Clemmie Hambro's gardening week 23rd march

Hooray, spring is here! But if you want your garden to put on a summer spectacle, don’t forget that this is also the time to do your groundwork

It is amazing how the whole thing suddenly creeps up on you. One minute you are dawdling around complaining about getting your third cold in a row and how February seems to be going on forever, and the next you are bang smack in the middle of March – the month when everything needs attention.

It is a month where you stand around wondering if there might be a late frost or not, and if it is too soon to sow seeds outside, or too early to prune your hydrangeas. It is the month where later in the year you look back and think: gosh, I should have prepared better in March, while I still had the time.

One of the key jobs for March that cannot be delayed while you wander about getting ready for all the preparation, is the planting of the bulbs and corms that are going to flower later in the summer. I am talking gladioli, dahlias and lilies. These beauties are key for extending your garden's season of interest into the late summer and early autumn. They are the perfect way to provide riots of colour and scent and a general sense of exuberance when a lot of the garden has gone over.

However, timing is key, especially with dahlias, as you don't really want them to be clobbered by a late frost. So if you want to be getting on early in the month, then you definitely want to be potting up those dahlias in the greenhouse till all threat of frost has passed. But on the other hand, you don't want to be too late, or they won't have time to get going.

I had such fun at Crocus the other day, that I rang up the owner of one of my other favourite companies – de Jager – and told him I wanted to interrogate him about bulbs. If you were thinking of taking on a retirement project, then let George Clowes inspire you. George was a financier by trade on the verge of thinking about scaling back his work commitments.

He took on de Jager in 2008 after his secretary told him that neither of them were busy enough, and he noticed that his bulb catalogue hadn't come through. When he discovered that the grand old dame of the gardening world was about to go bust after 140 years, he promptly bought it.

Understanding it was a family business, he kept all the staff but has gone about trebling turnover. His mailing list has gone from 16,000 to 60,000, he has built a website, started tulip festivals at all the major stately homes and can now be found selling his top-quality bulbs to the masses on QVC. He is, in short, having the most wonderful and successful time.

But the most important thing is that de Jager continues to provide the largest, most healthy and prolific bulbs that I have ever got my mitts on. Honestly they are whoppers – they are about double the size of anything you buy in a garden centre. So, if you haven't yet bought your summerbulbs, have a scan of the website or ring them up for a catalogue (about 25 per cent of it is changed every year) and try a few.

As the garden tips into high to late summer, it is absolutely the right time to unleash the full remit of jewel colours available. Gladioli 'Green Star', 'Velvet Eyes', 'Peter Pears' are all gorgeous. Dahlia 'Braveheart', 'Orange Nugget', 'Bishop of Llandaff', 'Arabian Night' will set your garden ablaze.

But we are well into March – so, if you are not already, you better get organised and order them now.




Sarah Langton-Lockton on her allotment

There was an email from Marcia, Secretary to the Allotment Committee. 'I'm afraid I have some bad news', it began, and went on to report that 20 or more sheds had been broken into. The Safer Neighbourhoods Team had been alerted, she said, and would be visiting the site. I couldn't get there that day, but went along the next morning, gritting my teeth and prepared for the worst. Sure enough, the door to the shed had been ripped apart, although the padlock and bolt were undamaged and still in place, testifying to the good work of Clyde, my neighbour, who had reinforced that part of the door after the last break-in.

It's a curiosity of burglaries that it takes a few minutes for the immediate shock to die down and for one to notice what is missing. Two spades had gone, I realised, and a digging fork, and then I saw, with a sickening feeling, that the old blue tub trug containing my hand tools wasn't there. These hand tools had not been acquired on a shopping spree. They had been assembled carefully, slowly, over the decades, sought out for their quality, their looks and their durability. Some had been presents, reminding me of family and friends. They had all been chosen to suit my idiosyncrasies as a gardener, and the older ones, through their design, had helped form my gardening habits.

Gardeners are fussy about their tools, lost without a particular hand fork or model of secateurs. Favourite tools are passed down through families and are cherished for their provenance. My 93-yearold mother has named in her will the beneficiaries of the tools that have served her through a lifetime of gardening. The beautifully balanced border spade casually taken last week was an advance gift to my brother to help him make a start on his new allotment. Just to rub it in, Gardeners' Question Time had an item on the merits of old tools, with Christine Walkden talking lovingly of the fine edge on a well-used spade and the pleasure of using tools with which one has a longstanding familiarity.

The next day I had an appointment on the plot with a police constable to show her the scene of the crime. As I approached the gate, I saw that Heidi, the supervisor of the Community Payback Scheme, was on site with her group of offenders. I tentatively asked whether some help might be available to mend my shed door. Heidi was positive and there was an immediate offer of help from one of the group. I was able to supply wood left over from the last time the shed door was broken down, and basic tools. Dean supplied energy, kindness and carpentry skills. He mended and reinforced the door with extra crosspieces, and it is now secure again. Dean's ready help did much to compensate for the shock of the break-in – a timely and muchappreciated act of 'payback'.

Sometimes those who steal our tools amass large numbers of spades and forks and then can't think of anything to do with them, so stash them away on a corner of the site or nearby recreation ground. They may turn up this time, but probably not. If not, I shall buy a replacement hand fork, trowel, decent secateurs and several pairs of the Atlas 370 gloves without which I can no longer garden. I shall then embark on a quest to rebuild my tool collection, slowly and with discrimination. It will be fun.