In like a lion and out like a lamb is often the way I hear April described. The days can be unexpectedly warm but it is still a month when we can expect cold nights and even frost so it is worth keeping an eye on the garden. It is also a great time to do some preparation so that the garden is as ready as it can be and you have time to enjoy it.
If you have had your sweet peas under glass then you should keep them there and keep pinching to stop them getting leggy but is a good idea to get your supports in place to save time later. We grow hundreds of plants for cutting in the summer and it would be a waste of time to make wigwams from canes or hazel sticks so we use a large frame covered in pig netting through which the plants will scramble. If you are putting them in the border try using twiggy material which looks more natural in the garden.
Cannas and dahlias will be sprouting which means that it is an excellent time to take cuttings from the latter. Don’t be too greedy and only take two or three from each tuber. These can be rooted with a little rooting powder and put in pots of well drained cutting compost and covered by plastic or put in a frame where they can be kept turgid until they root. In time they will form their own tubers. It is a good time to take basal cuttings from many plants. Delphiniums can be short lived on heavy soil or fall prey to slugs and snails so a few cuttings taken now will future proof you against catastrophe.
Another plant that will benefit from some timely support are herbaceous peonies. We grow hybrids of P. lactiflora. Their red spears are pushing up from the earth right now and in a short time the leaves will unfurl. We grow peonies in two situations. Firstly, in formal rows where there are primarily for cutting and secondly as border plants. Where they are grown for cutting they are supported with a ring of garden canes around each plant. These are then bound with gain string to stop the plant from flopping and so we can reach down and cut the stems as low as possible. Where they are grown in the garden they are grown together in a border to themselves. We put canes all around the bed and stretch green plastic garden netting over them. We use the type with large squares so the plants have plenty of room. Whatever you do never ever put your cane through the crowns!
April is one of the best times to be out and about. The soil is warming up and life is springing everywhere. The low sunlight and long shadows accentuate structural elements within the garden and as the sun is not high or strong enough to bleach them, the colours of flowering trees and shrubs have a special vibrancy.
The sight of virginal white cherry blossom agains a background of verdant green is one that I find especially uplifting. One of my favourite is the single white flowered species cherry, Prunus sogdiana. This extremely rare tree in cultivation comes from Central Asia and has abundant flowers followed by large fruit which ripens from yellow to red.
For those with an eye to see them members of the Acer family, including Acer rubrum, A. cappadocicum and A. pseudoplatanus (the Sycamore) are in flower now. These are beautiful when seen close up in red or lime green and I would encourage you to do so.
There are many Pieris and Rhododendrons giving their best right now and the show will only get better and better. Rhododendron praecox is always early, the suffix ‘praecox’ meaning ‘the first’. It’s lilac purple flowers open along bare branches in the sunshine and do not get spoilt by frost.
There is plenty to do now but also plenty to enjoy so never mind those April showers.