Ecogarden in Early March, 2023.

David Beeson

Snowdrops. No one is quite sure if they are native or introduced plants.

With good rainfall in the autumn and the pre-Christmas period, the local rivers are full and the chalk aquifers should last us until summer for our drinking water. Andover is surrounded by gentle hills and those are dotted with covered reservoirs. Irrigation is almost unknown in this part of the UK, with the agriculture predominantly cereals with sheep on the steeper inclines. Cattle are rare and poultry / pig production is lightly scattered. Watercress is a commercial product, yet is slowly declining.

With the weather alternating between warmer / cooler than normal, the plants have remained dormant. Only the hardiest are up and about. They include the snowdrops, crocus species, wild daffodils plus wild and commercial hellebores. The lack of sunlight has kept the crocus closed for much of February, so they are lasting longer than is usual.

At 110m, Forest Edge’s garden is colder than others in the town, so we only expect wild daffodils to open their flowers near St David’s Day (March 1st). This year they were two weeks early. And, the lack of rainfall has kept them pristine.

Wild daffodils. Some grow wild in the adjacent Harewood Forest.

With large numbers of commercial honeybee hives within throwing distance, our flowers have been given plenty of insect attention in the mornings. Bumblebees are about, although their numbers are currently few. These large bees are the over-wintering queens and they need both pollen and nectar for their potential broods. Despite being noisy, large animals finding their nests is difficult, especially as we deliberately make the garden’s fringes unkempt with wood and herbage piles. The further from the bungalow the greater the lack of tidiness.

Today, I have spread the last of our compost onto the back borders. (You can spot our garden design on Google Earth – SP11 6LJ) These were the ‘tag ends’ of the production and much of the material was only partially digested. I am hopeful that the soil fauna will still break it down and incorporate it into the upper soil layers. Here it will slowly release the plant nutrients that will stimulate growth. Regardless of the nutrient release, the organic material will enhance soil quality, limit weed growth and hold moisture if rainfall is limited. Home-made compost is a win-win job.

Cowslip and orchid leaves in the Hay / Summer Meadow.

With several large, deciduous trees in the garden, there are ample leaves to give to the flower borders. This year’s lack of rain has slowed down their decay. By now they have normally vanished; but not this spring. The second slowness is the grassy parts of Forest Edge. There has been no growth, so no desire to add cut grass to the compost heap.

For my 70th birthday, I was given a lemon plant. With poor fruits and a ragged structure, it has never been loved. This year, as a trial, it was left in a semi-protected spot outside. I doubt it will show any willingness to burst into leaf! It, along with a good number of shrubs and herbaceous plants, is due to be added to the compost pile. So, the house is full of seed trays growing the short-term replacements to fill the flower borders this year. There are far too many potential plants as enthusiasm overwhelmed me.

The meadows are short, yet dotted with wonderful potential. Cowslip and primrose leaves abound; orchids are reaching plague quantities and the yellow rattle seeds are gently sprouting. Bluebell leaves are peeking above ground, while the wild leucojums are in vibrant flower.

NOT 2023! But this is what we are looking forward towards.

High rainfall increases the growth rate of grasses if there is enough free nitrate, and this is unhelpful for garden meadows. I need low grass and high flowering plants to give it a flower-garden feel. The semiparasitic yellow rattle plant helps control grass growth until it dies in summer, but a low water input is good. So, the prospects are good for 2023.

The wildlife hedges have been left uncut this year and will next be chopped in 2025. The extra height and growth will yield more food and animal habitat.

Our small mammal feeder is offering peanuts and cashews. The latter being the greater prize. Yellow-necked mice and woodmice are using the food source intensively at night, although unsurprisingly the dormice are yet to break their hibernation.

A young female muntjac deer is regularly enjoying trimming our vegetation. She appeared while I was out and about and made a dash for safety – squeezing through stock fencing. I would have thought it 100% impossible to do that but I watched it happen from 2m.

NOT 2023. April 2022.

Buzzards and red kites grace our sky daily, the latter enjoying some discarded lamb meat in controlled, non-landing swoops. Two roe deer have been less successful in their road swoops and the kites have plenty of squashed venison on offer.

The first of the hedgerow shrubs, the cherry plum, is in big bud, the wood pigeons are mating and some other birds are starting up their territorial songs. Optimism is ‘in the air’.

Unused watercress bed. It is rich in wildlife being shallow and unfrequented.

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