Below is the list of our favourite plants in the garden around the second 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 late April many more new flowers are still appearing quite regularly, though following a very early season for daffodils, most of these have now opened. Also in an early spring like 2017, much new foliage is bursting onto the scene every week. April 2017 was benign with quite a lot of sunshine, and little rain or heavy winds, but we had little in the way of real warmth, with frequent still, cool nights and occasional light frosts. Updating this page in 2021, we had similar sunny weather, but sharp frosts almost every night for days on end.
1: Bowles’ Golden Sedge, Carex elata aurea. This is such a good value early spring plant, even though it’s just planted around the chimney pots in the multiculltural magic terrace garden. It bursts into growth just as the Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ are in full flower, and then masks their dying foliage as it flowers itself – like most sedges – with fabulous three tone flowers in cream/black/rust, which elongate and change colour over a few weeks, leaving behind seed heads and nearly metre high leaves which mask the chimney pots – all meant as a nod to the powerhouse of subterranean root and fungal activity which creates what we gardeners enjoy seeing above ground. And unlike many nuisance fescue grasses, it doesn’t seed around at all in our largely grass free flower filled terraced “meadow”. It’s not until late May or June that the wonderful golden leaf colour, and triangular cross sectioned culms, or stems, again typical of all sedges, develop their really intense hue.It does become tatty late in the year, so benefits from cutting back low, in late autumn.
2: Narcissus ‘Oryx’. One of our now successfully trialled late flowering tall jonquil daffodils which we sourced from the excellent pages of Ron Scamp’s daffodil catalogue. Click here for more. Graceful and very tall, with small, flatter flowers – sometimes 3 per stem, in a lovely pale primrose colour. Surprisingly sturdy in strong winds and deliciously scented, they continue a daffodil display well past the end of April – even in an early year for daffodils like 2017.
3: Narcissus ‘Tinhay’. A similar tall late jonquil recommended to us by Ron, when ‘Oryx’ was out of stock, and bred by him. It’s almost as late, long lasting and scented as ‘Oryx’, but in pale cream fading to white, so complements ‘Oryx’ very well.
4: Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’. AGM. One of our male Skimmias which has consistently thrived in the quite poor conditions beneath mature larch trees. Attractive pale green leaves and masses of glorious, honey scented white flowers in mid to late April and into May which you can smell as you pass the plant, without having to bend down. They also attract in huge numbers of bumblebees and honeybees, if you have a hive nearby, which we did when the picture below was taken in 2015, and thus ensuring good berry formation on our female Skimmias, later in the year.
5: White honesty, Lunaria annua var. albiflora alba. A signature plant at Gelli Uchaf. Once you have it, it will keep popping up where it wants to and is easy to spread around the garden by scattering the seed in autumn. We think white flowers are much easier to fit into the colour scheme of emerging green leaves at this time of year, than the more normal purple flowered form, so refuse to have any other colours of honesty in the garden to keep the white flowers pure. A biennial plant, it’s very easy to pull out unwanted seedlings. Orange-tip butterflies, Anthocharis cardamines, use it as a larval food plant and nectar on the flowers too.
6: Camassia leichtlinii caerulea. One of those quite recently planted bulbs which seem to thrive in the moist well drained conditions at Gelli Uchaf, bulk up quickly and complement later flowering daffodils like N. “Merlin”. No scent, but bees love the blue flowers which open in sequence from those lowest down the growing flower stem. Such insect appeal means that the display is usually quite brief – 3 weeks maximum, but still worth the money and effort getting them into the ground. The only disappointment is that seed set is extremely limited.
7: Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’. This is really a tricky one to include. In a good year, it can light up this part of the copse. In a frosty spring, the plant’s flower buds can develop too early, like many other plants then get caught by an April frost, so only a smattering of the pretty white flowers ever emerged. Like many other plants, a Magnolia without flowers, is barely worth growing. Perhaps this is a lesson we learned well, early on, and we currently have only one other Magnolia in the garden. By early June, it simply becomes benign background foliage, in the copse garden.
8: Dicentra spectabilis alba. A lovely white form of the more usual pink and white flowered “Bleeding Heart”. It has soft lime green foliage which emerges very early in the year, and is vulnerable to being frosted, so it’s best planted amongst shrubs or beneath mature tree cover, where it will lighten a shadey spot, with flowers that emerge over a long period and are visited by some bumblebees. Eventually the foliage dies down in July, but it’s an invaluable spring garden plant with us.
9: Mossy Saxifrage, Saxifraga bryoides. Another plant we love, particularly in our multicultural magic meadow terrace garden, where it grows in full sun, and enjoys the very poor free draining conditions which are created here with the sublayer of smashed up concrete, and dug out shale which came from converting the old cow byre/milking parlour of our longhouse home into living accommodation. Originally bought as a few small “alpine” plants with flowers in the pink, red and white colour ranges, I now snip off the drying seed capsules in July and scatter these loosely in any areas where I’d like it to establish. And it usually does, taking a couple of years to then flower well. It co-exists with taller plants which can push through the mat of fine evergreen leaves later in the year, but in the meantime gives great weed suppression and a good month of flower.
10: Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’. If we chose just one plant for ground cover beneath all areas of the garden, this would probably be it. As tough as old boots, great foliage interest in its purple forms, though now we have some greener variants which have come from seed around the garden, and masses of short flowering spires with lovely blue, nectar rich flowers, from the middle of April onwards for a month at least. It thrives in all locations from full sun to shade, but then we are a wet location. Associates really well with both London Pride, Saxifraga x urbium, and mossy saxifrage (above) which are our 2 other preferred ground covers, and will intermingle quite happily without dominating, to give wonderful mixed panting effects.
11: Clematis x koreana ‘Broughton Bride’. Look at the late May plant palette, and you’ll see C. ‘Broughton Star’ features. So when we spotted this Clematis in flower at the 2016 RHS flower show in Cardiff in mid-April, we thought it was worth a try. Grown as a hybrid of C. koreana by Vince Denny ( who also bred C. ‘Broughton Star’), it’s delighted us in its first spring in the garden, clambering over the wall in front of the house. The flowers appeared in mid to late April, and look good as buds, but then lengthen, develop more colour at the base, and eventually open – I’ve even seen bumblebees visiting them. It’s so much of a success that we’re thinking of buying a couple more, for clothing the wall further along. It will apparently eventually make up to 3 metres of shoots.
12: Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’. I think that this is the correct name for a plant we bought decades ago from a nursery in Shropshire, where it seeded around their garden. It does the same here, and in late April adds wonderful purple features dotted around wherever it pops up. Its drawback is that like most Euphorbias it has very irritant sap, so needs to be weeded or pruned out with care. I now cut it back straight after flowering. This avoids too much seeding, and also reduces the risk of powdery mildew spoiling the older foliage later in the year during any prolonged dry conditions, which nearly always happens.