This Month in the Garden – April 2024

I used to think that May was the month for bluebells.  When I was a child we celebrated Bluebell Sunday in the middle of May close to my mother’s birthday.  We would walk through Crackley Wood, Kenilworth and be overwhelmed by the scent and the amazing carpet of blue.  In recent years, as our winters have become milder, bluebells seem to appear earlier and are now often much in evidence in April.  Bluebells are one of the last spring flowers to bloom before the woodland canopy closes over and becomes too dense as the new leaves filter out the sunlight.  So head out to Mowsbury Park, Great Ampthill Park, Steppingley Bluebell Woods between Tingrith and Steppingley villages or Moggerhanger Park.  In Cambridgeshire Waresley and Gransden Woods is a Site of Scientific Interest due to its diverse flora and its bluebells are stunning.  It is managed as a nature reserve by the Wildlife Trust.  Another of my favourite places to see bluebells is Coton Manor Gardens in Northamptonshire open from 11.30 am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday.

In my own garden primroses and violets and wood anemones come into their own before the tree canopy reduces the light.  For those with wooded gardens Galium odoratum the woodruff is a lovely scented ground cover plant with clusters of star-like white flowers which the bees love.  Once it is established it spreads by underground rhizomes to form large clumps.  These flowers brighten up a lightly shaded spot.  Other plants which thrive in moist shade are Dicentrus spectabilis “Alba” and there is also a pink variety known as bleeding heart. Corydalis flexuosa produces masses of bright blue tubular flowers with a white throat.  Erythroniums or dog’s tooth lilies – so called because of the fanged shape of the bulbs,  The flower petals have a swept back appearance.  Snake’s-head fritillary are also perfect for naturalising in a woodland edge.  Another favourite of mine is Solomon’s Seal with its graceful arching stems.  It is excellent paired with ferns, dicentra and hostas and again does best in dappled partial or full shade.  As I write this a host of foxgloves which I grew from seed at the end of last summer have now been planted out in the shady parts of my garden – they are biennials so they will be putting on growth this year in order to flower next year – but there are others in the garden that will be in flower later on in the summer. 

I am sure you will be aware of the recent publicity regarding slugs and snails.  The Royal Horticultural Society has joined forces with the Wildlife Trust to urge gardeners to reassess their relationship with these molluscs.  They are requesting that we show slugs and snails some love.  Apparently out of the 150 species of slugs and snails only a handful chomp their way through our plants, the majority play a positive role in our gardens.  They provide vital functions including hoovering up rotting plants and other decaying material and in so doing enrich the soil by recycling nutrients.  They also, of course, provide a food source for lots of other wildlife.  A couple of weeks ago I took up a large stone from the wall round my patio I couldn’t believe the literally hundreds of baby snails sheltering from the winter weather.  I put the stone back whilst I have a think about what to do with them – when the blackbirds and thrushes are looking for food I may put them out to provide a tasty treat.  To cope with slugs and snails we are advised to keep seedlings and young plants out of the garden for as long as possible, put down physical barriers  (I have used copper tape and wool pellets in the past – but rather expensive), or if we see a slug out munching move it to our compost heap.  Another suggestion is to grow plants they don’t like – no good for me as I like to have a full range of plants in my garden.  This reminds me of when my daughter moved to her present house several years ago.  She remarked that, although the garden was very well stocked, the range of plants seemed to be somewhat limited – lavenders, rosemary, euphorbias – you get the drift.  It wasn’t long after they moved in that one night the garden was flooded by light from the security lamps and when then looked out they saw two large deer cavorting round the garden.  They were regular visitors along with badgers and rabbits – hence the plant selection by the previous owners.

I have just come in from a prowl round my garden.  Best thing is a carpet of brilliant blue anemones, next best thing is the new shoots of the stinging nettles – do leave some in your garden if you can, and especially in a sunny area – they are an important food source for the caterpillars of several moths and butterflies – including comma, peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell –  talking of which there were several butterflies in my garden this morning.  Happy gardening during this fabulous month of April and keep looking after and providing good habitat for our beleaguered wildlife friends – they need all the help they can get from those of us with gardens.        

                                                                                                                         Linda Truscott

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