Diary of a cottage gardener - April
Hilary Stevenson of The Devon Cottage Gardener delves into April's gardening to-do list...
The storms of March seem a distant memory. As I write this there has been the most amazing orange sunset and I have dragged myself inside as the longer evening fades. April holds such promise in the garden, and I have been making the most of the extra hours. I hope that you too have welcomed the opportunity to make the most of this special seasonal change.
The Tulips, Narcissi and Muscari have all been blooming beautifully. Has anyone suffered with short stem length on their tulips this year? I was worried about mine as Mother’s Day approached as they did appear short stemmed. Often this can be due to a lack of water. However, they all came good on the day which was a big relief, and it was such a joy to see the first bouquets of the year go out
Cutting garden favourites for April
I am often asked, what can be grown for cutting in April? The obvious choices are of course Tulips and Narcissi, however if you are looking for something with a bit of a difference and have access to a greenhouse or polytunnel, my go-to favourites must be Ranunculus and Anemones.
Ranunculus are often described as Persian buttercups. There are many varieties and colours. They all have beautiful, ruffled petals with straight stems. They are an absolute showstopper! The corms need soaking for a few hours before planting. I tend to put mine into modular trays and let them pre-sprout before planting into beds or crates filled with compost. The advantage of growing in crates is that they can be moved in or out (with protection) to slow or speed growth. This is vital for me when I am growing for weddings. This one (pictured, above left) was planted in the polytunnel in November and started flowering last week. You can succession grow, ensuring a supply well into summer.
They can be temperamental. It is easy to over or under-water them. I usually water once a week and give them a good seaweed or nettle feed every two weeks. You can plant them directly into beds or borders but do make sure they are protected from frost. They will reward you with the most beautiful flowers which are long lasting. The corms can either stay in the ground or be lifted and stored once they have stopped flowering and the foliage has died back. March is an ideal time to plant them to have flowers in July. You might want to try growing these special flowers. It is not too late!
I follow the same process with Anemones as Ranunculus, but find they are much hardier, especially if they are left in the ground. The
flowers have such a long vase life - up to two weeks. Mistral Bianco Centro Nero is a particular favourite of mine. They are stunningly beautiful and disease resistant.
One of the things I love about living in Devon are the wildflowers that appear in the Devon banks. I have to stop and marvel at their beauty. That time is nearly here, and I have already seen vibrant pink Campions and bright blue Borage creating pops of colour in the banks. Did you know that 97% of British wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930’s? I find this quite staggering and have made it a mission of mine to put as many areas as I can over to wildflowers.
It is not too late to sow some wildflower areas in the garden. The bees and insects will love them, and you can create an area in the smallest of gardens. The key to growing wildflowers is to treat them mean. They grow best in poor soil, but you do need to free the area from as much grass as possible otherwise their growth will be stunted. Collect the seed at the end of the season or leave it to lie and you will either be able to sow your collected seed for the following year or they will self sow.
For the near future you will find me pricking out! My round of seed sowing is ending apart from succession sowing and my focus is now on pricking out and potting on.
This year has been quite successful, although there are still trays that have not germinated. At one time, I would hold onto these in the hope that they might miraculously germinate but now I am ruthless and anything that has not germinated goes in the compost after 30 days.
Cherry Caramel Phlox continues to be one of the slowest to germinate. I hear a lot of people say this - do let me know if you have the magic touch with this seed.
See you next time!