April 14 2022

April brings with it a fresh burst of life, and Furzey Gardens is no exception to the rule. Following a month of weather extremes in March, there’s a lot to see and experience in our woodland garden.

The high intensity sunshine towards the end of March has meant that we are now seeing a great deal of early flowering. Our rhododendrons are flourishing, and in particular our Rhododendron macabeanum is looking exquisite. This large evergreen tree always attracts attention thanks to its huge glossy green leaves (which can grow up to a foot long) and large yellow flowers. It’s definitely worth a visit, as is my personal favourite, the Rhododendron irrorata. It has soft rose pink flowers with lots of tiny spots inside. As the plant unfolds, you catch more and more of those tiny dots and lines; it really is beautiful. While we’re on the subject of rhododendrons, I encourage you to pass by an old variety in the garden, the Himalayan Rhododendron thomsonii. I love this variety as, when the sun shines, the flowers appear translucent; it’s like looking through stained glass.

Rhododendron Macabeanum and Rhododendron Irrorata

Moving through the garden and over to our azalea (which are now ready to burst). The Azalea hinomayo is already out, and it has lovely pink funnel shaped flowers. It was first collected from the gardens of the emperor’s palace in Tokyo back in the early 1900s and it’s well known for being a super tough and easy to grow variety. Come the end of April, the entire azalea collection should be in bloom.

Due to the unexpected sunshine at the start of spring, we’ve pulled forward some of our planting jobs. I’ve been growing some specimens of Loropetalumch chinense (also known as the Chinese witch hazel) in the nursery and they are now a decent size, so I’ll be planting them out in the next few weeks. It’s a shrub which is fairly new to British gardens, but with its firework-like bright red flowers it’s quite spectacular and does well in a woodland garden. Another tree I’ve been growing is the Cercidiphyllum japonicum (the katsura tree): this is a very graceful tree with round soft leaves which – come autumn – turn shades of orange and pink. However, the really lovely thing about this tree is its scent.  As the leaves fall in the autumn, they omit a glorious burnt sugar smell – just like toffee apples. We will be planting it close to the paths so that visitors can catch the smell.

In addition, we’re continuing to replant our cottage garden and the team will be using the same pictorial meadow seed mix that was used in the Olympic Park in 2012. It’s a magnificent mix which will see a whole succession of different flowers showing up one after the other with the big crescendo in August. Make sure you take a look every time you visit to see how it changes.

So, what should you be doing in your garden at this time of year? As always, I recommend spending some time mulching. You can use compost, wood chips and well-rotted manure. By adding the mulch after planting, you will:

  • Keep the moisture in the ground (making a healthy growing environment)
  • Improve soil organic matter
  • Warm up the soil for spring
  • Create an attractive look and feel for your garden

If you haven’t already, get outside and pull up any weeds that have gathered over recent months and then pour that lovely mulch onto the ground to stop the weeds germinating. I would also recommend giving your lawn some attention. Admittedly, this can be a laborious job (especially in a garden as big as Furzey) but it’s worth it. Get a garden fork, poke it into the ground and jump on it as hard as you can. Wiggle the fork and heave it out so you’re left with holes in the turf and repeat through the lawn. This works to aerate compacted soil, which then allows in more oxygen and space for water to permeate. While you’re caring for your lawn, you could pick up your rake and give it a good scratch. This will rough up the surface and pull out any dead grass and bits of moss, again allowing in more air and moisture.

Once you’ve worked on your lawn, check in on your spring bulbs and bedding. Deadhead anything that needs it and keep an eye out for slugs and snails looking to eat the new shoots of hostas, delphiniums, lupins and any vulnerable plants in your garden.

In terms of planting, April is a great time to plant container grown plants. Pre the 1980s, almost all plants were bare-root and if you visited a nursery they would have to go their stock beds and dig your plant up for you and hand it over wrapped in newspaper (like fish and chips!). Now, nurseries offer a huge selection of container plants. Pay one a visit and see what would make a welcome addition to your garden. Primulas and polyanthus do particularly well this time of year.

Peacock butterfly on pink azalea and Furzey winter heather beds

Another benefit of the sunshine is that butterflies have sprung from their hiding place. We had tons throughout the latter part of March – admirals, peacocks and tortoiseshells covered the garden. They had been hibernating over the winter (mostly in dead leaves, among shrubs and corners of sheds) but as the temperature rose they decided to crop up. They’ve quietened down since the temperature dropped again, so we’re hoping for another burst of sunshine so that we can see them again.

We’ve also noticed the chiffchaff singing its lovely song at Furzey. This is a summer visitor bird which over winters in North Africa. Interestingly many birds like the chiffchaff are actually sticking around in the UK over the winter due to the rising temperatures. Many of our plants are attracting a lot of bees; not least our Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey’ which is named after (you guessed it!) Furzey Gardens. It’s a winter to spring flowering heather which was first developed in the 1930s from a seedling here at Furzey. It will be in full flower until the end of April and the bees can’t get enough of it.

There’s a lot to get excited about as we move through spring, and I hope that you enjoy getting your hands dirty this month.  If you have any questions about your gardening in May, please do send them in and I’ll try to answer them in the next article.


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