosemary, is tolerant of such conditions and that is unusual for a genus indigenous to the Mediterranean region. If youre looking for rosemary to fan-train up a sunny wall, try R. Tuscan Blue.
Perhaps the most beguiling of all scented plants is the lily of the valley. It takes me back to my childhood and nanny, whose favourite flower it is, and who will be 102 in June. If this little beauty is happy it will rampage about the place and if yours has behaved thus, March is the time to divide and introduce to another part of the garden. Pot some up at the same time so you can bring them into the house after a spell in a cool porch or greenhouse once they have budded up, as we say in the trade. Lily of the valley does all the better in shade and is happy growing under deciduous shrubs but must have a rich soil if its is to become close friends.
In the gloom of winter, many people find the richly-glowing twigs of dogwoods comforting, a perfect example being Cornus alba Westonbirt. Now is the time to cut to within 2.5cm (1) of the ground if you want a good display next winter.