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April - the awakening

Updated: May 2

The wait is over.

April is here, and with it an unstoppable surge of energy in the garden. After months of savouring the tiniest glimmers of life, suddenly we’re spoilt for choice. Fresh, tender foliage greets us at every turn. Brave spring flowers offer their zingy palette of yellow, blue, and purple. The orchard erupts in delicate blossom.

There’s an unmistakeable sense of release and optimism during these early weeks of spring. If only we could bottle this feeling!

A perfect spring pairing of wood anemone and cowslips

Nothing promises bounteous times ahead like the fresh, new shoots of a peony

Saving the best til last? The pheasant's eye narcissus is the final daffodil to bloom in the garden

A fleeting yet exquisite moment – the dark, rich tones of ajuga and sambucus contrasted against the fresh, silvery greens of honesty, foxglove, iris, and cardoon.

Lathyrus vernus making its presence felt

One of the standout plants at Gasper Cottage this month is Brunnera – currently at its flowering peak. Beloved for its ability to thrive in the shade, this obliging plant carpets the ground even in tricky, dry spots where little else will grow, such as beneath the densely planted silver birches and around thirsty hedges. That's not to say it's completely immune to the effects of drought – in very hot, parched spells it can look tired and develop powdery mildew, though we've found it recovers easily and quickly if chopped right back and given a good soak.

Airy mounds of true blue

Three forms are grown at Gasper Cottage – the straight species, Brunnera macrophylla, with its clear green leaves; the silver dusted B. macrophylla 'Jack Frost'; and the cream-edged B. macrophylla 'Hadspen Cream'.

Straight species

'Jack Frost'

'Hadspen Cream'

"One of the things I notice with the brunnera is how much bluer the flowers look on the plain green form than on any of the variegated forms, but when picked they are exactly the same blue!", Bella observes. She thinks this is the power of a clearer contrast with the mid tone of the species leaf providing a solid backdrop for the tiny sky-blue flowers. "For the rest of the year, however, the variegated forms are more interesting and useful for lifting dimly lit areas."

The pale colouring of 'Jack Frost' picking up the white of the birch trunks

Another plant doing its thing in the garden this month is Euphorbia. Chief in terms of size is Euphorbia mellifera, a lovely big, lush, dome-shaped species with two-tone green foliage and burnt orange infloresences. As a half-hardy plant it can be hit by cold temperatures, though the combination of sheltered positioning and a relatively mild winter means all of ours here have made it through another year unscathed.

Two Euphorbia mellifera in the Studio Garden, enjoying the warmth of the boiler on the other side of the brick wall

Though both of these were planted in 2017, the one on the right was regeneratively cut down to the ground last spring. Their varying sizes shows to better effect the multistemmed Amelanchier lamarckii in the corner, whose delicate white blossom has already been and gone.

Another beneath the pergola, grown from cuttings of the original Studio Garden plants. This year the wallflowers have not done at all well, apart from this lovely primrose yellow variant bucking the trend. Plans are afoot to expand the range of spring flowers, whether perennial, bulb, or ephemeral, in time for next year.

Less cosseted is the hard as nails Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, a low-growing species happy to grow even in the meanest of dry, shady spots. A vigorous spreading nature sees it running about happily, particularly in the front hedge banks where wimpier plants have been known to surrender to ground elder. Yes, it can be a little patchy and unkempt, though all is forgiven right now as its acid yellow-green flowers bring spring joy to the darkest of corners.

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae merrily weaving itself through the back of a shady border in the Studio Garden

Almost ghostly in appearance, Euphorbia characias 'Silver Swan' is another plant used to add luminosity to a shaded spot; this time in the border against the north-facing side of the house. While growing it in a poorer, sunnier spot would no doubt increase its lifespan (in the rich moist shade, it grows too vigorously for its own good and tends to need replacing every two to three years), this is a price worth paying for its piercing effect on the gloom.

'Silver Swan'

Euphorbia epithymoides is a small, neat, cushion-forming species that conducts itself with impeccable manners in the border. Starting in April, its sulphur yellow flowerheads last for a good couple of months, then later in the season it delights again with the fiery autumn colour of the foliage.

Reliable all-rounder Euphorbia epithymoides kicking things off in the curved border – one of the sunniest, driest spots in the garden

The chunky texture and acid tones are a pleasing contrast to the delicate blues and purples of spring

The less predictable Euphorbia palustris has a somewhat chequered past at Gasper Cottage. Originally planted in the Railway Garden, this tall, vigorous herbaceous species proved too unruly for the border, where it dominated other planting, grew huge, and eventually flopped over. Decisive action was taken, and the whole lot transferred to the meadow and area around the pond, where the soil is poorer and competition from other plants greater. Thankfully the experiment worked, dramatically reducing its size and vigour. The result? A better behaved plant that lives to see another Gasper day.

Euphorbia palustris

Contrasting with camassia in the orchard meadow

Adding early height and colour to the pond planting

April is also the month of the hosta, as the fresh leaves uncurl and there is a brief chance to enjoy them in their virgin, pristine state before the inevitable descent of hungry molluscs .

"I tried applying nematodes to tackle the slugs and snails last year, but it was laughably ineffective", says Jack, the gardener. "For now, it's a question of focussing on what we've found to be the less susceptible forms, such as Hosta 'Big Daddy'."

With its enormous leaves, this cultivar has proven to be less appealing to ravenous pests than some of the smaller-leaved varieties. It continues to look good throughout the growing season, and grows so vigorously in the Studio Garden that Jack has split some of the clumps and spread them throughout the Forest Garden. What's that, you say? Isn't a forest garden edible plants only? Indeed it is, and you may be surprised to hear that hosta fits the bill – the new spring shoots can be eaten like asparagus and are popular throughout Japan.

'Big Daddy'. Despite what the early munch holes suggest, this cultivar doesn't tend to get hit too badly

Hosta undulata 'Albomarginata' is a white-edged variegated form, which provides such a beautiful contrast to the ferns and ivy in this far flung corner, its near-guaranteed annihilation by slugs later in the year is overlooked.

This is your moment, 'Albomarginata'

Under the pergola, the slender, rolled up, newly emerging leaves of Hosta 'Sum and Substance' couldn't look more different from the enormous, golden yellow paddles they will go on to be.

'Sum and Substance', poised for bigger things to come

Growing this Hosta 'Raspberry Sundae' in a pot gives it a slightly elevated position, all the better for showing off its striking red stems. For several years now it has thrived here with next to no attention – a truly low-maintenance container plant.

'Raspberry Sundae'

We hope you've enjoyed this deep dive into some of the key plants this month at Gasper Cottage, and are as excited as we are about what's to come! Now if it could just warm up a little...

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Robert Collins
Robert Collins
May 01

The sleeping giant is about to awaken😯


JP Rowe
JP Rowe
May 01

Gorgeous 😍


Emily Webb
Emily Webb
Apr 30

It's so lovely and I can't wait for your next youtube video.

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