April is the cruellest month

Amaryllis ‘Emerald’ in the glasshouse, 13 April 2021.

Not really I muse. In the northern hemisphere April is a glorious time of the year with all the promise of summer ahead. This year, however, the weather has been cruel across much of Britain. The frosts I mentioned before have been even harder these last two weeks and much that struggled through to the beginning of April has since succumbed. Turned to grey are the exotic flowers of Rhododendron calophytum; shrivelled and brown are the corylopsis and stachyurus; tinged with brown are the camellias and some of the magnolias; the two eucalyptus trees are scorched and silvered; and many more are damaged. The days are bittersweet – there is hard frost at night followed by sunshine and enough warmth to sit out of an afternoon. But there is little rain and a fear of wildfires covers all of Britain.

Frosted Rhododendron calophytum in the Woodland Garden, 8 April 2021.
Frosted Corylopsis sinensis calvescens beside the Evolution Garden, 8 April 2021.
Frosted Stachyurus praecox on the Aviary Terrace. Note the two (out of focus) flowers untouched by the frost, 8 April 2021.
Magnolia kobus in the Fountain Garden, 13 April 2021.
Frosted camellia in the Fountain Garden, 8 April 2021.
Frosted Eucalyptus nitens see from outside the Fountain Garden, 13 April 2021.

In the glasshouse there is a different story: seeds germinating, cuttings thriving and a lovely show of spring flowers.

Five pots of Caesalpinia gilliesii, with cerinthe to the left, gazania plugs behind and ricinus centre back, 13 April 2021.
Streptocarpus leaf cuttings, 13 April 2021.
Spring flowers in the glasshouse, 13 April 2021.

A new order of plugs arrived last week – on Friday at 6’clock. They were not in good shape and needed almost immediate attention. Fortunately Andy was on over the weekend so they were in good hands. The plugs (nicotianas and felicias) were looking better by my visit on Tuesday.

Nicotiana ‘Cuba Red’ (left) and Felicia amelloides plugs, 13 April 2021.
Cover for the tree fern spores, 13 April 2021.

I need to correct my careless reference to the seeds of the tree fern on my last post, because of course the ferns don’t have seeds – just spores. Ferns have two parts to their life cycles. The spore will grow into a prothallus – a tiny heart shaped structure that produces male and female gametes on its underside. Usually the males and females ripen at different times to help with cross fertilization. Moisture is needed for the male gametes to swim and fertilize the female gametes. Then the new fern plant – the sporophyte – grows up through the prothallus to complete the cycle. The cling film on the pots has been replaced by small plastic covers that can allow ventilation when needed.  

The cacti that were put into pots to make room for extra propagation have moved quite well. The pots in front have arum lilies just emerging: Zantedeschia elliotiana, a yellow calla lily, and Amorphophallus rivierii, the devil’s tongue. The Bukiniczia cabulica, that looked as though it had died, rallied and is now producing flowers.

The cactus moved quite well, 13 April 2021.
The Bukiniczia cabulica, that looked as though it had died, rallied and is now producing flowers, 13 April 2021.

The amaryllis continue to intrigue. A new one out this week is Amaryllis ‘Emerald’, with ‘Grand Diva’ almost out. The Amaryllis ‘Black Pearl’ that Joanna treated with 1%  bleach last year to deal with red blotch virus, that affects the leaves, are coming along and being watched carefully.

Anaryllis ‘Black Pearl’ was treated with 1% bleach last year, 8 April 2021.

Outside not everything is frosted. On the doocot border Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Plena’ and podophyllums are pushing up through the soil in their individualistic ways. The pretty little Primula marginata with its attractive leaves does well in some of the sink gardens. Beside the Doocot the first trilliums are flowering. Usually the cherries are in full bloom at this time. The weeping  Prunus incisa moerhemii photographed by James last year was at its peak on 8 April, whereas this year half a dozen flowers were just beginning to open on 13 April, the rest tight in bud.

Sanguinaria canadensis, wrapped in its grey leaves, pushes through of the Doocot Border 13 April 2021.
The leaves of podophyllum unfurl like umbrellas as they emerge, 13 April 2021.
The leaves of Primula marginata are as attractive as the flowers, 8 April 2021.
First trilliums of the year beside the Doocot, 8 April 2021.

Tulips and daffodils don’t mind the frosts either, though sometimes they are battered by the winds. The bright red Tulipa fosteriana ‘Madame Lefeber’ planted in 2019 is keeping up its promise of repeat flowering. Out beside the viewpoint I like the cheeky white daffodil that has sprung up in a sea of yellow.

Tulipa fosteriana ‘Madame Lefeber’ in the Red Garden, 8 April 2021.
The daffodils are late this year, 8 April 2021.
Odd one out beside the Viewpoint, 8 April 2021.

The Mahonia repens in the corner of the Fountain Garden attracts bumblebees: the white tailed, Bombus lucorum, the buff tailed, B. terrestris, and another tree bumblebee, B. hypnorum all at the same time.

The white tailed bee, Bombus lucorum, on mahonia, 13 April 2021.

I’ll never be a wildlife photographer, but I was pleased to get two tree creepers in one shot in the Woodland Garden. The soft bark of the giant sequoia up on the path above the millpond is full of holes which are used by the tree creepers for roosting at night. Whilst in the Woodland Garden I checked out the pond and the frogspawn; no tadpoles yet.

Tree creepers in the Woodland Garden, 8 April 2021.
Tree creeper roosting holes in the giant sequoia above the Millpond, 8 April 2021.

Volunteers Sheila and Alyson were clearing out the dead leaves from the red hot pokers beside the Croquet Lawn and grateful for a sunny spot to work in. The leaves are tough so it is not as easy as it looks. I sat on the wall beside them for a while savouring the warmth and conversation.

Cleaning up the Kniphofia caulescens, 13 April 2021.

The project in the Upper Pool Garden continues to progress. The conifer stump has been removed and more paving has been laid. The Aciphylla that had done so well in 2019 died last year before the frosts. The Evolution Garden is also moving on.

The Chamaecyparis pisifera stump below the Victoria terrace has been removed, 13 April 2021.
The aciphylla bloomed well in 2019, 5 June 2019.
The circles that represent different stages of evolution begin to take shape, 8 April 2021.

With bumblebees busy I was minded to go and look for the flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I wrote about last year but was unable to visit (Fashions come and go 11 April 2020).  Sure enough it was thriving all over the far bank of the millpond. And the bumblebees were making good use of it; the first I saw was a tree bumblebee – this species is rapidly becoming a local. As I was standing still waiting to photograph some of the bumblebees, a pair of long tailed tits stopped briefly in the bush under my nose. I have never been so close! A peacock butterfly rounded off a lovely walk in the estate.

Tree bumblebee on flowering currant above the Millpond, 8 April 2021.
Flowering currant proliferates where felling took place a few years ago, 8 April 2021.
Peacock butterfly soaking up the warmth of the sun on a cold day, 8 April 2021.

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain…*

As we emerge from a year of pain with memories of those gone, we are filled with desire for a future full of hope. May the virus be defeated; may our gardens and green spaces help our wounds to heal; may the bumblebees thrive.

Stay safe.

Tulips in the Upper Pool Garden, 13 April 2021.

*Opening lines of ‘The Wasteland’ by T S Eliot

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