Ahh… spring is around the corner. The snowdrops, crocuses, rhubarb and garlic are all popping up, sure signs of a new growing season. Also blooming are the hellebores (Christmas or Lentin Rose) and the heaths and heathers. Willow trees are also turning their springtime yellow. European Ginger, a low growing, shade loving evergreen plant, that lines one of our pathways, is still looking good.
Leaving last year’s plants, leaves and compost on the garden beds for another month is generally a good idea. Not for frost protection but to give the beneficial organisms a chance to hatch, potentially fighting off the unwanted pests. It also gives you some time to stroll your garden and appreciate every new bud pushing out, ready to explode. Evergreen branches, I use to keep out the neighbours cats from flower beds under our eaves, are also kept in place for another month.
March 15, on my brother’s birthday, grandfather, Pasquale Barrera, would come over to our house and prune our grapes. I wish I had watched him more closely and asked him his strategy. He always had the most well looked after grapes and the bumper crops always showed. After pruning the vines, he would take a fresh willow twig, that he had tied in a bundle to his belt and tie them to the wires. Every farm seemed to have at least one willow tree that provided free fodder for this job. A few simple twists and turns and the vines were secured in place. As they dried, they became quite secure. Using willow twigs, instead of twine, made the removal of last year’s vines a very simple task.
For many people, the start of a new gardening season means seeding time. Some vegetables, such as peppers, are slow to germinate and to grow. They are usually the first ones I sow, followed by tomatoes and basilico.
In the greenhouse, kale and choi are doing well. They give an added freshness to our stir-fried dinners. March is the time I most appreciate applesauce. It is a good time to use up extra apples from the storage shed. Adding only a little cinnamon, (no sugar necessary) our applesauce is used in making loaves and for toast or ice cream toppings.
While March evenings remain a little chilly, the polenta pot is still in weekly use. Following our family tradition, polenta is served spread on a board, covered with meatless tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese and fresh basilico. A glass of organic red wine from old growth vines makes a perfect ending for a cool spring evening.
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening