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Ploughing, sowing, planting, pruning, and mulching all jobs which the gardeners are busy with in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens this month. March is a month which sees lots of activity in the gardens, finally the incessant rain we’ve been experiencing all winter has ceased, it has been replaced with dry cool sunny weather which of course is favoured by all gardeners. 

Narcissus 'Quail’, a daffodil bulb to keep in mind for planting next year. Eileen one of our brilliant head gardeners has planted bunches of these delicately scented daffodils at the front of the Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop (they were transplanted from pots which had been ‘planted up’ in the Autumn). Narcissus ‘Quail’ is a vigorous jonquil daffodil with stems to 40cm, bearing up to 3 fragrant, bright deep yellow flowers 4cm across.

In the Kitchen Garden, the soil has been roughly dug, and a heavy layer of our own well-rotted compost has been added. The soil temperature is still on the low side; in another week or so the Broad Beans will be planted out. On the lower side of this garden, over the hedge, the new student accommodation cottage for the school is nearing completion.

The Ornamental Fruit Garden is a carpet of Miniature daffodils, Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’, Fritillaria meleagris (Snake’s head Fritillary), Helleborus orientalis, Chionodoxa Luciliae (Glory of the Snow), Primula vulgaris, Crocuses and Leucojum vernum (Spring Snowflake) beneath the bare fruit trees. The soft fruit bushes (Currants, Gooseberries) have all been pruned. A large old shrub rose has been transplanted into a new pot; its roots have got too big. The Peach trees (var.Peregrine) display their beautiful deep pink blossoms on the south-facing wall of the dining room, behind our homemade heavy-duty plastic protective frames; the threat of frosty nights not over yet.

It’s hard to miss the beautiful bright pink goblet-shaped flowers of the tall Magnolia x soulangeana in the old Pleasure Garden; they can be seen from far and wide. Across the narrow pathway, another Magnolia is coming into flower. Down in Wilson’s Wood, daffodils, Leucojum vernum and the foliage of the Wild Garlic (already being used to make delicious pesto) can be seen.

Fruit: Apple trees in the new orchard beyond the Shell house have been pruned this month; many apple trees in the oldest orchard in front of Kinoith have been removed to make way for new fruit trees. New Blueberry plants have been planted in the Blueberry cage: Blueberry var.Herbert is considered to be one of the best flavoured varieties; the berries are very large and medium-blue.

The main Vegetable field has been ploughed in front of the glasshouses: this will gradually be planted over the next couple of months; a large selected area has been covered with polythene and has not been ploughed, this is our ‘No-Dig area’, the leeks will be planted out here together with onions. Behind it, a field of potatoes has been sown; varieties such as: Setanta (Organic Maincrop Potato is a very high dry matter potato with good resistance to blight.), Sarpo Axona (Axona' is similar to 'Mira' in that it also has outstanding blight resistance but the flesh is slightly creamier with a more regular tuber shape, a very versatile potato with excellent flavour and storage potential). A field of onions will be sown at the end of March. 

The Glasshouse bays are beginning to fill up quickly. Carrots (Napoli), Peas (Ambassador), Swiss Chard Perpetual, Perpetual Spinach - Erbette and beetroot have been directly sown. There are bays of: radishes, lettuces including Cos and Lola Rosa, Salad greens, including Rocket, Red mustard, Green Mustard, Mibuna, Mizuna, Pachoi and Tatsoi. The Leek Bed has been sown. A bay of Kale is still being harvested. Herbs too, such as Coriander, Parsley, Fennel and Dill add delicate fragrance to the glasshouses in the Spring sunshine.

Pots of fresh herbs have been prepared, they’re for sale at the shop, doesn’t everyone love to have potted herbs on their windowsill at this time of year. On the large glasshouse benches, the Tomato Plants have been brought in from the Growing Room. There are many Heritage varieties such as: ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Pineapple’, ‘Persimmon’, and ‘White Beauty’. They will harden off here for a week or so before being planted in the glasshouses. Pots of young basil plants harden off here too. They’ll be planted side by side to compliment the flavour of the tomatoes.

A bay of Broad Beans (Witkiem), sown in January have been staked for support. The early variety potatoes (Colleen & Orla) are flourishing; the first potatoes will be ready at the end of April.

If you are visiting the Glasshouses, don’t miss the beautiful delicately scented blossoms on the fanned fruit trees, they include: Apricot, Gage ‘Reine Claude D’Oree’, Nectarine, Plum, Peach and the Almond tree.

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