Fabulous plants for April

As spring really kicks off now, woodland gardens and all their associated plants really come into their own.  Here are just some of my favourite plants for lovely April flowers.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’  AGM
This fantastically useful ground cover plant is a real bonus in early spring.  It has pretty blue forget-me-not type flowers and very attractive heart-shaped leaves with beautiful silvery white markings.

Brunnera Jack Frost

‘Jack Frost’ is a star of the shady garden, where it will thrive in the cool, moist air, especially if the soil is fairly rich, although it can tolerate periods of drought.

At an approximate height of 40cm and spread of 50cm, it’s good for putting under shrubs where group plantings will soon spread into a carpet of silver.

There are many excellent varieties of Brunnera macrophylla – the silver-leaved white-flowering ‘Mr Morse’ for example, or variegated ‘Hadspen Cream’ which has an attractive creamy yellow margin around the edges of the leaves which combine beautifully with its blue flowers.  ‘Betty Bowring’ is has lovely white flowers and plain fresh green leaves.

Once Brunnera has flowered it should be cut back (both the old flowered stems and the foliage).  This may seem a little strange, but the plant will soon regenerate and by doing that you’ll be rewarded with a tidy clump of fresh new foliage to see you through the summer.

Tiarella cordifolia AGM
Tiarellas are commonly known as foam flowers due to their frothy blooms.

Tiarella cordifolia by Firgrove Photographic

They are related to the popular heucheras and heucherellas, but prefer more shade than their cousins. They also flower a little earlier.   Last April on a visit to the Savill Garden, the sight of a carpet of Tiarella cordifolia under a flowering crab apple tree just about took my breath away.  It was such a beautiful combination.

In large gardens the species can be allowed its head, and will happily cover the ground under trees and shrubs.

Tiarella cordifolia ground cover

For smaller gardens Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’ produces a mass of dainty flower spikes containing white stars that open below a tight, apple-blossom-pink poker of buds. The foliage, which is deer and rabbit resistant (allegedly!), has fingers of vivid green, etched in black along the mid-rib. It spreads, but not invasively.

Tiarellas are very useful small plants for shady areas, and are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-No-Mai’ AGM
This ornamental cherry shrub is sensational in spring when its profusion of light red buds open to pale pink flowers with red centres. These are followed by attractive dark purple fruits in autumn. Yellow-green foliage follows the flowers in spring, turns mid-green by summer and then a vibrant orange red in autumn.

Prunus Kojo no Mai by Firgrove Photographic

Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ prefers full sun, although it can tolerate some shade, and will grow (slowly) to about 2.5m x 2.5m in any moist but well-drained, reasonable soil. It can be pruned, after flowering, to restrict its size, and is often seen as a bonsai specimen in tiny Japanese gardens. It can also be used as a hedge.

This shrub looks wonderful underplanted with Pulmonaria or Tiarella.

Osmanthus x burkwoodii AGM
Osmanthus x burkwoodii is a dense, slow-growing, large evergreen shrub that can ultimately reach 4m high and wide, but can be clipped to keep to size. It is invaluable for dry shady areas, and works well as a wall shrub, or trained against a fence.

osmanthus burkwoodii

Delightful (but small) highly scented jasmine like white flowers are produced in April and May. The glossy, dark green leaves make a lovely backdrop for other flowering plants and brighter foliage through the summer months.   Admittedly not the most exciting of shrubs, it’s one of those easy, tough, unfussy plants for more difficult areas of the garden – and one I’ve come to rely on!

Fritillaria meleagris
 AGM

Fritillaria meleagris

This dainty but stunning spring bulb deserves close attention – which may mean getting down on your hands and knees to take a look as it only gets about 10 inches high!  It’s worth the effort though.  The snake’s head fritillary has a lovely nodding bell-shaped flower, which is covered in a very distinctive checked pattern whether it’s the purple or white form you’re looking at.

As a total contrast, Fritillaria imperialis ‘Maxima Lutea’ AGM (commonly known as the Crown Imperial fritillary) sends its bright yellow bell-shaped flowers up to 1.5m in height, and tops them off with a tuft of pale green leaves.  Very dramatic!

Fritillaria imperialis Lutea

Fritillaries prefer fertile but well-drained soil, in full sun or (preferably) partial shade – which makes them ideal plants for borders or naturalised in grass in woodland conditions.

 

Click on the link to read about Rhododendrons & Azaleas which are also coming into flower at this time of year.

(AGM denotes that the plant has been awarded the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit)

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in April

It’s starting to get busy now as plants really begin to take off.  It’s such a lovely time of year to be outside enjoying the garden – even if it can feel a bit overwhelming at times!

Keep on top of hoeing and weeding, and apply mulch to weed-free moist ground if you haven’t already.

Feed your garden this month!  Sprinkle a slow-release fertiliser around the base of your plants (including spring bulbs), fork the fertiliser in and water well.

SHRUBS & CLIMBERS
Clematis benefit from a liquid feed before they start flowering and diluted tomato or rose feed is ideal for a fortnightly soaking at the base.

Clematis

Don’t forget to feed your container plants too.

If you grow acid-loving plants such as Rhododendrons and Azaleas in lime-free but not particularly acidic soil, then use a Rhododendron feed on them (and avoid using a mulch such as mushroom compost around them as it’s alkaline).

Tie in wayward shoots of climbers including climbing and rambling roses and wall shrubs to supporting wires and trellis regularly.

Climbing rose

It’s hard to put a date on it (and it will depend on where you live) but when all danger of hard frost has passed and new growth is starting, you can think about lightly pruning evergreen shrubs such as Cistus, Lavender, shrubby sage (Salvia) and Perovskia.  Lightly clip them over and remove any frost-damaged stems.

Sage.JPG

Photinia and Pittosporum can be pruned now.

This is an ideal time to plant pot-grown evergreen shrubs and conifers.

PERENNIALS, BIENNIALS & ANNUALS
Cut back old foliage on Epimediums as flowers start to appear.

Finish dividing perennials.  And start thinking ahead, putting stakes and supports in place for big plants like Peonies, Asters, Delphiniums and large Geraniums.

plant supports

Continue to sow hardy annuals and think about removing winter protection from less-hardy plants.  Towards the end of the month start standing bedding plants outside on fine days to harden them off gradually.  Keep them in a frost-free greenhouse the rest of the time.

BULBS & CONTAINERS
When the weather allows you can think about planting summer-flowering bulbs, corms and tubers such as Canna, Eucomis, Dahlias, Gladioli and Lilies in containers and borders.

LAWN CARE
Feed lawns at the end of the month if the weather is warm and not too dry.    Treat moss and weeds if you didn’t get chance last month.  Now is the time to sow grass seed on any bare patches or to sow wildflower meadow mixes.

Start mowing your lawns regularly always choosing a dry day.

PEST & DISEASES
Pick off rose leaves with black spot – only treat with fungicide if necessary.

Watch for red spider mite and whitefly under glass.  Keep an eye open for aphid outbreaks – at this time of year they can multiply rapidly before predator numbers have built up.  Squash by hand for the non-squeamish, or spray with an insecticide.

NB. this is general advice only, keep an eye on the weather and be particularly careful if frost is forecast.

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in April

In the kitchen garden it will really be a question of keeping an eye on the weather this month, and judging when the time is right to sow seeds and plant out more tender things.

Sow tender vegetables such as courgettes and French beans into small pots and then plant out when the weather improves and your young plants are sturdy enough.

Towards the end of the month start taking frost tender vegetables out of the greenhouse and stand them outside on fine days to harden them off gradually.

Sow Carrots, Peas, Broad Beans, Beetroot, Spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and lettuce outside as soils start to warm up through the month.

Lettuces

Sow hardy herbs such as coriander, fennel, parsley, chervil, dill and marjoram.

Potatoes can start going in the ground now if they haven’t already, and it’s a good time to plant strawberries, grapevines and fig plants.

Start successional sowing of salad crops to ensure a steady supply of produce.  Cut & come again salad leaves can be grown very successfully in large pots or window boxes if you’re short of room.

Feed soft fruit and container plants with general-purpose fertiliser.

Harvest rhubarb (watering during dry spells).

Greenhouse

Ventilate the greenhouse on sunny days but shut it down mid-afternoon to retain the heat over night.

Marigolds

Sow annual flowers for your cutting garden.

Photo credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Practical advice on designing and building the right greenhouse for your garden

If you’re a keen gardener and grower, then having a greenhouse in your garden is probably a given.  I asked expert greenhouse company Alitex to put together some thoughts on the practicalities you need to consider if you’re contemplating taking the plunge but don’t know where to start.

The National Trust greenhouse

The Scotney from Alitex’s National Trust greenhouse collection

Some ideas and considerations about planning for your greenhouse from Alitex, a company which has been selling aluminium glass structures for over sixty years.
For the serious gardener a greenhouse is a must; we need somewhere to get ahead of the seasons, to display plant collections and somewhere to pootle around, protected from the elements.  Be it a smaller greenhouse stuffed to the rafters with plants or a larger greenhouse with temperate zones and space for entertaining, the structure should be a feature which complements your home and garden and be a source of enjoyment.

Positioning your greenhouse
Think about the size of your garden and how you want to use your greenhouse. Having it too far away from the home may not be practical. You may have an existing base, or a wall that you wish to attach to – which will give you your location already!
At Alitex, when starting from scratch, we suggest you site your greenhouse with the roofline running east to west and ideally with the door visible from the house. This makes the most of the light and ensures you have a good view of your investment. With a lobby entrance face the door towards the south – if the door is on the gable end, it will effectively be facing east or west. Putting blinds on the south elevation of the greenhouse will allow you to manage the light for optimum effect.

A bespoke greenhouse in an extensive walled garden

A bespoke greenhouse in an extensive walled garden

What services should I consider?
Electricity and water are useful and beneficial to have in your greenhouse, ensuring your gardening is not hampered by shortened winter days. It is also useful for plugging  in a heater or propagator to stimulate growth. Not forgetting a kettle or radio to add that touch of comfort!  If you want a more serious heating system in your greenhouse you will need a power and water supply in order to fit a ‘wet’ boiler run heating system.

Having mainline water makes cleaning  and upkeep easier and ensures your plants won’t suffer when the temperature increases.

watering cans

As with all services, get someone qualified to install them and do it at the same time as the building of the base, following ground plans for your greenhouse.

What style and size of greenhouse will work in my garden?

A bespoke double height greenhouse attached to the house

A bespoke double height greenhouse attached to the house

This is absolutely about what you want to grow, where it will be sited and what you like!  Taking our lead from the Victorians – the masters of greenhouse design – our own look is simple, classic and elegant.

Historically a greenhouse is often the centre piece in a walled garden, and today many of our greenhouses still attach to walls. There are several ways to achieve this depending on wall height, and what you want to grow. You can have a steep 45 degree roof, or a lower 30 degree and they can attach as a monopitch, ¾ span or full span to the wall (all easily demonstrated with images!)

Alternatively it may be freestanding, giving complete freedom of location, height and design. In this situation so far we have done hexagons, octagons, feature lobbies etc etc, but the size of the plot may determine complexity of design. If you want to grow a wide variety of plants, you may need to create partitions within your greenhouse that you can heat to varying temperatures to achieve this.

The final structure details such as finials, cresting and all important colour choice will make all the difference in how it blends and fits with your garden – and your style.
If you already have a greenhouse that has fallen into total disrepair, complete and authentic replication of an existing wooden decrepit greenhouse is perfectly achievable.

Why choose an aluminium greenhouse?
At Alitex we manufacture  virtually maintenance-free greenhouses, using aluminium to achieve this. Aluminium has all the beauty of wood – without the drawbacks, increasing your gardening time. It is light and easy to handle, yet strong, standing up to the extremes of worldwide weather. Aside from exceeding British standards, we build to the specifications dictated by location, be it the harsh winters of Russia or the windy flatlands of Norfolk.

Other than washing down the greenhouse with hot soapy water each year, there’s nothing else to do – there will be no rotting wood or stripping of paint – no deterioration in fact, in the quality of your greenhouse.

Alitex greenhouse at the Walled Garden, Cowdray

Alitex greenhouse at the Walled Garden, Cowdray

Will I need planning permission?
Increasingly gaining Planning Permission is an essential requirement for building a new greenhouse, although this will depend on the proposed size and location. As the greenhouse is a significant and long term development we (Alitex) think that gaining planning approval is prudent and good practice, and as such include it as part of our service with a 95% success rate.

Thanks so much to Alitex who make truly lovely (and top quality) greenhouses from their base just near Petersfield in Hampshire.

I’d add that of course if you are going to put a greenhouse in your garden you may well need to think about how you’re going to get there from the house. Do you need a proper path and garden lighting to make the route dry and safe at night or in winter?  Are you planning it as part of a kitchen garden with raised beds and areas to grow fruit?  If so, you may need an overall design plan for the whole area to make sure you get the layout right before steaming ahead and building a greenhouse only to find it’s in the wrong place or you can’t get around it for maintenance!

Greenhouses are often (like sheds) shoved in a corner of the garden where they can’t be seen, but nowadays there are so many attractive greenhouses on the market, they can become a real feature and focal point of the garden rather than something to hide from view.

If you’re interested in adding a greenhouse to your garden and would like some guidance or even help with the purchase (practically not financially I hasten to add!), then please get in touch.  We have contacts with numerous companies manufacturing and supplying a vast range of greenhouses to suit every style and budget, or we can work with experts such as Alitex to help you design a bespoke greenhouse which is perfect for your needs and a real asset for your garden.

Picture credits:  Alitex & Janet Bligh