The Late Late April Show

Reading time 7 minutes

Spring is arriving in slow motion at The Watch House. I’ve been watching a single bud of Narcissus ‘Golden Ducat’ striving to open for ten days, willing it to reveal the acid-yellow petals tightly furled within. My clematis have been held in suspended animation since early February, their tender shoots primed and raring to go. Fortunately they’ve been stalled rather than damaged by the cold, and snails are still too inactive to make a meal of them. I notice how Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, stripped of every last leaf by the gales, is hesitantly producing tiny flower buds along its naked stems. Each one looks like a tiny dolls’ house bouquet. In another year the tight buds would already have opened into clusters of yellow pom-poms the size of my fist. Of all the spring-flowering bulbs, only hyacinths have carried on regardless, shrugging off rain and snow to bloom as well as they have ever done. In fact they’ve made shorter, stouter, better plants all round. My absolute favourite, Cadbury-purple Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’, is a joy to behold, despite having no friends to play with. The first of the tulips are still a good couple of weeks away.

I can’t recall the last time the majority of my daffodils were not either in full bloom or starting to fade at the beginning of April. Apart from N. ‘Jetfire’ and N. ‘Winter Waltz’ (both varieties with N. cyclamineus as a parent) the majority are still in bud. When we do get a sustained period of warmer weather, highly scented varieties such as N. ‘Cragford’ and N. ‘Avalanche’ (both tazetta types) will come out in a trice, but they will be late by any standards. Sixty-odd bulbs of N. ‘Golden Ducat’ were purchased on a whim back in August and planted promptly in large pots. I usually go for small, single or multi-flowered daffodils but ‘Golden Ducat’ is a tall, sturdy double with waterlily-shaped flowers. After such a cold, drab March I shall welcome any and every type of flower with an open heart, including these whoppers.

The entire Easter weekend was spent gardening: my aching limbs have been reminding me of that ever since. Despite all the exertion I found I wanted to eat less, and I slept a whole lot better. This made me realise that I really should take more exercise. For me to have four uninterrupted days in the garden is exceptional and I loved every minute, even when it rained, which it did the majority of the time. I’ve equipped the workshop with an LED worklight almost bright enough to illuminate the moon. In this way, when the rain and wind get too much, I can get under cover and do some potting. In the greenhouse, Tropaeolum tricolor is resplendent, having not produced a single flower last year. All I did was repot the stringy roots in autumn and this seems to have done the trick. What strange, yet fascinating little flowers they are, like shoals of tropical fish.

As predicted I didn’t get half way down my list of weekend jobs. Maybe I achieved a third, and then only by picking off the easier tasks. I doubled the size of my gravel garden, taking it from ‘minuscule’ to simply ‘tiny’, and made enough space in the greenhouse to start bringing on begonias and dahlias. Assessing the quantity of plants stashed indoors and in the workshop, I very quickly reached the conclusion that I have too many. I must not buy any more. What are the odds on me adhering to that?

I am heartily pleased to find that Echium candicans, commonly known as pride of Madeira, has survived everything the winter has thrown at it, including confinement to a pot which is much too small. As a reward, I’ve moved it into a much bigger one and placed it immediately outside my French windows. When it flowers, which will be soon, I’ll be able to watch the bees feasting on the echium’s purplish-blue flowers.

The benefit of sustained cold through March is that us gardeners still have plenty of spring action to look forward to. Many of us will have lost plants to snow, ice or wind. We sorely need cheering up. Plants have a knack of catching up (provided they are still alive) so that by May we will all be wondering why we were so down in the dumps. In the meantime I encourage you to enjoy the lingering hellebores and daffodils, use the appalling weather as a convenient excuse for not planting seeds / painting the fence / mowing the lawn and take your seats for the late late April show, coming soon to a garden near you. TFG.

Categories: Bulbs, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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32 comments On "The Late Late April Show"

  1. ‘Woodstock’ is glorious, isn’t it? Hope your daffs get their kit off soon. I’ve got one which has had just one petal unfurled for a week. I’m going to get impatient and unwrap it myself soon.

  2. Tropaeolum tricolor is a joy and will fit in anywhere. Grow it in a 10cm pot and it will barely make 40cm growth. I grow it in a 15 litre pot in a poly tunnel with no heat and it shrugged off -6C and is now over 2.5M tall and covered in bloom. I’m surprised the roots were stringy though. It makes irregular potato shaped tubers here. Like rough coated pink fir apples. It survives outside here, but gets blown to bits in the wind. Under cover it is a joy. I have the similar but pure yellow T.brachyceras as well. Would you like some tubers posted in August when I repot?


    1. Yes please!!! Thanks for the offer. I agree with your description of the tubers. Mine were very thin and weak, I imagine because the plant had dwindled. Hence I am amazed at how it’s come back. I’ve noted your comment about pot size and will go bigger again for next year. I would not risk putting it outside because of the wind. I’d rather cosset it a little and get a nice plant. Dan

  3. It’s all just around the corner isn’t it. It will all happen in an explosion of colour very soon, I feel sure! That Tropaeolum is amazing! I haven’t heard of it before, and I love the description of tropical fish- so apt. I’m interested that the echidna survived as I tried grow one and it succumbed to frost. I’d dearly love to have one.

    1. Echium pininana can take a few degrees of frost but often that will be enough to disfigure it. They are terribly easy to grow from seed and better for it since they hate being transplanted, so perhaps have another go?

      1. Thanks for your reply, Dan, and you played it with a straight bat. I didn’t know until I read Barbara’s comment below that I tried to grow an echidna! No wonder I was unsuccessful. Seriously though, you can’t trust an ipad’s self correcting system…something untoward always seems to slip in! Btw, I’m not an Aussie though I have lived here for many years. I was born in NZ (in case Barbara sees this comment).

      2. Noted!! We don’t have echidnas here, but we do have hedgehogs. I’ve never tried to grow one but we used to have lots in my parents’ garden. They are not so common nowadays unfortunately. They are brilliant for eating slugs and other nasties so we welcome them as gardeners.

  4. Oh, Jane are you an Aussie? Only an Aussie would try to grow an “echidna”, I am sure it is not legal here 🙃. As for echiums, they are short lived plants and they do not like frost.

  5. I love echiums too and I’m very encouraged to see that you grow them in a small garden as my new garden is tiny. Especially compared to my last one.
    I’m so looking forward to your open garden as I want layer plants up as you do
    Thanks for a fab blog it’s my favourite.seeing a new one pop into my inbox gives me the same delight as opening a new magazine.

    1. Thank you so much for that Sharon, lovely to hear. Echium wise I’d recommend E. wildpretii as it’s a little smaller than E. pininana, which can be a giant. However the flower spike does not last as long and the foliage needs to be kept dry, especially in winter, which is where I went wrong this year. Echium candicans seems to be OK in a pot but it will never be as magnificent as when planted in the ground.

      Lots more posts coming over the next few days! Dan

  6. Cadbury-purple is apt, what a beauty. I pop out each day for only 10 minutes or so to do a bit of clearing and weeding and to see what is on the verge of flowering. I think we are all frustrated gardeners at the moment, but patient gardeners is what we need to be. 🙂
    I’m looking forward to visiting the nurseries to fill in the holes once the weather warms up a bit.

      1. Hope the weekend is fine. And take lots of cash, not sure they use cards there as the connection might be poor. I can’t remember as it was raining when I went and I didn’t have a garden, so didn’t buy anything. Oh, and it is Easter school holidays here so could be very busy.

  7. 6 days in the garden for me (extra 2 days holiday!),very productive,although much of it spent in the potting shed for precipitation avoidance. Very annoying that the sun has come out now that I’m back to work. I too have too many plants, should stop growing/buying the. Shan’t. That tropical fish plant is very cool.

    1. It’s very very easy to grow and to propagate from the funny little tubers so I recommend giving it a go …. if you can find space.

      I’m going to Cornwall soon which I suspect will be fatal from a plant buying perspective! Must resist.

  8. A great joy to read 🙂 I never grown flowers!! Too busy trying to accomplish this dream of self-sufficiency but having realised life’s too short and I can grab a bag of potatoes from the supermarket for a quid – its about to change. Looking for ideas for hardy spring colour which will “shrug off rain and snow to bloom as well as ever” (next year) I’ve taken hyacinth as a good tip here, any others…?

    1. Hellebores are beautiful and bullet proof, plus they will seed themselves and spread around nicely when they are happy. Daffodils such as Narcissus pseudonarcissus (our native daffodil) are also tough and pretty. Snowdrops can be planted now, ‘in the green’ (i.e bought and planted in leaf), ready for next year. Galanthus nivalis (our native snowdrop) is fine, no need to spend the price of 50 bags of potatoes for one bulb! Shrub and tree wise it’s hard to beat forsythia and Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (winter cherry) the latter is delicate in flower, the former is not, but it’s cheerful.

      I believe there’s room for flowers in even the most productive garden, so I hope you manage to squeeze a few in … and maybe a bee hive if you haven’t got one of those already? Dan

  9. As inspiring as ever! I could just go outside now and really get stuck in – but sadly I must go to work. Loved the colourful plant whose name escapes me now!

    1. Possibly the Tropaeolum tricolor? Do give that a try if you have a sheltered spot or a cold greenhouse. It does not need warmth over winter but it does need wind protection as it’s so delicate.

      Like you, I find that work gets in the way, but it’s a necessary evil! Dan

  10. The Tropaeolum is stunning…and a good reminder to get those little jobs done that make such a difference. I gardened at Easter too and the weather was perfect, sunny with temps in the low to mid 60s. I didn’t quite finish, either, but the effort was tremendously cheering and has energized me for more. Hope spring arrives for you soon.

    1. Ditto Marian. Now I’ve broken the seal on my gardening year I want more! It’s been much more springlike here today. For the first time this year I wore a coat and wish I had left it at home.

      Are you visiting the UK this year? The Chelsea show gardens look promising, and there are plenty of them this year. I’ve just been to an exhibition of the designs. Dan

  11. Lovely photos. Such inspiration. That made me smile about not buying more plants, I say this every year! My passion is for dahlias. Why is it that the best tubers at the garden centres are at the back of all the others. So it takes longer choosing them as I have to remove all the packs. Well worth it though.

  12. That Tropaeolum is indeed marvelous — I’ve never seen anyone around here growing it; maybe I’ll have to give it a go. And I hope we both get warmer weather soon — we just got more snow last night, and the soil temps have dropped by more than five degrees F in the past week. 🙁 To warm, springy days ahead! Best, -Beth

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