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, Anemone coronaria and lilies.
- Once early flowering shrubs are over, prune them if needed. This includes forsythia, Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) 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, synchronising 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 forms 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 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 coloured flower bracts last for many weeks and really make other colours sing. Many are also evergreen, providing year-round colour 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 colours 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’ associate well with the sulphur 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. Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’
Pulmonarias produce early flowers which provide an important source of food for hungry bees awakening from hibernation. Pulmonaria ‘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 neighbours 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 prettily 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.
Late autumn and winter is the time to plant your bareroot hedge. That’s because from late November through to March, most hedging plants are in their dormant phase and can be moved without causing undue stress. If you wait until budburst you’ll have lost your opportunity for the year, so don’t leave it too late! Planting a hedge is a satisfying job which will keep you warm on a chilly winter’s day. Here’s everything you need to know to tackle the task successfully.
Looking for inspiration? Check out our full range of hedging plants.
In the middle of this scorching summer, it’s easy to forget the dark days of late winter, the desperate wait for spring colour and the immense joy when tulips emerge, studding bare borders like jewels. Gardening is all about planning ahead, and although spring seems very far away, you need to start thinking about which spring bulbs you’d like to grow now.
Months of careful planning at Arundel Castle in West Sussex creates one of the largest spring bulb displays in the UK – an explosion of over 120,000 tulips and more than 150 varieties, all carefully orchestrated to create a stunning succession of colour throughout April. The festival showcases the versatility of tulips and other spring bulbs, with plantings in turf, borders and pots. I’ve been rifling through my photos of last April’s event, gleaning inspiration for my tulip orders this month.
Entering the grounds through a portico, you are immediately met with swathes of naturalised bulbs sweeping between blossoming cherries. Flowering bulbs clothe the dry castle moat, creating a stunning contrast between the austere grey castle walls and their jewelled banks.
The display includes thousands of white Narcissus ‘Thalia’, blue Camassia and even naturalised tulips. Tulips from previous years are recycled by transplanting them into the grass once they are past their best. Although hybrid tulips don’t naturalise as well as species tulips, flowering for about three years before fading, they make a rewarding display. Many of the naturalised tulips are Darwin hybrids. These are especially large-flowered, tall tulips which are renowned for being the most robust and long-lived of hybrid tulips.
The landscape is punctuated with specimen trees, and at this point I was distracted by two stunning examples of Paulownia tomentosa in full bloom. This broadly spreading tree is a spring sensation, with upright panicles of soft purple, foxglove-like flowers appearing before the handsome, heart-shaped leaves emerge.
Tulips in pots
Pots abound – in fact, there are over 500 of them – and it’s a stunning demonstration of the advantages of displaying spring bulbs in containers. Most of the pots are terracotta-coloured plastic, making them lightweight, portable and requiring less frequent watering. They’re easily shifted about to refresh earlier spent blooms, enliven bare or shady spots with colour and artfully placed to highlight and frame architectural features. The pots are rammed – remember that in containers you can get away with much denser planting, leaving only a few centimetres between each bulb – creating concentrated blocks of colour which are high impact.
Designing with tulips
The crescendo of colour reaches its climax in The Collector’s Garden. What was once an abandoned kitchen garden and car park was transformed in 2008 into a Jacobean fantastical extravaganza. The area is divided into a series of rooms each with its own theatrical set piece carved out of green oak including a giant classical gateway, a temple crowned with antlers. shell-studded grottos and gilded fountains.
The tulip displays are carefully designed to vary in tone and intensity, enhancing the character of each garden room. Tulips offer an enormous range of colours to suit all tastes – from shimmering pastels to luxurious purples and maroons – and an unrivalled opportunity to indulge yourself with colour and paint the garden with flowers. Here’s a taste of some of Arundel’s tulip colours and suggestions of how to recreate the look at home.
A sumptuous colour scheme of red, purple and maroon-black was used to great effect in the organic kitchen garden, where it was planted into the ‘Bow-Tie Beds’ of neatly trimmed box.
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A snowy carpet with pops of red
In the stunning Labyrinth Garden, a large lawn is planted up with concentric swirls of more than 20,000 red Darwin tulips in a sea of pure white, scented Narcissus ‘Thalia’, all surrounded by exotic windmill palms Trachycarpus fortunei.
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Pots of large-headed, shocking pink tulips really made a splash beside the pool and cascade.
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Fruity shades of pink and yellow
They often tell you not to mix pink and yellow, but this fruity cocktail defies the rule with elegance.
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Fire & ice
These fiery tulips were tastefully toned down with dashes of cream.
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Pots of these layered, peony-flowered tulips were strategically placed to radiate a glow of warming tangerine in shadier corners of the garden.
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Lilac and lime
These pale purple tulips pair beautifully with the zingy lime green of the euphorbia, the display given a lift by the addition of orange crown imperial fritillaries.
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A passion for purple
This harmonising blend of purples created a relaxed ambience, framing some seating.
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Sweetening up the veg patch
Tulips are a great way to inject some early colour into your veg plot whilst you are waiting for crops to bulk up. These tulips added a sugary sweet flavour interplanted amongst beets in the organic kitchen garden.
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These grouped containers were a perfectly toned display of pastel creams and pinks balanced with deeper purple.
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Garden plants which offer sunset colours are precious as there are few examples. Hybrid tulips offer some lovely choices – be sure to seek them out.
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Inspired by Arundel’s magnificent display, I’m busy compiling my spring bulb order. Daffodils should be planted by the end of September, whilst tulips go in later from the end of October onwards – but be sure to order early in order to obtain the very best selections and have fun inventing your own creative colour combinations!
Salvias are amongst the most rewarding plants I grow and some the easiest to propagate. Having amassed a collection over the years, I’ve been busy taking cuttings of my half hardy species as an insurance against any winter losses and to rejunvenate old plants. They root very easily – so do have a go and build up your own collection of these fabulous, long-flowering perennials.
Why grow half-hardy Salvias?
The first time I saw Salvias I was instantly hooked. Their flowers are distinctly lustrous and jewel-like, due to the tiny, light-reflecting hairs which cover their surfaces. This lends them an extraordinary depth of colour and they excel in velvety purples, indigo and maroons. If you prefer cooler colours, there are plenty of worthwhile choices, such as the new introduction, ‘Pink Amistad’. The range of colours and habits makes them versatile plants, suitable for everything from cottage borders to tropical schemes, and they are excellent in containers too.
Salvias are also some of the longest flowering plants I have in my garden. Keep them well fed, watered and regularly deadheaded, and many will bloom from June/July until the first frosts. Once established, they are drought tolerant and flourish on freely draining soils, although in a very hot, dry summer they will cease flowering earlier. In which case, trim them, give them a good water and wait for a second flowering in late summer.
Added to all these excellent attributes, Salvia flowers are loved by pollinating insects. Every summer I keep a keen eye on my Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ whose sweet nectar is a favourite tipple for visiting hummingbird hawk moths. On sunny days, this day-flying moth whizzes around the garden, stopping to hover in front of the flowers, sipping the nectar with a long proboscis just like a hummingbird.
If all of this isn’t enough, Salvias also have fragrant foliage, with some, such as Salvia ‘Cerro Potosi’, being deliciously fruity.
When I first began gardening, half-hardy salvias were rather unusual and considered a little difficult due to their tender nature. There are now a plethora of cultivars available and given sunny, well-drained soil, I have found that many of these will reliably over-winter. Salvia ‘Amistad’ will even successfully overwinter outdoors in my clay soil. However, some are short-lived and like ‘Amistad’ become woody and decline as they get older. Don’t be too quick to throw them out though – Salvias are slow into growth and can look a bit sorry for themselves in the spring. Be patient and wait until the weather warms up to start them into growth.
Leave shrubby salvias with their top growth over the winter as this will give them some protection. When they begin shooting in spring, prune them back to a low framework. I normally find that the thicker stems of Salvia ‘Amistad’ die completely – in which case just cut them right down and new growth will emerge from the base.
The most tender species will need to be over-wintered in a greenhouse. They’re good candidates for patio containers, which can be easily moved under cover at the end of the winter.
How to take Salvia cuttings
- Regular pinching out of shoots from spring onwards will generate plenty of material for cuttings
- Avoid additional fertilising in an attempt to stimulate new growth for cuttings. This results in soft, nitrogenous shoots which do not root as well.
- Cuttings should be ‘turgid’ when they are taken – in other words, the plants cells are fully swollen with water. Try to take them first thing in the morning, preferably on a dull day. Water them well the day before if they showing any signs of water stress.
Harvesting cutting material
- Avoid soft tip growth – it wilts quickly, doesn’t root readily and produces weak plants.
- Avoid thin, weak growth and older, woody growth
- Select strong, actively-growing shoots which are still flexible but will snap when bent sharply.
- Look for non-flowering side shoots. If this isn’t possible, always remove the flower buds.
- When you are harvesting cutting material, cut just above a leaf node. This will leave the original plant tidy without any stubs which will die back. The material should have at least two leaf joints and be longer than the final cutting, which will be trimmed back just before insertion.
- Immediately place the cuttings in a plastic bag with a label
- Ideally trim and pot up cuttings straight away. If there is a delay, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Chilling cutting material assists its survival and rooting success.
Inserting cuttings & aftercare
Taking cuttings of salvias will rejuvenate your stocks with young vigorous plants and because they root so easily you’ll have plenty to give to friends too. Kickstart your collection by browsing our salvia plants online.
After June’s spurt of fresh foliage and flowers, the heat of July can begin to draw some of the vigour out of displays. Here are 5 reliable perennials which will continue to reward throughout this month.
Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’
June is largely dominated by soft pastel colours but come July the garden palette begins to warm up. Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ delivers a tropical punch with its fruity, burnt orange and yellow blooms set against bronze foliage. This is one of those ‘firework’ plants which has real impact in borders and containers. It certainly earns its place as it keeps blooming through to October and the flowers last for ages in a vase.
- Height & Spread: 75cm (30″) x 60cm (24″).
- Growing conditions: fertile soil in a warm, sunny spot
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: Early summer until the first frosts
Coneflowers are plants with real presence. They stand sturdily upright on unbranching stems which don’t require staking. The flowers have a pleasingly definite shape, each one crowned with a fat, spiny cone. Their strong silhouette combines well with ornamental grasses. ‘Rubinstern’ is one of the best selections, with a rich pink colour.
- Height & Spread: 90cm (36″) x 50cm (20″).
- Growing conditions: A sunny border in any freely draining soil which does not get waterlogged in the winter
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: July to August
This long flowering perennial is much underused for such a rewarding plant. All summer long, Diascia ‘Hopleys’ produces tall clouds of small, dusky pink flowers which work beautifully in the middle of a sunny, well-drained border or as a free-flowering container feature.
- Height & Spread: 90cm (36”) x 50cm (20”).
- Growing conditions: Full sun and well draining soil
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: May to October
Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’
This is a dahlia with real class and one of my favourites. The apricot to pink blooms of ‘Totally Tangerine’ have a distinctive luminosity in the evening sun and unlike some of the more garish dahlias, it’s a colour which works harmoniously in borders alongside other herbaceous perennials. It’s also sturdy and well branching and so makes a great specimen for a large container– try it with a contrasting violet salvia such as ‘Amistad’ surrounded by some airy Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’.
- Height & Spread: : 80cm (24″ to 32″) x 45cm (18″)
- Growing conditions: Full sun and freely draining soil
- Hardiness: Tender
- Flowering season: July to November
Phlox ‘Bright Eyes’
Phlox paint bold blocks of colour in a border like no other perennial, their domed panicles forming soft duvets of pinks and violets, providing a dreamy backdrop to other more structural perennials. Their other asset is fragrance – billowing clouds of sweet perfume which float across the summer garden. ‘Bright Eyes’ forms gorgeous drifts of pink in the middle and back of borders, each flower picked out with a darker pink eye.
- Height & Spread: 80cm (31″) x 60cm (24″).
- Growing conditions: Moist, fertile soil, in full sun or partial shade – the flowers lasting longer if given some shade. Good for clay soils.
- Hardiness: Hardy
- Flowering season: July-August
If Annelise’s July favourites have inspired you, check out our summer flowers hub page for more great ideas for brightening up your garden this summer. For more plants which are looking fabulous this month, see Looking Good on The Nursery.