Blossom abounds on boughs and below. Flowering cherries come into their own, as do other spring flowering trees, and now is a good time to choose one in flower so that you can see exactly how frilly and overblown it is. One of the weird, almost unbreakable, rules of horticultural ‘taste’ is that single flowers are more acceptable than double flowers. This rule, like any rule (especially those relating to ‘taste’), deserves to be broken. The whole point of something ephemeral like cherry blossom is that it should be as double, shockingly pink, and ‘in your face’ as possible.
Beneath trees the carpet of bulbs and early herbaceous perennials means that it pays to cast your eyes downwards, as well as upwards, when it comes to floral impact. Pulmonarias, or ‘lungworts’, are real good ‘doers’ in this situation and now they’re bearing sprays of flowers, predominantly blue but also in running the full spectrum of pinks, mauves, red and white with everything in between. Their second trick is to go on to produce a flush of foliage that persists right through until the autumn.
This foliage can become tatty, or mildewed, so is best removed completely just before flowering (easy to do at the same time that you defoliate your oriental hellebores). They prefer a bit of shade and a degree of moisture so, in dry spells, if you remove unsightly foliage in the summer you must give them a thorough soaking if you want them to bounce back with fresh leaves.
Many forms exist so find a nursery listing a good range, the ‘Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder’ (available on the internet) is invaluable here, so that you can compare them ‘in the flesh’. Some varieties have really stunning foliage, not just the spotted variegation for which they are famed, and ‘Diana Clare’ has risen to prominence recently for having almost iridescent, silvered, leaves. I find it isn’t as resilient as some of the plainer varieties so make sure your soil has plenty of added organic matter.
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ has even more striking foliage, less prone to mildew, so is also worth seeking out. From experience I find that Brunnera are not as easy to keep going as lungworts so benefit from an ongoing cycle of dividing up and replanting—feeding the soil every time you do so.
Epimediums are an alternative where persistent foliage over floral fireworks is preferred. Most readily available forms are reliably tough, Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ is practically indestructible, and they really benefit from complete defoliation, in late winter, as the flowers are almost invisible if the leathery leaves are left in situ. Some exquisite species and cultivars are available, from specialist nurseries, but these tend to need extra love and attention if they are to survive in the garden situation; you ‘pays your money and takes your choice’.
Now that plants are in active growth it is safe to use a general fertiliser, such as good old ‘fish, blood and bone’, in areas which weren’t fed when they were mulched. It’s always a tricky balance to get fertiliser onto the soil, while there is some bare soil, but not so early that you are artificially promoting soft plant growth which would get killed by a sharp frost. Of course April is, like March, another ‘tricky weather’ month but even the most pessimistic gardener must believe that cruelly cold nights are becoming the exception rather than the rule.
From feeding plants to killing plants; active growth also means that weed killers can be effectively applied during dry, but not too cold, weather. If you prefer the organic route then diligent hand weeding, or hoeing, is the order of the day. Remember that annual weeds, which have not set seed, make fine fodder for the compost heap. Perennial weeds and weed seed are a bit more risky unless you can guarantee that your heap is so active that it heats up enough to kill them off (many aren’t).
There’s loads to be doing in the garden as anything container grown can be planted now and will establish easily without the need for lots of watering. Also seedlings which were sown over the last couple of months will require thinning out, potting on and, by the end of the month, hardening off.
Also, under glass, it’s about the last shout for planting up summer flowering bulbs and, in fact, the garden centres may be running low on stocks. While in the garden centre it’s always worth picking up a few of those little plug plants of anything which may come in handy later as gap fillers in the border. Get a few now and keep potting them on so that they’re in reserve for later in the year. If you don’t need them yourself then they can always be chucked in a pot and given away as a floral gift!
Getting away from flowers for a moment, don’t forget to take care of the lawn; mow it regularly but not too short. Remove moss and weeds to give the grass the best chance and reseed bare patches, protecting with horticultural fleece if heavy rain or very cold nights are forecast. It also keeps birds and other animals off the seedbed while the seed is germinating.
Getting on top of gardening tasks now will stand you, and your garden, in good stead for the approaching summer.
Before heading out into the garden myself I must put a quick ‘shout out’ for the ‘Netherbury Spring Flower Show’ which is on Saturday April 2nd—details on their website. Take a look this year (if you see this in time) and plan to enter next year; “other village flower shows are available”!!!