The Late Late April Show


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.