Oak Leaf Gardening Monthly Cuttings
Newsletter 35 - April 2014
What to do now

Ornamental plants

  • Give your beds and borders a feed, particularly around roses, spring bulbs and young shrubs/trees. Remember that acid loving plants will need an ericaceous feed.
  • Plant new perennials and finish off dividing summer flowering ones (eg delphiniums).
  • Carry on sowing hardy annuals outside and planting out ones sown in the autumn.
  • Think about how you’re going to support taller herbaceous perennials and start to put the supports in place as the new growth comes through.
  • Deadhead your spring bulbs regularly. Cut back the foliage six weeks after the flowers have died down.
  • Climbers and wall trained shrubs will be starting to shoot, so keep on top of tying them into their supports. Climbing rose stems should be tied in horizontally to get the best display.
  • Prune winter flowering jasmines, hydrangeas, forsythias and flowering currants.
  • Start to get rid of your winter bedding to make space for next month’s plantings.
  • Now’s a good time to plant or move evergreen shrubs and trees (including planting new evergreen hedges).
  • Plant out, or harden off, pots of dahlias, gladioli, calla lilies, arisaemas and tuberous begonias towards the end of the month when the risk of frost has passed.
Fruit and veg
  • Outside it’s time to sow broad beans, summer cabbages, Brussels sprouts, early peas, calabrese, cauliflowers, sprouting broccoli, mizuna, leeks, beetroot, radishes, spring onions, sugar snap peas, mangetout, lettuces, rocket, turnips, kohlrabi, spinach, parsnips, Swiss chard, chicory, endives, carrots, onions and hardy herbs including parsley, chervil, fennel, dill and marjoram.
  • Plant first early, second early and maincrop potatoes this month. Make sure the new shoots are covered with earth to protect them from frost.
  • Onion sets, shallot sets, asparagus crowns and globe/Jerusalem artichokes can also be planted this month.
  • Harvest the first overwintered spring onions and the last of the sprouting broccoli and Swiss chard.
  • Keep weeding your veg patch so seedlings aren’t overwhelmed by weeds.
  • Plant strawberries, figs and grapevines.
  • In the greenhouse you can sow tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, sweetcorn, basil, coriander, aubergines, peppers, okra, squashes and courgettes.
General tasks
  • Mow your lawn fortnightly, or weekly if the weather is mild and it’s growing quicker than normal.
  • Give your lawn a feed, though you may want to leave it until early May if you live in colder regions. You can also re-seed any dead patches in the lawn.
  • It’s the start of the weeding season; removing weeds from borders now will stop them self seeding and causing a bigger problem later in the year.
  • If you have slug/snail defences get them in place early this month!
  • Purchase and pot up plug plants for summer ornamentals and vegetables.
  • Ventilate your greenhouse on warm days in the morning, but shut them up again by mid afternoon to build up a bit of heat for overnight.
  • Make sure you keep up with thinning out, pricking out, potting up and potting on your seedlings.
  • Towards the end of April, unless the weather is unseasonably cold, you can start to harden off tender ornamental plants and greenhouse raised vegetables.
  • Take advantage of warm days to stain woodwork in the garden, particularly where it will be covered with plants later in the year.
Plant of the monthCornus alternifolia Argentea

Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' is coming into leaf now, bearing tiered layers of white edged foliage which will brighten up a dark corner of the garden. This shrub or small tree will grow to around 3m tall and 2.5m wide and requires little maintenance. Small white flowers appear in early summer followed by black berries in autumn. Find out more...

Problem of the monthTulip fire

Tulip fire is a fungal disease which often causes tulip bulbs to fail altogether, or to sprout distorted leaves and shoots. Withered shoots may have a covering of grey/black mould (a burnt appearance which gives this disease its name) and leaves may have sunken, yellow spots surrounded by dark green. Affected tulips should be removed and destroyed quickly as the disease spreads rapidly. Tulips should not be replanted in the same area for 3 years. The disease can also affect lilies. Find out more...

Note - the illustrated tulip is not suffering from this disease.

In the news

M&S introduce water-free flower packaging

Retailer Marks and Spencer have introduced waterless flower packaging for their flower delivery service. Flowers are now presented in vacuum style packaging, which reduces the oxygen available to the plant, thereby increasing carbon dioxide levels and reducing respiration, to preserve the blooms.

M&S estimate that using the new packaging for the 160,000 flowers sent out for Mothering Sunday saved 50,000 litres of water.

£7m to be spent on tree research

The government has announced that a total of £7 million is to be spent on 7 research projects investigating pests and diseases in the tree population. The research covers areas such as the chalara ash dieback fungus, methods for the early detection of pests and diseases and biological pest controls.

More news about this year's Chelsea

Nursery exhibitors at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show have started to announce what we can expect from this year's displays. Hardy's Nursery will be incorporating 12 yew trees in their Floral Pavilion display and introducing, amongst other new arrivals, Eryngium 'Neptune's Gold', which has golden foliage and flower bracts surrounding the blue flowerheads.

Kelways Nursery will be showing a selection of intersectional hybrid peonies in their Floral Marquee stand. These crosses between tree and herbaceous peonies will include peony 'Unique' which bears gloriously scarlet flowers.

Alan Titchmarsh, who earlier this year announced that he will not be presenting the BBC coverage at Chelsea, will be exhibiting his first show garden for 30 years. The garden, which he is designing alongside gold medal winner Kate Gould, will reflect his 50 years as a professional gardener and incorporate elements from both his professional and personal life.


How some of our spring flowering favourites found their names

While the common names for plants aren't always the most precise nomenclature ('bachelor's button' for example is used as a name for many different flowers which were worn in lapel buttonholes in Victorian times), they can be very revealing about the plant's origins, historic uses or mythical symbolism. Here are the stories behind the names of some spring flowering plants...

Bleeding heart/lady in the bathDicentra spectabilis

While most of us will know Dicentra spectabilis as 'Bleeding heart', due to the flower shape which looks like a dripping heart (shown here), the name 'lady in the bath' may not be as familiar. But turn the flower upside down and you'll see that it does, indeed, resemble a lady in the bath!

The derivation of the botanical name is more boring. Dicentra derives from the Greek 'di', meaning 'two', and 'kentron' meaning 'spur', referring to the two upward pointing parts of the flower (known as spurs). Spectabilis comes from the Latin meaning 'spectacular', which the flower display certainly is at the height of its season.


Nothing quite heralds spring like a bed of daffodils. Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William, described these cheery flowers perfectly when recollecting that they "tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind". The botanical genus name 'Narcissus' relates to the myth of the Greek youth Narcissus who became so infatuated with his own reflection in a pool that, upon realising that he could never possess it, died. The flower sprang up from the spot. However, it's not clear whether the flower was named after the youth of the legend or vice versa.

The common name daffodil is thought to originate from Asphodel, a genus of flowering plants, the yellow variety of which is similar to daffodils. Affodell was a variant of Asphodel and became 'affodil. The 'd' is thought to have been added either due to the Dutch 'de' (meaning 'the') being added to make "de 'affodil", or due to Asphodels being known in Britain as "bastard 'affodil".


It doesn't seem quite right that the petite, delicate cyclamen should be lumbered with such an unbecoming common name. The name first appeared in the 1551 'herbal' (a book of plants used for medicinal purposes) written by botanist William Turner. Here it was named 'Sawesbread', which has over time become sowbread. The origins of the name refers to the purported use of cyclamen roots as food for pigs.

The genus name Cyclamen is more simplistic in its origins, coming from the Greek 'kyklo' meaning 'circle', and probably referring to the stems, which curl up when the flower is spent and the seeds are developing.

Columbine/Granny's bonnet

It's not hard to work out why Aquilegia flowers are known as Granny's bonnet when you look at the pretty, nodding flowers of this cottage garden favourite. However Columbine is slightly less easy to guess at. The word derives from the Latin 'columba', meaning 'dove'. There are various theories about why these plants are dove-like. Some believe that if you hold the flowers upright then they resemble a ring of doves drinking, others consider the leaf shape to be bird-like, while others think that the shape of the flower, with one petal and all the sepals removed, looks a little like a hovering dove.

The name Aquilegia is thought to either derive from the Latin 'aquila', meaning 'eagle', due to the flower's spurs resembling eagles' talons, or from 'aquilegus', meaning a 'water container', relating to the similarity of the flower's shape to Greek amphoras.


Which came first the name of the colour or the name of the plant? Well, in this case we know the answer; the name of the plant came first. The lilac was so named after the Arabic word laylak or the Persian word nylac, both meaning 'blue'. The plant was introduced into France in the 16th century. It wasn't until the late 18th century that 'lilac' also came to mean a pale purple/pink colour.

The botanical genus name for lilac, Syringa, derives from the Greek 'syrinx', meaning 'pipe', because the stems of lilacs can be hollowed out and were used in Turkey to make pipes.


What's on this month

Enjoy the spring sunshine by getting out and about this April:

  • 1st & 2nd April - Great London Plant Fair, RHS Horticultural Halls, London.
  • 5th & 6th April - Cornwall Spring Flower Show, Boconnoc Estate, near Lostwithiel, Cornwall.
  • 11th & 12th April - RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show, RHS Horticultural Halls, London.
  • 11th to 13th April - Capel Manor's Spring Gardening Show, Capel Manor Gardens, Enfield, Middlesex.
  • 11th to 13th April - RHS Flower Show Cardiff, Bute Park, Cardiff Castle, Cardiff.
  • 12th & 13th April - Spring Gardening Weekend, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey.
  • 14th to 20th April - National Gardening Week, events around the UK.
  • 15th April - Garden Crafts For Kids, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge.
  • 24th to 27th April - Harrogate Spring Flower Show, Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
  • 25th to 27th April - Loseley Spring Garden Show, Loseley Park, Guildford, Surrey.
  • 30th April - Red Cross Great Spring Gardening Event, Hampton Court Castle, Hope-under-Dinmore, Herefordshire.