April Showers

Unpredictability is the name of the game when it comes to British weather, but one old proverb certainly promises to ring true in 2019:

March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.’

Whilst the warmth and vitality of May still feel a long way off, March and April are fulfilling their time-honoured roles as bringers of wind and rain. After the set-back of destructive gales in March, my garden’s pent up energy is being released by cool showers, gentle mists and persistent drizzle. If I put my ear to the ground I might hear the earth humming with life as a trillion bacteria, a thousand bugs and a labyrinth of roots get back to work after winter. The speed at which plants will grow over the next six weeks is astonishing; many are already out of the starting blocks, especially those from the Canary Islands and Madeira where winters are mild and spring arrives much earlier than here in England. Ten or more Geranium maderense plants have made it through the winter unscathed, and hundreds more are popping up in pots, borders and between paving slabs. The seeds are unbelievably resilient, remaining viable for many years after they were produced. This is helpful when an entire generation is wiped out by a cold snap.

Geranium maderense from Madeira is a fabulous foliage plants as well as being spectacular in bloom.

Late last summer I planted a very young Sonchus palmensis (La Palma sow-thistle) in the corner of my raised bed. I have no idea how hardy these unusual ‘tree dandelions’ are supposed to be, but it has grown three feet in six months and appears to be happier than ever. Thus far my plant has all the poise and elegance of a weed on a stick. I am reassured by photographs of mature specimens that it will one day rival Geranium maderense for both foliage and flower-power – that is, if I can keep it alive sufficiently long. The image below, showing an explosion of fluffy yellow flowers, is taken from the website of Annie’s Annuals, a fantastic source of rare and interesting seeds if you live in the USA and one of my favourite reference points. The bright yellow profusion of Sonchus palmensis, alongside the scorching pink of Geranium maderense would make quite a spring spectacle.

Sonchus palmensis is endemic to the Canary Island of La Palma where it grows in coastal forests up to 1000m. Photograph: Annie’s Annuals.

Meanwhile I am eager to crack on with painting the Jungle Garden’s perimeter woodwork, including a section that was battered when my magnificent lyonothamnus (Santa Cruz ironwood) was cruelly toppled in March. It’s not a difficult job, but it does require fine weather and ready access, which only come together for a short period in spring before all the plants grow up.

Come June I should have new boundary fencing in the Gin & Tonic Garden. This will require a serious amount of time to decorate before my garden opening in August. Unfortunately my carpenter’s skills do not stretch as far as painting – at least that’s what he tells me – but he will do an excellent job of the carpentry and that’s all that matters. It will be huge relief to have this work completed as the mere sight of the current fencing makes my eyes bleed. Putting up new fencing will be like putting a new frame around a beautiful picture.

The outdoor kitchen has already had a fresh coat of paint.

Pots of bulbs that I started planting in September and that were not completed until the very end of last year are now coming into their own. I have said before that little harm is done by planting bulbs late, although one has to expect that flowering may happen later. By and large I don’t mind that. Just now I have a lot of narcissi to look forward to. In most English gardens they are long gone. Only N. ‘Cornish Chuckles’, grown from a batch of bulbs I purchased in Cornwall on a whim, has come up stunted and blind. Narcissi prefer to get their roots established before winter and so I’d always recommend planting these before any other spring-flowering bulbs. With luck ‘Cornish Chuckles’ will settle down and flower nicely next spring.

Tulips ‘Turkish Delight’, ‘Purissima Design’ and ‘Montreaux’ are among the first to bloom at The Watch House.

Despite spending a fortune on bulbs last summer and then struggling to plant them all – a task achieved only thanks to The Beau – I now wish I had purchased twice as many. This thought occurs to me every spring (my bank manager, if I had one, would wholeheartedly disagree). There is currently a complete absence of narcissi, tulips or hyacinths in the Gin & Tonic Garden since I have used them all up ‘next door’. I’ve suggested to The Beau that he can choose his own colour scheme for that space if he helps me again this autumn, and so far he seems willing.

Hyacinth ‘Gypsy Queen’ has a special place in my heart and pleases my nose no end.

Hyacinths are flowers that I never plant enough of. Although not to everyone’s taste, hyacinths are one of the easiest and earliest bulbs to bloom, pumping out ridiculous amounts of scent. In a small garden like mine, two or three pot-fulls are enough to fill the space with a cloud of heady perfume. This year I have only planted Hyacinth ‘Gypsy Queen’, which has soft-peach flowers suffused with coral-pink. Normally I would have planted H. ‘Woodstock’ alongside, but I resisted the urge when my bulb order went over the spending limit I set myself. Now I regret not being more frivolous.

This spring display is rather tame compared to summer, but I love all the varied textures.

A terracotta pan of Pleione formosana ‘Clare’ has been flowering for weeks. It is neglected for the majority of the year, tucked away somewhere cool and shady. In January I repotted the bulbs (correctly pseudobulbs), being careful to preserve the tiny new ones attached to whisps of dead leaf. I have added to my orchid collection a rust and yellow calanthe (could it be C. bicolour?) and a cypripedium (slipper orchid) which has yet to flower. I am hoping it will be white as the plant was unnamed and could be anything …. although hopefully an orchid! Creating an airy backdrop to my arrangement is Acacia verticillata ‘Riverine Form’, an acacia which impersonates a pine until tiny lozenges of primrose-yellow start appearing along each branch. In its native Australia this large shrub or small tree is called ‘prickly Moses’.

Calanthe orchids

Rain over the last week has freshened everything up. The garden is luminous in the mornings as the sun filters through the trees planted along the eastern edge of the Jungle Garden. It’s so good to have light mornings back. I am getting out of bed even earlier, purely to have five minutes to spend inspecting everything before I head to the station. May, with it’s abundant flowers, will be here soon enough. For now I am content to enjoy all the newly emergent greens and to make plans for the year ahead. TFG.

After the rain