This Month in the Garden – April 2022

The feature in my garden which provides me with most joy at this time of the year is my pond.  It was excavated, constructed and landscaped by my son in 1989.  That summer the extension to our house had just been completed and the garden had taken a hit.  So we agreed that our son could make his pond.  He was thirteen and for a number of years this had been his ambition.  Cue – lots of research in garden magazines and books, visits to pond specialists and garden centres with aquatics – all good as reading had never been Giles’ passion and now he was reading and researching with enthusiasm.  The finished pond is a kidney shape 5 metres long, 1.8 metres at its widest point and just over one metre in depth.  It might have been much bigger.  Fortunately I looked out of the bedroom window as Giles was laying out the rope on the lawn to get the shape before cutting the turf.  What he was proposing would have taken over half the garden.  However, after heavy banging on the window from me and frantic gesturing to make it smaller plus a rational discussion with his father we reached a compromise – phew! …

As I look out of the window on a grey March day the rain is splish-splashing into the pond, but better still the water level is being topped up by water gushing from a small pipe.  This runs from the house gutters into two water butts which, once they are full, overflow via the pipe into the pond.  Originally we had fish, Koi Carp, which were protected from the heron by an invisible fishing line which ran around the whole pond to prevent the herons from walking in to catch their prey.  This worked well for a number of years but over time the fishing line broke or the heron worked out a strategy and the fish were taken.  So now it is a wildlife pond.  Although deep in the middle there are tiered shelves for marginal plants and at each end a shallow bog garden so that any creatures coming for a drink can scramble out easily.  Low growing plants and grasses on the edge provide cover for froglets and toadlets that will be exiting the pond later in the year.  The pond is netted each Autumn as the leaves start to fall and removed around Christmas time well before the birds start to delve into the mud for nest making.  As I sit here it is a hive of bird activity with much bathing and foraging.  The brightness of the marsh marigolds are a treat when the sun shines.  I enjoy the yellow flag iris as well but I wouldn’t recommend them as they are too invasive.  However, they do provide nice spears for dragonfly and damselfly larvae to climb up and out of the water so that they can break free from their larval case and take to the air as winged adults.  Sadly, I no longer have many frogs in the pond.  I have been told that the midwife toad tadpoles, of which there are many, predate the frog tadpoles.  I cannot recommend highly enough even a small amount of water in a garden.  It provides such an attraction for all kinds of insects, birds and amphibians, and our beleaguered wildlife friends need all the help they can get.  In return they help us gardeners by predating some of the creatures that eat our crops. On this note I saw, last year, a blackbird hammering a snail shell to reach the juicy inside – I had thought that only thrushes used this anvil technique.  Please say ‘no to slug pellets’ they are far too dangerous for birds and animals.  In fact I read in the press this week that the RHS say that slugs should no longer be called pests but referred to as garden visitors as they play a key role in ecosystems.

I seem to have spent the last few weeks deadheading pot grown hyacinths and planting them out into the garden where they naturalise quite successfully.  I always plant lots of shallow terracotta pots with dwarf iris (Iris Reticulata).  They are a native of Turkey and the Caucasian Mountains.  They come on well in the plant house and then I can transfer them to the patio or the conservatory  when they are just starting to show their buds.  As well as the deep blue purples of Blue Note, Fabiola, Harmony and Pauline, this year I have also grown Frozen Planet, mainly white with ice blue tips – I just love it and will certainly grow it again next year.  Potting compost needs to be mixed 50/50 with horticultural grit and a top dressing of grit to set off the pots.  When the iris had finished flowering I used to leave them in their pots to rest up for the summer and hope that they would come again the following year – but they never seemed to.  Last year I tried an experiment with one pot.  I just put the bulbs and compost directly into the ground after flowering and hey presto all 25 bulbs flowered beautifully this Spring.  I will certainly be doing it with all the pots this year.

My conservatory has been a mass of amaryllis (hippeastrum) this year.  As I write this they are a riot of colour, but by April they will be over.  I have to say that I am not good at getting them to flower in subsequent years.  I understand the technique is to snip off the flowers as they fade and cut the stem short to within an inch of the bulb.  The long strappy leaves which will have appeared will provide the energy for next year’s flowers.  Now is the time that the plant needs good light and keep it in the house until all danger of frost has passed.  The plant can then be moved outside for the summer.  It needs a sunny position, but protected from really scorching sun. The bulb should stay dry and the soil barely moist.  Fertilise it once or twice a month so that the leaves stay green.  In late summer cease watering and move to a dry location away from bight light.  The leaves will gradually whither and the bulb will go into a period of dormancy – do not water at this time.  After 3 or 4 months repot with fresh compost and water sparingly to start the bulb into regrowth.  Good luck!

In the plant house the auriculas are starting to bud.  It would be lovely to display them in an auricular theatre – their vibrant colours contrast so well against the black, matt background.  I always admire these when I visit horticultural shows.  My collection of sempervivums went into the plant house in the autumn and I have just started to water them again.  I like to have them on a low table on the patio throughout the summer.  I first became interested in them when, many years ago, I visited Beth Chatto’s garden near Colchester.  Her collection of sempervivums were arranged on different levels on tree stumps and chimney pots and looked so good.  What a wonderful plantswoman she was and even though she was in her late 80s she was kneeling down and weeding a border on the day that I visited.  She died in 2018 at the age of 94.  Gardening keeps you young and fit!  The garden is well worth a visit if you are in that part of the country and they have a lovely nursery and mail order business.  Beth’s mantra was “The right plant in the right place” and I do try to abide by that and aim to work with my garden, soil and weather conditions rather than against them – not always succeeding I have to say.  Speaking of garden visiting I went to the walled garden in Moggerhanger Park this week.  The restoration of this garden started in 2016 and it is now well under way.  The volunteers work there on Tuesdays and Thursdays and they are always on the look out for more people to join them.  It was a pleasure to see it looking so good and an excellent place to visit especially as one can take in the snowdrops, narcissus and bluebells in the woods alongside it as they each come into their own as the months progress.  

So on with the work in our own gardens.  Buddleia can be cut back hard now – they flower on new wood and will attract butterflies – every garden should have one, in a sunny spot.  Look out for the dwarf Buzz Series, these can be grown in pots if space is limited and can be kept at less than 1.5 metres in height and spread.   I have Buzz Sky Blue, Magenta and Ivory.  I am also contemplating cutting back my hydrangeas – I did it too early last year and was caught out by the frost so it is as well to keep an eye on weather forecasts.  Remove the dead, dry flower heads and cut back the stem to a strong, healthy pair of buds.  Lavender bushes can be trimmed but do not cut into old wood, if you do the plants will surely die – as I know from experience when I was over enthusiastic with the secateurs.  If sweet peas are getting leggy pinch out the tips as this encourages the side shoots.  Narcissi will be going over towards the end of the month.  Resist the temptation to tidy up and cut off their leaves but do deadhead the flowers.  Spring bulbs need to recharge their batteries at this time of the year.  The leaves take in the sunlight and turn it into starch reserves stored in the bulb for a good show of flowers next year.  I will be feeding mine with blood, fish and bone or chicken pellets to help them on their way.  April is a good month for sowing seeds – summer cabbage, Brussel sprouts, leeks, raddish, lettuce – the list is endless, whatever you fancy.  Towards the end of the month I will be sowing tomato seed for planting outside in early June.  I always grow Sungold, a very sweet, golden, cherry tomato as I find it does very well in a sunny spot outdoors and is very prolific.  But there are so many good varieties in different colours – really nice in summer salads especially with basil.

Aside from work, always make time to stop and stare.  I have so enjoyed walking through the village and admiring the beautiful tree blossom – it’s really up lifting.  No wonder visitors flock to Japan for the ancient tradition of Hanami or “flower viewing” during the cherry blossom season.  The odd bee has been in the garden collecting nectar from the ever increasing numbers of flowers and yesterday I watched a pair of great tits battling with a pair of blue tits for possession of the bird box outside my kitchen window.  In these troubled times nature and wildlife carry on …

                                                                                                                                 Linda Truscott

more Photo’s …


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