April is an exciting time and there is plenty to do in borders:
- As perennials emerge, look out for any dead plants and plan how to fill gaps in your garden. Get new perennials in as soon as you can and sow drifts of hardy annuals into warm soil.
- Remove weed seedlings while they are still small but keep a careful eye out for those self-sown seedlings that you want to keep, such as foxgloves. You can move these seedlings into the best positions, watering them well after transplanting them.
- Lightly trim Mediterranean shrubs such as lavender, phlomis, santolina and Helichrysum (curry plant), trimming them back by 2cm-5cm to remove any frost damaged growth and keep them compact.
- Plant up summer flowering bulbs by the end of the month including gladioli, coronary anemone and lilies.
- Once early flowering shrubs are over, prune them if needed. This includes forsythia, chaenomeles (Japanese fifteen) and Ribes (flowering currant).
1. Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Dicentra spectabilis)
Now is the perfect time to plant one area of your garden that’s dedicated to the spring. Whatever space you have, it’s important to squeeze out every season of interest and dicentra spectabilis is the perfect place to start as it’s a spring beauty. Also known as Bleeding Hearts, this plant is a real heart-warmer as it is one of the first perennials to emerge, synchronizing with spring tulips and providing an opening act before the main summer performance. Its fresh green, lacy foliage is beautiful in itself, and goes well with the unfurling fronds of other ferns.
The heart-shaped flowers dangle on arching racemes and their unusual shape has also earned it the nickname of ‘Lady in the bath.’ Peel back the outer petals of the flower to reveal the naked lady within! There are plain pink shapes and also the cherry-red hearts of ‘Valentine’, plus the simple white of ‘Alba’ will lift a dark and shady corner of the garden.
A native to China, Korea and Japan, its natural habitat is in rock crevices and it copes in drier soils provided it is given a shady spot. Once flowering is over, cut the whole plant down to the ground and it will remain dormant over summer, happily giving up space to summer flowering perennials and not caring if it is completely swamped by them. Lamprocapnos spectabilis It doesn’t develop a woody crown so it can be left in situ for years, quickly bulking up into impressive specimens.
2. epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’
Reserve the sunniest south and west facing parts of your garden for the main summer display, but East and North East facing borders (that receive sun for some but not all of the day) are perfect for spring plants, as are dry spots beneath trees and shrubs. Epimedium provide excellent ground cover in these conditions, quickly forming spreading colonies and epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ is a lovely form. The flowers are tiny, and in other cultivars can disappear, but with ‘Frohnleiten’ they are a bright sulphurous yellow and stand out beautifully against the foliage. The foliage is evergreen but will be looking tatty by early spring. Cut it all off in March and you will be rewarded with new heart-shaped leaves decorated with fine green veining against a rusty red background.
3. Euphorbia x martinii Ascot Rainbow
Euphorbias or spurge are valuable plants in the spring garden. Their chartreuse colored flower bracts last for many weeks and really make other colors sing. Many are also evergreen, providing year-round color and structure. Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a real stunner and makes a striking combination with brightly-coloured tulips. Its evergreen leaves are beautifully variegated with gold edges and develop pink tinges during cold weather. The lime-green flower bracts are splashed with darker green patterning and have a dark red eye.
4. erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’
The upright, lime green flowers of Euphorbias really make other colors pop. Combine Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ with the phenomenally long-flowering erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’. This ‘perennial’ wallflower will survive the winter but it becomes woody. However, cuttings strike with such ease and it is so floriferous that it’s definitely worth putting up with this drawback.
5. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’
The pretty blue forget-me-not flowers of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ associates well with the sulfur yellow of epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ and its silver patterned leaves continue to provide interest long after the flowers have finished. You could even pair its silvery tones with a dark purple heuchera, such as ‘Palace Purple.’
6. pulmonary ‘Blue Ensign’
Pulmonarias produces early flowers which provide an important source of food for hungry bees awakening from hibernation. pulmonary ‘Blue Ensign’ bears clusters of tubular blue blooms on long stems above handsome leaves. As with all Pulmonarias, after flowering the leaves often get mildew but this is easily remedied by simply cutting them down to the ground. Water well and the plant will quickly bounce back with a fresh crop of lovely new leaves.
7. Ribes ‘Gordonianum’
The two shrubs which we enjoy most at this time of the year are the flowering quince, chaenomeles, and the flowering currant, ribes. Ribes are covered in pendulous blooms that never fail to impress and bees love it too. If you fancy something a little different, plump for Ribes x gordonianum. The flowers are bi-coloured a subtle pink and creamy yellow which is exquisite.
8. chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’
Striking an oriental note is chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ with its gorgeous candy-pink blooms set off with golden anthers. With bold, cup shaped flowers adorning dark, twiggy stems, Chaenomeles are bursting with spring impact. These pretty plants offer a palette which includes reds and pinks at a time when the garden is often dominated by blues and yellows. They look wonderful trained onto walls or trellis which shows off their blooms, but they can also be grown as free standing shrubs or even used as flowering hedges.
9. Exochorda x macrantha ‘Niagara’
Meanwhile, just around the corner, I’ve been coveting my neighbors Exochorda x macrantha ‘Niagara’ which is already smothered in masses of white blooms. ‘Niagara’ is a much improved version of the old cultivar, ‘The Bride’ with more compact and manageable growth which is perfectly suited to smaller gardens.
10. viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’
The viburnums are also just starting to unfold their buds including one of the best selections, viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’. Other forms of Viburnum plicatum have a very broad habit which is hard to accommodate in smaller gardens, but this one grows neatly upright, its tiered branches clothed in abundant lace-cap flowers which are pretty blushed with pink. This is a hard-working shrub which really earns its place, as in the autumn it rewards again with fiery red and orange tinted foliage. For the same qualities but in an even smaller package, plump for Viburnum plicatum ‘Watanabe’, which will happily grow in a pot or narrow border.
Given some sun, all three of these shrubs are easy-care plants and will even tolerate heavy clay. Like all early flowering spring shrubs and climbers, they are able to flower so early because their flowering wood grew last year. For this reason, any pruning should be carried out directly after flowering.
Which April flowers will you be opting for? Whatever you choose, after planting keep an eye on the weather. Our springs are becoming increasingly warm and dry, so give your new plants a good soaking every one or two weeks until they become established.
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