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GINA PARKINSON missed the euphorbias, but now her new collection has survived the winter and is looking good.
APRIL is a fantastic time for the garden, especially as this year we have proper April weather. Heavy showers, sunshine and the occasional frost all make for a traditional pattern and the plants appreciate it as they begin to absorb the moisture and green up.
It is an exciting time for gardeners too as we dig over the beds and sow seeds. A sunny day beckons and we are sorely tempted to start putting things out that are just a little bit tender but should be all right unless we have a frost.
The next day Jack has visited, the lawn has a dusting of white and we wonder if the sweet peas have survived or if the broad beans will be able to withstand the cold out in the exposed vegetable patch.
Usually all is well, but sometimes we have to start again, promising to be more circumspect next year.
Among the plants I have been anxious about over the winter is a group of euphorbias planted last spring.
I left a small collection of these plants behind when we moved from our last garden and missed their wonderful lime flowers and attractive foliage.
The five that have begun my new collection have all come through the winter – luckily it was a little milder this time – and even the two tender specimens are doing well.
The secret is to choose the right spot. Euphorbias almost always need well-drained soil in full sun – given such a spot, they can cope with low temperatures and stay evergreen throughout the winter.
In every family there is always an exception; in this case it is Euphorbia griffithii, which does much better in moister soil in sun or partial shade.
Euphorbia characias ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is a great plant similar to Euphorbia wulfenii but more compact. Even so a mature specimen will fill a large space, more than the 50cmx50cm usually described on the label, and is ideal for a dry sunny spot by a south-facing wall.
The lime-yellow flowers are produced in April and May and last for weeks before going to seed. At this point, the flowering stems can be cut back to the ground; they tend to get mildewed and covered in greenfly and spoil the look of the plant.
Each stem needs to be pruned back individually to avoid damaging the new shoots that will already be growing up from the base of the plant; these will bear next year’s blooms.
Long sleeves and gloves should be worn when working with all euphorbias because the milky sap from cut or broken stems and leaves burns bare skin and reacts with sunlight, causing blistering that will leave a scar. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is a hardy plant, but two other member of the characias group we have in our garden are less so and really need the sunniest spot available and very-well drained soil in order to cope with a cold winter.
Euphorbia characias ‘Portuguese Velvet’ will eventually grow to a metre or so in height with a similar spread and has lovely soft green velvety leaves. The greenish yellow flowers appear in spring, each tiny bloom having a dark brown eye. ‘Burrow Silver’ is a little smaller and has yellow margined grey green leaves topped with creamy yellow spring flowers.
Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot rainbow’ is a recent introduction and is a quick-growing plant with bright variegated foliage in cream, lime and green, topped with pink or red at cold times of the year.
Like the rest of the group, the flowers appear in April and May. Finally, the last of the group is Euphorbia ‘Black Bird’ with gorgeous dark foliage and lime flowers. The colour of the leaves is a lovely contrast to the others in this display.
THERE is still time to sow more broad beans to join ones put into the soil last autumn or earlier this spring. They are easy to grow and can go straight into the soil to germinate where they are to crop. If the soil isn’t prepared, they can also be sown in small pots of compost and grown into small plantlets before being put into the garden.
In the vegetable patch
THE broad beans put in the soil a few weeks ago have begun to pop up through the soil. Now they have emerged it won’t be long before they are scrambling up the supports put in place when they were sown.
While it is still too cold for a lot of the more tender vegetables to go outside, they can be sown and kept frost free indoors or in a greenhouse to germinate.
Sweetcorn, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumber can all be started off now.
Outside, it’s worth sowing beetroot, chard and spinach into a prepared bed. They are pretty hardy and if a late frost is forecast in May, they can be covered over with fleece at night for protection.
In aid of the National Gardens Scheme
Four Gables, Oaks Lane, Boston Spa, LS23 6DS, one mile south east of Wetherby off the A659. A half-acre garden with hard landscaping densely planted in the style of ‘The Wild Garden’ by William Robinson, plus specimen trees, hellebore, wood anemone, dicentra, tree peony and many other spring flowering plants. A recent addition is a redesigned courtyard with seating and raised beds. Open 12.30pm-5pm, admission £3.
Gardening TV and radio
8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.
9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.
2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. The team of gardening experts visits Rugeley in Staffordshire. The gardening weather forecast is at 2.40pm.
3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chris Beardshaw, Pippa Greenwood, Christie Walkden and chairman Eric Robson are in Reading, West Berkshire with the charity Thrive.
8.30pm, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. Monty Don stakes perennials and plans for the summer, Rachel de Thame offers advice on plants for the new pond, Carol Klein explores a collection of euphorbia and Joe Swift visits the home of architect Charles Rutherford, chairman of the Society of Garden Designers.
7am, BBC Radio York, Julia Booth. Julia and Nigel Harrison hold their weekly plant surgery.