The traditional sunshine and showers of April, and rising temperature, bring the garden to life with a vengeance; time is at a premium. The spring-flowering perennials begin to colour the border, blue lungwort with its white-spotted leaves; primroses and polyanthus, aquilegias in early gardens, aubrieta, alyssum, the Pasque flower, violets, brunnera, trollius and bergenia.
But the really blazing display is given by the bulbs, which have been growing away below the soil surface all through the winter and will have poked through in some places, and now burst out of their protective sheaths to unfold a rainbow of colour. An English garden in spring without daffodils is unthinkable-those shining yellow trumpets belong nowhere else-but there are so many other kinds that are lovely, in white, cream, combinations of white and yellow; some are double, some fragrant (the jonquils and narcissi), some with pink trumpets and petals, others orange-red, even some with trumpets split into three and doubled, the ‘split corona’, Dutch hybrids.
Then there is the ‘blue’ group of bulbs, the grape hyacinths, scillas, puschkinias, and chionodoxa, with the magenta Cyclamen orbiculatum to blend; there is the sturdy crown imperial orange I ritillary (Fritillaria imperialis), and the species tulips, kaufmanniana, greigii, and dasystemon, charming with their brilliant red and yellow flowers, and purple streaked leaves. St Brigid and du Caen anemones in blue, red, purple, lilac, white and pink will flower with abandon now; the yellow pheasant’s eye, Adonis vernalis, unfolds its round yellow petals in their nest of ruffled green calyces-sometimes the ‘eye’ is green. Erythronium dens-canis, the dog’s tooth violet, in rose-pink, adds itself to the scene, and the strange snake’s-head fritillaries quietly unfold in grassy places. Hyacinths and leucojums (snowflakes), so like a large snowdrop, complete the parade.
There are summer and autumn flowering bulbs, too and, provided there is good drainage, they will grow almost anywhere with little or no care – altogether it is rather difficult to fault the bulbs as garden plants. So make a mental note now, from what is seen in gardens, to order in time for planting in autumn; one of the arts of good gardening is to chink ahead for next year.
All the annuals can be sown out of doors this month, and those that are best sown now and not earlier, can go in, nasturtiums, aster, tagetes, zinnia and salpiglossis. Border plants can still be put out, pansies, sweet peas, montbretia, gladioli and antirrhinums can be put in their flowering positions, and annuals pricked out last month in the greenhouse can be put out and gradually hardened off.
Shrub planting can continue, both of hardy kinds and those which are tender; pruning of the late-summer kinds should be completed this month, and the very early spring and winter flowering kinds can also be tidied now. If feeding was missed last month, shrubs and perennials can still be treated, roses can have their first feed and, later in the month, mulches can be put down on to moist soil. Spraying for rose black spot and mildew must be started, using captan, dinocap sulphur or a systemic fungicide which gives a month’s protection. Lawn cutting can start in earnest, and grass seed for new lawns can be sown now.
Weed control is a priority, either by hoeing, forking and hand removal, mulching or chemical treatment. The modern range of herbicides is wide, and includes paraquat and diquat for annual and shallow rooted weeds; selective hormone weedkillers containing 2, 4-D, 2,4,5-T or mecoprop for application to the leaves of broad-leaved weeds, and dalapon for top growth of couch and other grasses; simazine, sodium chlorate or dichlobenil for root absorption, and propachlor to stop weed seeds germinating. Lawn weeds are best treated with hormone herbicides. Whatever is used, however, read the directions first, and then follow them.
The greenhouse will be crying out for attention, to prick out seedlings into trays and boxes, to put out and harden off bedding plants and half-hardy annuals, to pot on or plant in the greenhouse border, chrysanthemums, carnations and pelargoniums, also tomatoes (the first three will want stopping if it has not already been done), and to pot on corms started last month. Water will be required in increasing quantities by all plants; very careful management of heating and ventilation will be necessary, with night frosts still about, even snow, and bright sun during the day alternating with showers and strong winds. Freesia seed can be sown where it is to flower, eight to a 7-in. pot or deep box, for flowering next October onwards. Primula seed for next winter’s display should be sown this month in carefully prepared, well-drained compost.
The vegetable seeds sown last month in heat, such as celery, cucumber, marrow, aubergine and peppers, will need pricking out or potting. Runner beans can be sown inside for May planting out of doors and cropping in very early July – the dwarf runners can be cloched and brought on for June cropping. Outdoor vegetable sowing can safely include autumn cabbage, maincrop carrots, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, peas, radish, savoy, spinach beet, beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, globe artichoke, and all the herbs, including parsley at the end of the month, unless it is warmer than usual. Some of last month’s vegetable sowing can be hardened off and planted out now, lettuce, leeks, onion and cauliflower. The spring cabbage sown last autumn will be the better for a fertilizer dressing, and chitted main-crop potatoes can be planted. Any earlies which have already gone out may need frost protection. Asparagus beds and Jerusalem artichokes from last year can be given a general compound fertilizer.
Pears, cherries and plums will blossom this month; blackcurrants begin to leaf and flower before the month is out, and should be sprayed with lime-sulphur if big bud is a trouble, when the leaves are about the size of a top piece. Otherwise a general greenfly spray over all the top fruit, and blackcurrants, will save a lot of trouble and work later on. Apple and pear scab are fungus diseases which may defoliate the trees later in the year, and will blemish the fruit with hard black spots which crack; in moist warm weather it spreads fast, and a protective covering of fungicide should be put on at fortnightly intervals until the end of June. Captan, lime-sulphur or colloidal sulphur are used, but directions as to sulphur-shy varieties must be heeded. A calm, not windy day, will result in good spray cover without browning and scorch of the leaves.
Strawberries will begin to come to life and should be weeded if not already done; the cloched ones will need ventilating on sunny days, and to allow the bees to pollinate them, and they may also need watering. Raspberries can be tied in, and both these and blackcurrants can be mulched. If all the soli fruit is clear of weeds, a good way of keeping them down for the rest of the season is to put down straw as a thick covering. The soil will remain moist, too, except in dry summers or if very sandy or gravelly, and by the autumn will be rotting in of its own accord. Moreover, it has the advantage of making picking easier and pleasanter. Peaches will have set, and may need frost protection; thinning can start towards the end of the month.