Normally April is a happy month in the garden with everything to look forward to in a new season however this year of COVID 19 has meant that the outlook is pretty uncertain for all of us , no vaccine in sight yet and no idea when cocooning , social distancing will end or when normal life will resume again , we can just hope .
Colour in the garden in April
For me April has always represented the real onset of Summer and is a ferociously busy time trying to get the last plantings done and get the weeds under control before the explosion of growth that is early May … and above all for me it is the race from the first few days of April to protect the hostas , my favourite perrenials , from the dreaded slugs and this year with the garden centres closed I came close to running out of slugtox , my go to protection against the slimy little bastards , as the tree huggers various eco solutions of garlic , stone pebbles , , saucers of beer , hand picking the slugs at midnight and carrying them a distance from the garden etc. etc. DO NOT WORK !
We have an added problem here for our hostas as deer from the mountain nibble away at the leaves and with one particular pot in the woodland area the deer wait until the leaves are about eight inches high and then suddenly overnight there is only stubble an inch high left in the pot and that’s it for those particular hostas for the year and it is soul destroying to see … I can almost hear those deer “ ah Jaysus he is sooo good to us ” .
A confession … and no I haven’t breathed or coughed heavily on somebody in the supermarket while cocooning no my confession is far more serious … as a gardener of forty years I DON’T HAVE GREEN FINGERS ! We all know someone who has a magic way with seedlings and who can produce trays of dahlia cuttings and bedding annuals from seed packets sown in January and warmed inside on the front porch window sill but it never happened for me .
Sometimes it doesen’t need green fingers to create a nice effect in the garden , just a good idea and for years the front wall was well just a front wall until my gardening neighbour , Irene , suggested I plant up the top of the pillar something that had never occurred to me … that was two years ago and now it supports sedums , hellebores , erigeron , heuchera and it looks great but as it is a dry stone area it needs minding with regular watering throughout the summer.
Deep down I know that so called green fingers is just hard work and patient methodical care but I never had that degree of patience or indeed any interest and I have always been quite happy to buy my bedding annuals every May in the garden centre in the same way I am happy to buy my vegetables in the supermarket . No greenhouse either and no ambition to own one although I did have one once when I first started gardening in the late 1970’s until I realised what an amount of work went into a greenhouse and for what ? … tomatoes in July when they are everywhere fresh in the supermarkets and everyone who does have a greenhouse is trying to give you buckets of them just to get rid of them … never used that greenhouse after the first year and eventually it just fell apart from neglect .
What I AM able to do though for propagation of shrubs and plants is what every idiot is capable of doing and that is at the right time of year collect self seeding plants and pot them up and the easiest of all , cut metre long pencil thickness willow branches in January / February and stick them into the ground … easy peasy and a 60% success rate . This way over the years I have spread favourite plants throughout the garden and it has been particularly useful in this current corona virus lockdown where all the garden centres are closed … my heart goes out to the owners with over a million plants having had to be binned over Easter which is normally the kick off point for most gardeners to start buying for the new season … OK there have been some plants on sale at the big supermarket chains but I avoid these normally , the plants are generally tired looking specimens having been kept indoors to the point of sale and I find that so called cheap offers of for example box balls for 10 euros each ( I bought three of these in Tesco’s in February ) have often been lifted in the nursery and whacked into a pot just before dispatch to the supermarket and have not had time to put down a root system which is not a great start for the shrub so buyer beware .
Certain plants are terrific self seeders and while this habit annoys some gardeners who want to maintain perfect borders and actively dislike an interloper popping up uninvited in a bed of dahlias but I love self seeders and generally leave them where they choose to lodge while potting up any surplus for use in other areas of the garden and we always have a surplus of self seeded euphorbia, hellebores , alchaemis molis and hebe while my stock plant to slip is the semi wild geranium Biokovo which I brought from Croatia years ago , it sends out nice long shoots that you can easily detach and pot up and they always take root … I do this throughout the year as I love this geranium which has a nice mounded shape and throws out lovely sprays of flowers in early May … in winter I plant the geranium slips straight into the garden beds but from April onwards to October I pot them up and then plant out six weeks later . I also use geranium nudosum which I get in chunks from a gardening friend when she is making space in her own perennial beds , a delicate blue flower not worth waiting around for but the foliage is to die for , it can be hard to get started but once it likes a location , generally dry conditions , it romps away … as I said I get this geranium privately and I have never seen it for sale in the garden centres … I was discussing this recently with a gardening friend as to how certain plants are out of favour and not stocked in the garden centres as unlike the garden centres of say twenty years ago and the modern centre only stocks imports from Holland who dictate our choice on the basis of what sells best and although I know it is a difficult market and the garden centres have to survive still we are being dictated to and not always for the best .
I have planted this entire border two years ago with self seeded euphorbias , hebes and dog woods that I potted up and planted out last year .
For potting up I use a base of builders sand to fill about 20% of the pot then top up with John Innes potting compost , we also collect all soil washed into the drains by the rain and store this for our potting mixture .
Since January I have been writing about pruning without mentioning the necessity to have a good secateurs as this makes the task so much easier and it is also important to have a secateurs that feels good in the hand and for me there is only one secateurs to consider and that is the range made by Felco , the Swiss brand leader in secateurs . We have all of course started with cheap secateurs as Felco are expensive but anything in the 30 euro range no matter how pretty the handle is are just cosmetic cutters , will rust and lose their edge after a while. Felco make professional secateurs for all types of pruning starting with the model 2 going up to model 17 and then has eight more in the range and has even a left handed one (model 10) but the entire range is unlikely to be available in any one showroom and it is important before buying to try out a few of the models for size , grip and sheer good fit in the hand … I use model 2 for example which is the classic iconic model introduced in 1948 but Snezana did not like the feel of this and choose model 8 , we bought both of ours in Clonmel Garden Centre where they have a good range which allows you to make up your mind . The fit of a secateurs is very important as I found out a few weeks ago having misplaced mine in the garden for a couple of days ( the iconic red colour helps to spot a felco in the weeds and long grass ) and I used Snezana’s model 8 and after a few hours pruning I ended up with some good sized blisters .
What brought all this on is that Snezana has now reclaimed two patches of the garden with the latest being in the front garden under a large mountain ash , sorbus moonbeam variety , which over the past twelve years has been taken over by rampant ground ivy which through laziness I convinced myself looked nice and organic but now that she has hand cleaned off over sixty barrow loads of the ivy I love the reclaimed soil and we are planning a flower bed that will take into account the shade from the mountain ash and the dry soil … a mixture of our own home grown geranium , hellebores and bergenia will go in there in about four weeks and then in the Autumn I will underplant with spring flowering bulbs .
This is what she does best , won’t take direction of course and always wants to work on an area she can claim and call her own work … it is a policy that works for us and I am happy to then prepare the planting up .
When I wrote that last paragraph I was just referring to the ground she had reclaimed under the mountain ash but then her horizons extended to the dry stone wall behind which most likely dates back to the 1920’s when our garden was divided by the Land Commission after Irish independence in 1921 . I undertook to clean off eighty years of ivy from the low wall which runs along fifty five metres of the front garden , reset and build up the stone and this took a weeks work and another 150 barrow loads of ivy but it looks great , we now call it our Covid Wall !
Now the issue is what to do with the new area with the brief being not to obstruct the lovely dry stone wall with shrubs or trees which leaves low growing ground cover as the only planting option and this is where a major issue has arisen as Snezana doesen’t want any planting as she loves the bare earth look that is there at the moment … at the moment being the operative wording as give it a week and the ground will erupt from buried weed seeds and ground ivy and I have explained that the only way to ensure that no roots or seeds survive is to cover the area with black plastic well pegged down for at least a year and this will kill all the dormant stuff … but that virgin state will then only survive until the dandelion seeds , the willow seeds , the sycamore seeds are blown in and take over and off we go again in a major clearance on hands and knees or regular blitzing with weed killer like round up … watch this space as to how we proceed with the new area !!
Nothing beats the freshness of April … photos taken 20th April in the Front Garden
Keep safe in this uncertain time and hopefully we will see the gradual return soon to normal life as we knew it .