Gardening Tips

Paused at the starting gate – Growhow tips for April


This spring is certainly taking its time to get going! The soil still feels cold, and this week experienced the coldest April night in eight years – even in the the balmy southern counties. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do though, including sorting out your seating areas, tending the roses, and dividing primroses, among other things…………..

Sitting pretty

What a joy it has been to chat with friends and family in the garden again after all the long, dark months! I mentioned attending to the garden furniture in the last Growhow column, but you could also make some tweaks to the planting around your seating area, to make it even more of the relaxing welcoming place you want it to be.

  1. If you are choosing ornamentals to plant out near garden seats, think about including scented plants. Perfume can contribute so much to the enjoyment of a garden – Nicotiana (tobacco plants), Cosmos atrosanguineus (Chocolate-scented – delicious!), roses, Philadelphus, honeysuckle (growing with Clematis montana in the feature pic), sweet peas, herbs like rosemary – there are a great many to choose from, for all types of space, aspect and budget.
Position Philadelphus nearby for glorious wafts of perfume

2. If you have pots to fill on the patio where you will be sitting, try to include some tactile plants like Stachys byzantina (lambs’ ears), Salvia argentea (silver sage), perhaps, or maybe the lovely Plectranthus argentatus whose praises Louise sung in an earlier piece (link at the end). Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem sage) makes a neat shrub with pale yellow flowers and downy leaves which are gorgeous to touch. Judging by visitors to my garden, it’s very hard to resist running your hand over and through grasses like Stipa, Pennisetum or Festuca. Gently crushing the glossy evergreen leaves of Choisya ternata releases a glorious sharp orange scent.

The velvety leaves of Plectranthus argentatus

Stroking the plants will give your guests something to do while they sip their tea, but don’t have anything too sharp or spiky especially if there are children running around, and be aware of plants that might have irritant sap, like Euphorbia.

3. Do add some plants for pollinators. On the day of his funeral, let’s remember what a champion Prince Philip was for the preservation of the natural world in all its diversity. Personally, I find that watching insects at work on the flowers very much increases my enjoyment of a garden anyway, and knowing that it is a deeply important thing to be doing only makes the feeling more intense. Lots of bedding plants are sterile (making them flower for much longer, generally) so are of little interest to our precious but dangerously declining pollinating insects. However, Cosmos are great for them, as are Verbena, borage, Alyssum, Salvia, Antirrhinum (snapdragons) and Heliotropium (Cherry Pie).

Pollinating insects love plants like this Cosmos ‘Antiquity’

Others to look out for are Nepeta (catmint), Calendula (common marigolds), Digitalis (foxgloves), lavender, Centaurea (knapweed), Centranthus (red valerian) and Cerinthe purpurescens (this was a real favourite of our Dad’s, many years ago). All are wonderful for attracting the soothing and fascinating buzz of insect-life to your flowery nook, while knowing that you are helping the planet in some tiny measure.

Roses all the way

At a recent (and delightful) trip to Arundel Castle Gardens (see Laura’s review of it in the link at the bottom), I saw that the Rose Garden there contained the healthiest-looking roses I’ve ever seen!

Questioning the staff, we found out that there were several elements to their successful recipe for perfect roses:

a. They ALWAYS use mycorrhizal fungi granules on the roots of the roses at planting-time. They reckon it makes an enormous difference to the subsequent health and vigour of the plant.

b. They use Epsom salts in solution as an organic foliar spray during the growing season, which helps greatly in the reduction of that disfiguring disease called ‘blackspot’, as well as other fungal problems. Many of the older roses that I love so much are prone to this problem, so I am definitely going to try this.

c. They spread a REALLY thick mulch of compost/manure every year around the stems of their roses at about this time, to keep weeds at bay and conserve moisture round the roots.

Whatever they were doing, was certainly working – the plants were bursting with strong growth and thrusting shoots. So it’s a rose-growing regime worth copying, I would say.

Rose ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’ with its incredible scent

And then they told me that the beds nearest the entrance to the rose garden were filled with R. ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’ – one of the most fragrant and petal-filled roses known to Man! The sight and perfume in June must be enough to make your knees wobble…

Gardening shorts

  • It’s been a great year for primroses – so important as an early food-source for many insects, including brimstone butterflies. I read the other day that it is estimated that an individual primrose plant lives on average for 48.3 years – isn’t that fantastic! Ants will often help them spread by carrying the seeds back to their nests, but why not give them a bit of help? Divide your primrose clumps while all the leaves are still there, pulling them apart into smaller portions and replanting them. Water the ‘new’ plants in well, and they will settle down to give you a lovely display next spring – and perhaps for 40 years more! An easy, satisfying job.
Dividing primroses
Pull apart primrose clumps to rejuvenate them and make more plants
  • I hate wasting anything, but it’s imperative that you ‘thin out’ crowded vegetable seedlings in rows, pots, windowsills, propagators, etc. With too much competition, tiny plants will become leggy, starved of space and nutrients, and will always struggle thereafter to amount to much.
Thinning seedlings will REALLY help the ones you leave in the soil
  • It’s the main growing season for weeds as well as plants! Try to do a little weeding every day, before they take too much hold in your beds and borders. Remember that every tiny bit of buttercup- or dandelion-root will grow into a new plant if you leave it in the soil. Get to annual weeds before they flower and set seed – “one year’s seeding, seven year’s weeding”, as the saying goes. I did like Arundel’s idea of having a small corner of the veg patch dedicated to such wild natives, though, to help with the pollination of the crops… You can read Laura’s review of our visit to Arundel Castle Gardens here.

The link to Louise’s piece about Plectranthus argentatus is here.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

2 replies on “Paused at the starting gate – Growhow tips for April”

Yes, Spring is here and thanks for great reminders of planting beauties, though I wish I had some room available in my small Devon garden. I adore roses which I know flourish in built-up, polluted and clay-filled situations (London where I originated from), so down here, with clean air and beautiful soil, your tips from Arundal Castle staff will certainly be taken on board, especially to help avoid black and purple spot. Wishing all you Growbags happy and fragrant days ahead. Scott

Thank you, Scott, the same to you! Elaine here. Yes, it seems so peculiar that diseases like blackspot thrive in clean air, doesn’t it. The roses in my garden in our deeply, deeply rural house in darkest Normandy suffer from such things so much more than the roses in our small English garden in the middle of town. Not that I am expecting to be able to do anything much about the French ones this summer – heaven knows what we’ll find when we can finally get there….. Your Devon garden sounds delightful – my favourite gardens are ones that are stuffed to the gunwales with plants; my sisters would agree that I have never been one for subtlety or understatement when it comes to garden design!

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