This Month in the Garden, April 2012 with Derek Cox

During last February, as it was our 62nd wedding anniversary, my daughter Louise invited us to stay with her and her fiancé at Woodville. During the five days we were there, Louise said she would like to visit Dobbies Garden World at Mancetter to choose a few bedding violas to plant in the borders of her garden. I must admit that I always enjoy a trip to a nursery, or garden centre where I can spend time browsing through all the plants. I came across a superb display of polyanthus and although I already have a number in the borders of my garden, I could not resist buying plants of ‘Appleblossom’, pictured above, which has large, pale pink flowers, also a lovely vibrant reddish-orange, which has a dark red eye. I have planted five of the red ones in a large wooden half barrel, which I have standing on my terrace. A frost during the night of 7th March took a lot of the colour out of them, but new buds soon came through to give me a lovely display. The frost did not affect ‘Appleblossom’, but I planted these in a bed giving them more shelter from the North and East. I grow a number of Helleborus species and hundreds of hybrids, the hybrids self seed around the garden and love shady spots. However, I have never succeeded in growing Helleborus niger, whose common name is the Christmas rose. Unless you live on the South coast, this lovely small, evergreen perennial will not produce its pure white flowers in the garden at Christmas, but from late January until March. However, at Dobbies, I came across and bought a plant of Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ and this appears to be a much stronger grower. I have planted ‘Jacob’ in front of Helleborus ‘Walbertons Rosemary’ so that its white flowers will contrast with the deep pink. My clump of Daffodil ‘Tete-a-Tete’ came into flower during the first week of March, but they have not produced as many flowers as in previous years, whereas most of my other early flowering Daff’s gave me a good display. This I feel is due to them being in place for over ten years and there are too many bulbs fighting for existence. As soon as they have finished flowering I shall lift them and separate the large bulbs from the small ones. Then I shall dig in plenty of mature garden compost prior to replanting the larger bulbs. I shall plant the small bulbs in a piece of spare ground at the rear of my garden to enable them to have space to grow into flowering size bulbs.

I am very fond of alpines so I have a rockery, three alpine scree beds, the screes are six inches, 15cm deep and contain a mixture of two parts gravel to one part soil. I also have a stone trough, two stone sinks and a tufa outcrop. All have been planted with numerous alpines, which vary from alpine bulbs, tiny prostrate creepers to dwarf shrubs. During the first week of March, the Saxifrages, pictured below, are amongst the first to flower in colours of white, yellow, pink and red. Most of the alpine Saxifrages are evergreen, some having very attractive silvery foliage. In one trough I have a ten year old pink Saxifrage, but this is young compared to a huge forty year old grey leaved mound?in one of the screes, which produces creamy-white, pink spotted flowers during April.

In my greenhouse, during the first week in March I sowed the seed of two varieties of Lettuce, one being ‘Lollo Rossa’ whose frilled red leaves are often seen in restaurant salads, the other is new for 2012 and is a green frilled lettuce named ‘Lettony’, which if the description is correct, is the sweetest of all Lettuce. Both germinated within five days and when the plants are large enough, which is at their three-leaf stage, they are transplanted into grow bags.