‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’

13 March 2019

Spring is well ahead this year. We had deep, lying snow at the beginning of March 2018 and some very low overnight temperatures, but this year has been the warmest February to date and the plants and wildlife are loving it.

Early Spring

I’m always worried that an early spring will see us all caught out if the temperatures suddenly fall and we have a cold snap, but it is even more crucial for hibernating insects and animals. Last year the cold, frozen soil was very tardy in bringing forth snowdrops, daffodils and other spring flowers and most animals and insects had to try and survive an extra month without much in the way of grass, pollen or other food sources. 

Snowdrops & Daffodils 

This year is a complete contrast. Our snowdrops are almost finished, the daffodils are starting to open and here and there I have noticed a bumble bee or some honey bees flying about, eagerly gathering the rich nectar and pollen which will sustain their colonies and help to build them up for the breeding season ahead. 

A Loveliness of Ladybirds

This year, in particular, there seem to be ladybirds everywhere. On one small rhododendron bush alone, I counted 27 of them ‘sunbathing’and that set me wondering what the collective noun is for ladybirds. It is in fact “a loveliness of ladybirds”so the next time you spot 4 or 5 of these colourful little insects, you can remind yourself that you are looking at “a loveliness”.

Ladybird Spotting 

If you find any in your garden, do examine them closely because our native ladybirds are red with seven black spots only, but they are under siege from an American invader, the ‘Harlequin’ladybird. The Harlequin is a bigger insect. It can be red, orange or even black and has anything from 0 to 22 black dots. Unfortunately, it carries a parasite which fatally infects our dainty, native bug when they mate so they are unwelcome and if they feel under threat, they can bite.

Scientists are constantly monitoring the ladybird population so if you have some spare time, you can record any sightings of any ladybirds at this website, click here.  

Sturdy Spring Flowers

You have to admire the early Spring flowers. They look so fragile and yet they surface in freezing weather, endure strong gales and driving rain and at the first rays of sunshine they open their flowers wide. Recently, I saw a pair of small trees festooned with the tiniest pink blossom, a truly heart-stopping sight and it is impossible not to smile when driving past the intense colours of a carpet of crocuses. Now the rampant daffodils are blooming and soon it will be time for the cherry blossom and tulips to hold court. It amazes me every year how these faithful plants roughly follow a predictable pattern of ‘who blooms next’and yet no two years are the same!

Chitted Potatoes 

Our seed potatoes are ‘chitting’. We do this by setting out the potatoes in boxes with their ’eyes’exposed to the light and store them in a cool, frost-free place. The light stimulates these buds to begin growing and pretty soon the young shoots begin to show on the potatoes. You’ve probably noticed this happen when you find some forgotten potatoes in your vegetable basket. They’ll have grown long, spindly, white shoots. If you were to plant these in some soil, they will quickly send out roots and before you know it, the green shoots of the developing potato plants begin to break through the soil.

Likewise, when we plant our ‘chitted’ potatoes in late March/April, they’ll start to grow much quicker than if we had just stuck the unsprouted tubers into the ground and we should be harvesting them about 10-14 days earlier. 

Growing Potatoes 

We are intending to grow varieties which we know were grown at Bannockburn House in the 1950’s: “Sharpes Express”and “Arran Pilot”- which are 1st Earlies; “Catriona” – 2nd Early and “Kerrs Pink”which is a main crop.  We will also include my favourite, “Pink Fir Apple”a waxy, knobbly potato which is delicious in a salad. 

At least rabbits and deer do not eat potato shoots so we are confident that we will get a good harvest but there is just the small matter of several barrow loads of well-rotted manure still to spread on the waiting beds and it keeps raining. 

Future Plans 

This is an exciting time for us all at the House because the Trustees have just appointed the Conservation Architects, Simpson and Brown, to begin the restoration of Bannockburn House. The Paul Hogarth Landscaping company will be looking after the gardens and wider policies so once all the preliminary surveys have been carried out and documented, plans will begin to take shape for the future of our treasured Bannockburn House. We hope to keep the House open for visitors during this long process and you can be guaranteed that it will be a fascinating journey for everyone.

Guided Tours Begin  

The House will re-open to the public in April so get your warm clothes and waterproofs ready and we all look forward to meeting and greeting you when you visit.

Blog by Margaret from the Volunteer Gardening Team 

If you want to find out more advice on how to grow your own potatoes click here.