Below is the list of our favourite plants in the garden around the first half of April. The idea of recording a dozen favourite plants in the garden every fortnight came to me in 2016. I don’t tend to repeat plants that have featured in the previous fortnight, so it’s an attempt to show how there is always something new in the garden to tempt us out, whatever the weather. In early April many more new flowers are appearing quite regularly, headed by lots of late-season Narcissi, which we’re building up to extend their season of interest, more Rhododendrons, and early-season flowering perennials. Also in an early spring, much new foliage is bursting onto the scene every week. Early April can be sunny and benign with a lot of sunshine, or sunny and very cold as in 2021 with many days of frost. The later flowering daffodils increasingly are the stars of the show in April.
1: Narcissus ‘Merlin’ AGM FCC. Extending the season of daffodil interest within the garden has become something of a recent passion. ‘Merlin’ is now a definite favourite. Bolder than a normal N. poeticus form, it’s also more vigorous and consistently floriferous and begins to bulk up straight away. Fabulous en-masse, particularly in early morning, or late afternoon sunshine. Although the red rim fades, it still looks good, unlike many other N. poeticus forms. Was sent to us as N. ‘Actaea’, by mistake, and once we’d worked out what it was, we ordered lots more! It actually complements N. ‘Actaea’ so well that we’ve repeated the combination in many parts of the garden.
2: Narcissus ‘Actaea’ AGM FCC. A more typical N. poeticus type, but flowers more mid-season than late, in most years. Once established, it does put on a good show, but this seems to take a few years with us, so a little more patience is needed than with N. ‘Merlin’. The earlier flowering time is handy though, and it dovetails well with ‘Merlin’, and fades quite gracefully, though the red rim of the corona burns back quite quickly in strong, hot sunshine as can be seen in the flowers below.
3: Narcissus poeticus ornatus. This was an old form bought from the excellent Croft 16 daffodils site. Although planted in a trial daffodil big bag, for now, in 4 years it’s gone from 2 bulbs to well over 30 flowers, which are early/mid season, strongly scented, and stand up well in wet weather. It’s shorter than the later poeticus, or ‘Actaea’. Slugs can damage many of the N. poeticus type flowers, but if you can prevent this, it’s a lovely old daffodil, apparently imported from France by an English bulb merchant in the 1870’s.
4: Tulipa hageri ‘Little Beauty’. A dwarf species, T. hageri, tulip with multiple flowers per stem and the very striking red petals with white at the base, black anthers and when the flowers open in strong sunshine, dark blue internal markings. Shown growing below mixed in with Tulipa clusiana ‘Peppermint Stick’, both forms persist in the ground for several years before fading away, so only occasional top ups are needed. But they are planted here on a South facing steep slope beneath late into leaf, deciduous oaks. So a very free draining and surprisingly warm site in spring sunshine.
5: Lamium maculatum. We began planting ordinary Lamium maculatum between the stone filled tyre tiers which were used to train many of our apple trees around, on the basis that it would give pretty good weed suppressing ground cover, with attractive bumblebee friendly flowers. It’s worked really well, and encouraged bumblebees into this bit of the garden just before the apple blossom begins to open. It is indeed one of the favoured bumblebee early season flowers, as a great nectar source. We’ve since added a few other forms – a pale pink flowering unnamed form from Fiona’s mother’s old garden, working very well in combination, and with all of them, the silver and green leaves mirror the greys and silvers of lichens now beginning to colonise the tyres’ northern aspects.
6: Symphytum ibericum ‘Gold In Spring’. An unusual gold leaved form of comfrey, which grows well in appalling rubbly stone/concrete conditions, and lights up a shady part of the garden with clear yellow leaves which fade in a couple of months to mid green. Bee attracting flowers come later in summer. It seems to seed around true to form, without ever becoming invasive in this poor growing condition location. It’s also sufficiently vigorous to cope with the lesser celandines, Ficaria verna, which carpet this area a couple of weeks earlier.
7: Camellia x williamsii ‘Dreamboat’. One of our more reliable Camellia forms which has flowered consistently well with us from quite a young age. It’s now becoming a fair sized shrub, and along with the other Camellias in this part of the garden, creates the planned for, evergreen screening effect, which adds intrigue and shielding of the other quite different looking parts of this wooded area of the garden. It’s been a long haul to get there though! In addition, its slightly later flowering time means it tends to avoid frost damage on the blooms – a blight of Camellias here in many years.
8: Clematis macropetala ‘Markham’s Pink’ AGM. In 2017, this was the first of our Clematis to open flowers, and it’s proved to be a very reliable form planted on a South facing slope, and clambering into a wild cherry tree. In some years it forms a lovely mix of flowers with the opening white cherry blossom, and seems to be visited quite regularly by some bumblebees, in spite of having double flowers. Flowers for quite a reasonable length of time too.
9: Navelwort, Omphalodes cappadocica. A very pretty, early, strong blue flower for growing in moist shady conditions. It grows into a neat mound of foliage which from late March begins to produce wonderful deep blue forget me not like flowers. Reliably perennial, it also seems to drop seeds, and then produce seedlings the following year, beneath the skirt of leaves of the mother plant. Prick these on in later spring, and you’ll have more flowering sized plants by the following spring, as below. 10: Rhododendron ‘Dora Amateis’. We had high hopes for Rhododendrons in our garden, but along with Viburnums, many seem to succumb after a few floriferous early years. Perhaps they are just too water stressed, since we planted many in the shade of trees in our larch copse. ‘Dora’ has been a star performer since day one, and is slow growing, compact and always completely covered in palest pink flowers which fade to white. Bumblebees really enjoy visiting the flowers as well. Though like most Rhododendrons, the show never goes on for very long.11: Dicentra formosa ‘Bacchanal’. Another plant which was rescued from Fiona’s family home garden as a few scraps, before the house was sold. (The garden is now, sadly, largely neglected). This bleeding heart is a real favourite here – the soft green lacey foliage quickly emerging in spring to be followed by masses of deep claret flowers which although sterile, seem to be loved by some bumblebees. It gives a good 2 months of flowers before the foliage gradually fades away as tree foliage adds more shade to these areas of the garden.
12: Lathyrus vernus. Always anticipated, but sadly quite short lived in flower, this woodland loving perennial spring pea, comes in 2 colour forms – the more common magenta/pink, and turquoise/blue, and a roseum form which is pink and white. Easy to propagate from seed, provided slugs are kept away from the first growth. The pods fling out seeds in true pea fashion, when they split, but it never becomes invasive, and can be moved around to give early interest in shady corners between shrubs.