It’s Hosta month this April at Clonmel Garden Centre as they have their largest collection of hostas ever in stock , all the old reliables , June, Gold Standard , Big Daddy and all presented in great condition with small leaf growth and nothing forced under glass as can often be the case in April with hostas .
If we didn’t have deer coming into the garden I would have a huge collection of hostas , my favourite plant but unfortunately we have a lot of deer who over the years visiting the garden have developed a sweet tooth for hostas . I try and find nooks and crannies that I think might elude the deer and with this in mind I bought three hostas a week ago , one each of June and Gold Standard and one , Bressingham Blue , new to me but comes with a good reputation for growing into good sized clumps with large leaves … my kind of hosta and these I planted in pots close to the house where they have some hope of escaping the deer .
What part of gardening do you like best is a popular question … like , enjoy , get the most pleasure from … a lot to consider there … is it design , building , smelling the roses … a bit like trying to answer which child you like best ?! Planting I love ! There I have said it , nailed my colours to the mast , I love planting new plants above all else in the garden , that sense of anticipation , even though knowing you have sh..t soil or the position is totally wrong but this time it will be different … naivity and innocence are the gardener’s staples and don’t you just love it !
Weed killer is always in the news around this time , to use or not to use ? No gardener likes using a systemic weed killer like Round up but in large gardens it is impossible to keep paths clean or control invasive couch grass in shrubberies unless you use it … I limit my use of it to once every three / four weeks in the growing season less so in the winter months . Some weeds are so cunning they insinuate themselves deep in the roots of flowering perennials and yes it is the dreaded creeping butter cup I am talking about here … with these deep rooted weeds you need to hand weed otherwise they will regenerate from the tiniest piece of root left in the ground.
Generally I am relaxed about weeds and leave the odd clump of nettles and docks untouched for the butterflies but there are two weeds , the creeping buttercup and couch grass that I absolutely hate and have zero tolerance for , total war is my approach as they will take over large areas in no time at all if left unchecked and there is no easy way to get rid of them apart from carefully digging out each root as otherwise they spread relentlessly and I can happily drop everything and get down on my hands and knees to dig these out whenever I see them .
The creeping buttercup is easy to take out with it’s roots but couch grass is almost impossible to get rid of and if you have a really bad patch as I did once in a bed of santolina there is only one thing to do and that is remove every plant , spray the couch grass with a systemic weed killer and leave for two months until all couch grass growth has withered before planting again … most head gardeners will even leave the bed empty for a full year to make sure all the grass is dead .
A wild plant I really love to see in early Spring is the lesser celandine , ficarnia verna , a member of the buttercup family which pops up in unexpected places , small compact vivid green leaves in small clumps with gorgeous yellow flowers and after it finishes flowering it’s socks off it dies back into the soil not to be seen again until next year when it will faithfully reappear in the same spot … usually in damp places especially in woodland .
I also have a soft spot for the common dandelion , dente de leon as the French call it , however if left go to a seed head , pissy beds we used to call them , they will pop up in their thousands . I hate to cut them down when they have their lovely yellow flowers but we are hard wired in Ireland and the UK that they are an invasive weed left unchecked , but I still leave a few clumps and often use the leaves in salads and some cheffy people blanch the leaves under a small pot while growing to take the slightly bitter taste away .
This month I gave the new water garden area , well two years old area , it’s annual hard weeding where I spent two weeks on my knees individually digging out deep rooted perennial weeds such as thistles , couch grass , creeping buttercup , the usual culprits … they will come back but less vigorously and gradually as the ground cover planting increases in density it should eliminate these in time .
It is worth it to put the work into intensively cleaning a planting area in the first few years after the initial planting and the work gets less and less after the first two years .
It also allows me to see what plants grow well in the new area and more importantly to count the remains of all the plants that just couldn’t adjust to the hard clayey soil and that popped their clogs … you learn these lessons the hard way and try not to repeat those mistakes . I learned some hard lessons about pot plants in last Summer’s really hot period when I was away for a few weeks at a critical time where I missed the warning signs that plants were suffering and lost some nice dwarf maples to the drought … again lesson learned and maples in pots no matter how large the pot really need regular watering .
A plant that does really well in the new area no matter how heavy the ground is the bergenia and they are a great ground cover , keeping their big leathery leaves all winter and have attractive flowers in late Spring . Each November I propagate from our existing clumps of bergenia and they couldn’t be easier , just pull off a leaf from the base of a clump making sure to get as much root as possible … I use the same potting mixture for all rooted slips which is a base of two inches of builder’s sand in a medium size pot and then top up with John Innes potting compost … the latest batch of bergenia slips in the photo were potted up in January and planted out last week … three months in the pot is enough propogation and you know for sure it is ready when you turn the pot upside down and the plant has a solid knitted mass of soil and is not loose .
Greece April 2023
We were in Greece for a week in early April , I have been going there for forty years although this was my first visit in almost twenty years and a lot has changed in Greece since my first visit in the 1970’s and not all for the good either . I know that mass tourism changes a country and people get greedy for more and more lucre from the visitors but Greece has taken greed to a new level with mass concrete hotels , bars and restaurants springing up like mushrooms along every inch of beach .
Greek developers are a special breed with no conscience or regard for the environment or nature .
Even though in the EU and supposed to abide by building regulations and town planning , Greece is renowned for corruption and by the evidence I saw in the total lack of compliance with planning restrictions , brown envelopes must have been thrown around like confetti to local administrations and the result is they have ruined Greece by building higgledy piggledy on every spare inch of available land along beaches and small tourist towns .
On the one hand you have these wonderful historical sites , the Acropolis , Delphi , Mycenae , which are marvellously preserved and restored while the modern buildings and houses that surround them are mass concrete built , not even painted in most cases and just plain ugly … none more so than central Athens itself .
I was very much aware that in the intervening years my way of appreciating things not to mention my capacity to clamber all over hilly historical sites has also changed and where years ago I found the climb up to the Parthenon and Delphi easy peasy … less so today and time waits for no man !
I see also that in the intervening years there has been no let up to the national Greek sense of paranoia and hatred towards the Turkish people and now they have added North Macedonian people to their hate list … a horrible feature of Greek life is this perpetual paranoia that someone somewhere is trying to steal something from them as a nation and our tour guide in Athens was quite offensive in her comments before I advised her that I had enjoyed my two years working and living in Skopje and still had many friends including a wife from Macedonia .
Since my last visit in 1996 , Athens has built the magnificent Museum of the Acropolis on a site at the foot of the Acropolis with ceiling to floor panoramic windows that look up and perfectly frame the Parthenon and it must rank as one of the best sited museums in the world .
In all my previous visits to Athens since the mid 1970’s I had never visited Keramicus which was the ancient graveyard of Athens for over a thousand years until 100 AD … always more important sites to visit around the Acropolis which got in the way of a visit but I was determined to make up for that this time and we spent a morning there and it did not disappoint .
Situated about a mile from the Acropolis which is in view all the time , it contains tombs and ancient walls from 800 BC , hardly visited even today with the Tik Tok generation anxious to Instagram everything in sight and I never thought walking among tombs could be so therapeutic and photogenic … worth the wait !
April in the Garden
The Marsh marigold , caltha palustris , is a great water garden plant and will do well either in shallow water margins or just in damp ground and we are lucky here as we have it growing wild throughout the water areas … established clumps are easily split in winter and will grow on with no trouble in new locations .
The oddly named ( for such a beautiful plant ) American skunk cabbage is known for it’s yellow flower in February / March but it has a lesser known sister with white flowers in April , not as invasive nor are it’s leaves as big but a gorgeous plant for the water side .
April sees the forest floor come alive with new growth
Finally … last word on Greece …. the food … fabulous as ever !