Get a head-start on April by filling borders with zingy-green perennials, tulips, flowering shrubs and leafy foliage plants. Val Bourne has some recommendations
April is a high-energy month, but it’s an unpredictable month as well. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster and flowers can be thin on the ground once the early daffodils, hellebores and crocuses have faded into distant memory. With summer-flowering perennials just about stirring, it’s important to plug the gaps with some April flowers. If you’re not sure what to plant, head to garden centres for inspiration, and read on...
Early April sees two of my favourite tulips looking their best. ‘Orange Emperor’ (a Fosteriana with languid soft-orange petals, shaded in pistachio-green) is lovely in pots or in the ground. It’s perennial, returning year after year, so an economical one to plant. Cut back to one leaf after flowering. ‘Daydream’ (a Darwin Hybrid) is a chameleon that opens to soft-yellow and then colours up to sunset shades. In the second half of April, Triumph tulips begin to open their thick-petalled, egg-shaped flowers. The purple ‘Negrita’, woven among the soft-mauve ‘Shirley’, is almost a garden cliche, but it works well round roses with a splash of copper-orange to pick up new rose foliage. The lily-flowered ‘Ballerina’, although a little later, overlaps and all three return year on year.
The pink and white forms of lamprocapnos (dicentra) is wonderful with pink tulips such as ‘Barcelona’. The white form, which is a weaker grower, could be used in shadier places with a green and white tulip such as ‘Spring Green’.
Create a woodland glade
The sun can still reach the ground under deciduous shrubs and trees in April, so woodland and shady plantings can keep going. In shadier areas the handsome hardy male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, will unfurl its impressive fiddle-back crosiers even in dry shade. Their fronds stretch upwards just as our native English bluebells begin to turn blue. These natives hang their flowers on one side only, unlike upright Spanish bluebells, and the colour is far more intense. You can acquire Hyacinthoides non-scripta in the green from Peter Nyssen nurseries. Young ferns in smaller pots are easier to establish.
Add zingy acid greens
Add an electrifying touch of spring zing to your garden with Euphorbia epithymoides (formerly E. polychroma). It dies away in winter then revives in spring and produces a foot-high pouffe of acid-yellow that’s perfect with all blues including scillas and blue muscari.
Euphorbias persist for many weeks, because their so-called flowers are tough bracts. Keep them vigorous by cutting them back to the base after flowering and, if you can, take cuttings from the young basal growth. There are evergreen euphorbias for shade and they include Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’. This has beetroot-coloured foliage and lime-green flowers. Both these plants are clump-forming but some roam and Mrs Robb's Bonnet (Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae) has a tendency to move on.
You’ll also get a bolt of golden light from a biennial called Smyrnium perfoliatum, which is an umbellifer (it has flat topped flowers). If you want to establish any biennial in your garden, plant some in three consecutive years and then leave it to self seed.
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