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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Garden Notes For April

Create Some Early Sensations!

The few warm days have woken the garden. We can see spring blossom everywhere. Bulbs are emerging, the Daffodils will soon be exchanged for Tulips and the Bluebell woods will spring into life. Most of us have given the grass its first cut through necessity. We also discovered we have a few things to replace that have been lost over the cold and wet winter and now is the ideal time. Dig in a bit of soil conditioner, grab a box of bone meal to sprinkle under the roots and your ready to plant. The question is what to choose. There are so many things bringing colour at the moment so if your garden still looks dull there are lots of things that could brighten it up now.

 There is blossom on quite a few of the trees. I am enjoying the Amalanchia lamarckii covered in a mass of star shaped blossom. It was well deserving of the AGM awarded by the RHS. This is a tree for every season, from blossom to berries and coppery foliage that turns green and then takes us into Autumn colour. It also copes well with most soil types, even the dreaded heavy clay. It won’t overpower your garden as it reaches a comfortable 5m in height. Looking around there is also a good show of blossom on some of the Plum trees. It’s cascading from my lovely petit silver ornamental weeping Pear Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula (AGM) and I have a Prunus Nigra ornamental plum which has very dark red, almost black, foliage and this is ensconced in a mass of rose pink blossom (12m eventual height and spread).  These are all easy trees to establish with elements of interest right through the seasons.

Every year I am grateful for the sturdy Viburnum Tinus by my front door. The evergreen waxy leaves make an idea screen of hedge and the early white blossom is always so welcome. I do actually grow it as a hedge and it shields us from the north east winds across the fields. If there are staple plants for every garden this large evergreen is top of the list. Other amazing Viburnums in spring are Burkwoodii ‘Anne Russel’ (which is semi evergreen and has a crimson foliage in Autumn) and Bodnantense Dawn, both of which are currently covered in sweet scented pale pink blossom

The deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) shrub I will be asked for on the nursery is Spiraea Arguta. This is the bridal wreath plant because all of a sudden it is covered in blossom that hangs like a veil of white. It’s an easy medium sized shrub to grow, it doesn’t make any great demands and I think it can be squeezed into most borders and planting schemes fairly effortlessly. There is in fact a whole family of Spiraeas in a variation of colours. Perhaps the most common are Spiraea japonica goldflame with bright yellow foliage and the dark red Anthony Waterer. They are all quite unassumingly easy to grow. Before we leave the bridal theme, I know I am going to be asked for another shrub called Exochord macranthus or ‘The Bride’. I see they are budding up early this year and about to burst into fabulous white blossom.

The early Clematis climbers have sprung into flower. I have been admiring Alpini varieties with the little bell flowers and Clematis Macropetala (meaning many petals) which are slightly more open flowers. ‘Blue Lagoon’ looks particularly striking. All of these and the Montana varieties, which have tiny flowers out very soon and grow extremely tall, can be grown on any aspect. I think my favourite early Clematis is still ‘Early Sensation’ an evergreen variety with limey cream nodding bells that open. This likes a warm position but like those above does not require a lot of fussy pruning.

The herbaceous plants never let us down and we always have some form of seasonal interest. My favourite plant of the moment is the drum stick primrose, Primula denticulata. Its flower stands like a lolly pop with a 5cm head. It’s a tough little thing and it comes back to reward us every year in shades of purple, blue and white.

As if by magic Pulmonaria (Lungwort) covers the ground everywhere I look. It requires very little care and seams to thrive in the damp clay, shady and sunny, soil we have here. It’s ecologically sound as the bees are particularly fond of it and they desperately need a spring feed as they come out of hibernation.

Aubrietia Arabis and Saxifraga are cascading over our garden walls growing in those difficult places and provides a mass of spring colour. The Saxifraga ‘Scarlet’ looks particularly exciting.
Pulsatilas look delectable with their velvety bell shaped flowers in white and some lovely rich colours. I love the curious fluffy seed head once the flower has finished. I find they are as attractive as a flower. Provide it with some well drained soil or mix in some gravel but don’t let it sit in wet conditions. This is such a lovely flower it’s worth a bit of care when planting.

Aquilegias are suddenly appearing, that is Granny’s Bonnet to you and me, due to the bonnet shaped flower. We now have some brilliant colours from two toned shades to very deep Barlow Black and Blue.

I saw my first Dicentra flowers this week. Bleeding heart, the popular red variety Spectablis, with its classic heart shaped flowers all hanging on one stem. I like the white version Alba.  I find it so beautiful and apparently fragile yet robust and reliable at the same time. Dwarf varieties have emerged and they have strong merits for flower and ground coverage. Formosa Luxuriant in dark pink or Alba with white flowers that hang like little lockets.

Last but not least everywhere I look I see Euphorbia (Spurge) originally a woodland plant, great in the shade of trees. There are more new varieties developing and foliage is becoming more varied and colourful. This is a great little perennial to pop in your shady spots.
Compact varieties like Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow (flushed with shades of red and orange around the margins of the leaf with a lime green flower) or Euphorbia Velvet Ruby and Blackbird which are also deep red foliage and are great for covering more ground but at 40-45cm the growth is nice and neat.

Euphorbia Griffithii Fireglow will be unmistakable in a few week with bright orange flame like flowers, alternatively there are some lovely silver varieties Euphorbia Silver Swan which is not too tall and ideal in a subtle planting scheme.

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