April 2020 – The Joys of being a Plant Parent

Firstly, I need to let you know I’m not a parent; not in the true sense of the word. My partner, Peter and I are ‘parents’ to two rather gorgeous moggies, Benson & Willow, but thereafter any ‘parenting’ is pretty much non-existent. That having been said, alongside aforementioned felines, I do tend to take a somewhat (tough) parental path with the plethora of plants in my patch. I do, its no joke!

Each morning, particularly in April, I’m seen running around the garden cajoling my unruly ‘kids’ to get out of bed (not so much a bed as a greenhouse really) so that I can feed and water them before making them presentable for the day ahead. And then, of course, the longer term goal of keeping them fit and healthy for the school term, sorry, the gardening season ahead.

This month is all about ‘waking up’ sleeping plants. Dahlias, deciduous agapanthus, zantedeschias (Calla lilies), Abyssinian bananas, pelargoniums and brugmansias all spend the winter months cosied up in the greenhouse. Not that cosy though; ‘tough love’ parenting means I set the temperature to just above freezing at 2-3°C maximum. I won’t be tolerating any ‘namby-pamby’, cosseted plants on my watch. And so, with the spring sunshine (hopefully) streaming into our daffodil-laden gardens the process of gradually wakening these sleeping beauties begins. With all of the aforementioned plants, a sip or two of water is their only initial requirement; just enough to dampen the compost around their roots. Too much water and tubers or root systems might rot. Slowly, slowly catchy monkey. As the month romps away, and blimey, April can move like shiitake mushrooms off a shovel (I believe that’s the phrase), watering is gradually increased in terms of both volume and frequency. Towards the middle of the month a fortnightly liquid feed (tomato feed with seaweed extract) is incorporated into the H2O regime. These plants will need to perform brilliantly for their ‘pushy’ show-business parent and, beginning to feed now on a fortnightly basis is the perfect time to put those ‘show-time’ wheels in motion.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ beginning to grow away

Towards the end of April, if not sooner, signs of life will become evident (the plants, not me). Finials of fresh green foliage on deciduous agapanthus and zantedeschia (Calla lilies) will push up determinedly from within the pots; the dark, plum-coloured, juvenile foliage of the Abyssinian banana will twist up slowly from the top of its ‘rubbery’ stem and fresh, green leafage will gradually emerge from the seemingly dormant stems of brugmansia. Similarly with dahlias, small dark, shiny eyes will begin to twinkle across the tops of the awakening tubers.

Yes, we have no (Abyssinian) bananas

In other greenhouse news, cosmos and tithonia seedlings are growing away nicely, thank you for asking. Once the first set of true leaves have unfolded, usually mid-April here, it’s time to prick them out and pot on into my plastic, modular cell trays. As they’re plastic, they’ll continue to be used now until such time as they are no longer fit for purpose.

Cosmos seedlings

My castor oil, Ricinus communis ‘Red Giant’ seedlings, true to their variety name put on monstrous growth fairly quickly and were potted on into 1L pots of rich garden compost in the first week of the month. A rich compost will serve them well as they need all the energy they can muster to attain their epic proportions in my borders. These six foot ‘giants’ will stun and amaze all who visit the garden, which seems likely to be just the two of us and the cats, as we speak!

Dark and moody foliage of Ricinus communis ‘Red Giant’

In the garden, borders are fed with chicken manure pellets to nourish the tentative signs of perennial growth, just beginning to peek above the surface of the soil. A gentle word of warning; both you and your neighbours will be aware that chicken manure has been deployed! The woody stems of Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’ (syn. Garnet) and P. ‘Hidcote Pink’ are cut down to approximately ten centimetres, just above the newly emerging flush of new growth. I keep the top growth on penstemons during winter as it protects the crowns and roots on those seemingly never-ending cold, wet days.

April is also the time to consider lawn care options. Never a particularly enjoyable task (for me, at least) but attention now will pay dividends later. Lawn care now consists of

  • Scarification, (the removal of thatch from the lawn) which in law (my law), has to be done with the help of an electric/petrol scarifier. Don’t try this at home the ‘old fashioned’ way (by hand) unless you’re looking for a week convalescing in bed with backache.
  • Spiking the lawn with a garden fork (which is a ‘GREAT’ workout) is also incredibly beneficial for the lawn (and me) as it helps alleviate compaction and gets oxygen down to the grass roots, both of which will work wonders for that lush, green, striped, summer sward.
  • Over-seeding, to cover any bare patches.

It’s been a glorious April with clear, blue skies and temperatures soaring to 21°C. In my garden, blooming their spring socks off this month have been Tulipa ‘Purple Dream’, T. ‘Ballerina’ and T. ‘Prinses Irene’ alongside ivory Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’ all overlooked by the delightful purple, red and pea-green shades of unfurling acer foliage.

See you next month folks!

Tulipa ‘Ballerina’, T. ‘Prinses Irene’ & T. ‘Purple Dream’