Spring …we’ve waited a long time….

April is the month when plants come back into growth, and in just a few weeks’ time the trees will be covered in young green leaves and the new growth of herbaceous perennials will be appearing in the bare soil. The daffodils have been glorious this year and lasted much longer than usual, and now is also the month for cherry blossom, with its double bright pinks and small single white flowers which some call a tree for all gardens.

Apples, pears, plums and peach trees are all coming into blossom too and in the hedgerows the white flowers of sloe (prunus spinosa) provide a bright display while the woodland floor is covered in bluebells and the daintily flowered wild primrose provides spring colour in abundance.
Some more April highlights include Magnolias, whether the white star-shaped Stellate, or the larger Magnolia x Soulangeana with its gorgeous pale pink tulip-shaped flowers. Then there’s Spiraea ‘Arguta’ a very reliable hardy plant hiding behind a covering of tiny white flowers, and the Spring-flowering Viburnum with its pink-budded, beautifully scented flowers, which is a great plant for the back of the border in well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade.

A few Spring-cleaning tasks…
General April jobs include carrying on with spring cleaning the garden and removing weeds before their flowers can set seed. Feed roses, shrubs, trees and spring bulbs with a good general purpose fertilizer and still keep mulching, which is basically just putting a good layer of organic compost on top of the soil, to feed it, reduce weeds and also seal in moisture. Use some plant supports for herbaceous perennials as they start to grow, and tie in the shoots of climbing and rambling roses.

Top tip: when doing this keep the rose stems horizontal, as this restricts sap flow, producing more side shoots and more flowers along the stems, rather than just at the tips.
Sow hardy Annuals for a great show of colour
Now’s a good time to divide clumps of herbaceous perennials, such as Phlox or Lupins, that have either become too large, or flowered poorly last year, or perhaps just lost some of their shape and vigour, with all the old, weak growth in the middle of the plant dying off, and all the new growth on the outside of the plant. By lifting these, and dividing them into half, or even quarters, and replanting them, not only will you be invigorating the plant, you will also have more plants than you started with – great for giving away to friends and neighbours. Doing this every four to five years will keep your herbaceous perennials looking good and growing well, with a good shape.

For some Spring colour try an Alpine trough
Create a miniature Alpine landscape which will look amazingly colourful, using rocks and stones to mimic natural rock strata. Use John Innes No 2 compost plus 25% horticultural grit mixed in, and once planted up top dress with horticultural grit or decorative rocks, stones or pebbles, known as aggregates.
Alpine plants provide interesting flowers and attractive foliage. Some easy plants to try include Pulsatilla vulgaris (its common name is Pasque flower) with its feathery foliage and purple flowers or one of the Saxifragas in all their many shapes and forms. To cascade over the sides you could use Armeria which has pretty pink and white flowers or dwarf Campanula with its bluebell-like flowers, or perhaps some thyme, with its golden yellow foliage.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

With summer holidays overseas seeming like a far-off dream, you can get one step closer to creating that Mediterranean feel, on a nice, sunny patio...Plant up containers with Palms and Olives, or Phormiums, for height. Other shrubs to use could include Lavender, Rosemary, Cistus, and the silver-leaved Senecio ‘angel wings’. You could add herbs like Sage, Oregano, or Thyme or grow them separately in their own tub or pot, they’ll smell delightfully Mediterranean even in our UK sunshine. Plant up a few containers for maximum effect, they’ll have a lot more impact in groups of 3 rather than spaced out individually.

Ceanothus, commonly known as the Californian lilac, is a native of North America, growing on dry sunny hillsides, which gives a clue as to the conditions it prefers. Its flowers in many shades of blue, look spectacular against a sunny sheltered wall or fence in a sunny border, and there are some pink and white flowering varieties available too. To improve drainage, dig in some garden compost or manure and include some horticultural grit when planting, and bear in mind when pruning that it’s a plant that doesn’t like to be hard pruned back to the old wood.



Garden on the shady side?
Spring flowering shrubs that enjoy these conditions are Rhododendrons and Azaleas, originating from Asia, the Pacific north west and USA highlands where they grow on the edge of woodlands in dappled sun, a position giving them some protection from cold, frosty mornings. The word rhododendron literally means rose tree, and these plants like a moist but well drained soil and prefer to be out of cold drying winds. These popular evergreen plants flower in many shades of pinks, reds, salmon, and cream colours and even lavender blue! Some deciduous rhododenrons like R.Luteum have highly scented flowers, and although the leaves may drop in winter, they have gorgeous autumnal leaf colours.

Plants that grow well alongside rhododendrons include Pieris whose new leaves are a lovely salmon-red colour, as well as
Japanese Acers, with stunning foliage in many differing shapes and colours.
All of these require acidic soil conditions so if your soil is not suitable, they are very easy to grow in pots using Ericaceous compost. The flower buds form in late summer so its important to feed and water during dry spells in July and August.

When planting don’t plant too deep in the soil, leave the plants just slightly raised above soil level.

April is the time to grow your own
Home-grown vegetables taste superb, and there is a real sense of satisfaction to be had from eating vegetables that you have grown yourself, and they look so attractive too!

The secret of success is to sow little and often. Now’s the time to plant first early, second early and maincrop potatoes and to sow broad beans, peas, beetroot, carrots, radish, spring onions, swiss chard, spinach and lettuce.
With a greenhouse, poly tunnel or a small cold frame it’s possible to sow seeds of sweet corn, courgettes, marrows, squashes and cucumbers in late April, which can be grown on to produce good strong plants before planting out in May when the threat of frosts has passed.

Boost up your lawn
With the warmer weather, lawns are starting to grow and to give yours a boost, now’s the time to feed using a Spring and Summer lawn feed rich in Nitrogen to promote growth.
Treat any moss and weeds which have sprung up after last winter’s rain and re-seed any bare patches. Repairing the lawn edges will instantly make the whole garden look tidier, in preparation for the warmer months ahead.

Looking ahead
Over the last year, throughout the pandemic, gardening has been a physical and mental comfort to many in the UK. Demand for good quality plant stock has rocketed, and plant sales have exceeded the stock available at the nurseries and the growers.

Angela, our passionate and dedicated plant buyer, is doing an amazing job, sourcing and buying a wide range of seasonal plants for our three garden centres so that we can continue to provide colour, interest and inspiration for our customers.
With many challenges still to overcome, we hope all our customers continue to find pleasure and enjoyment in their gardens, and we wish you all a healthy and happy Spring.

From the Van Hage Team