April in the garden
Updated: Apr 1
TS Elliot called April "the cruellest month" and, although the context is different (he was writing about Europe in the wake of the first world war) my sentiments are the same - April can fool you. Warm weather gives you a false sense of security, you plant out tender seedlings and then there is a deep hard frost - and they die. You see it as well in our local vineyards where vignerons burn bales of hay to try and keep sudden night frosts off tender, shooting grapevines, or in the plum orchards, where the white blossom dissolves into nothing and a year's harvest is in ruins. So, don't be fooled into planting out your tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, basil, chillis.....and anything else that is frost tender in either the edible or ornamental garden until April is over.
First spring shoots and buds on a commercial grape vine. They are vulnerable to unexpected April frosts - wealthy vineyards have been known to fly helicopters over their vineyards to stir up the air and prevent late frosts from settling over their vines.
However, there is still a lot of other sowing and planting to be done as the soil warms up and the days lengthen.
In the vegetable garden you can sow radishes (for a quick result, which I always find encouraging), parsnips, mixed salad leaves, potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, spinach beet, parsley, dill, chard, peas, including sugar snaps and mange touts, carrots and beetroot. Save planting French beans, runner beans and borlotti beans until next month.
One of our raised herb beds containing chives, oregano and parsley which is rapidly running to seed.
Herbs are now flourishing and there are vigorous young shoots of mint, parsley, oregano, chives, tarragon, perennial fennel plants and fresh leaves of sage. Rosemary is still in flower, but you can find young shoots to pick amongst the flowers.
The last of the cavolo nero and chard - jostling for space with tarragon, radish seedlings and nigella, which we grow for flowers and edible seeds.
We are harvesting the last of our leeks, cavolo nero, kohlrabi and rainbow chard to make way for tender summer vegetables. If you are lucky you are also eating beautiful, tender baby broad beans - the mice ate our seeds as soon as we put them in the ground last winter (along with the tulip bulbs). This year we will be buying broad beans from our lovely, local market garden. We also buy asparagus (as the crowns take up too much space in our potager) and delicious, early season Gariguette strawberries.
Last year's tulips outside the front door. This year we will have a much reduced collection of tulips in pots.
Mulch your rhubarb and blackcurrants with well rotted manure if you have not already done so - they are hungry individuals.
Lemon trees must be attended to - it is the time to prune them and re-pot them if necessary. All shrubs in pots will benefit from a refreshing top dressing of appropriate compost - scrape off as much soil from the top of the pot as you dare without damaging the roots and replace it with fresh compost. Start your regular feeding programme for pot plants - and you may need to start watering them regularly as we have not had a lot of rain in 2023..
In the ornamental garden you can now divide and move grasses as their roots will appreciate the warmer soil, dahlia tubers can be sprouted, if you have not already done this. For more about dahlias follow this link: https://www.jardinpaysan.com/post/dahlias
Tender annuals such as cosmos, zinnias, French marigolds, sunflowers, cobea, ipomea and nasturtiums can be sown under cover, if you have not already done so, ready to plant out as soon as the risk of frosts has passed. Don't worry if it seems a little late to be doing this - they will quickly make up lost time as the weather warms up. Sowing too many seeds too early can lead to congestion on the windowsill, cold frame or greenhouse which results in spindly, light starved seedlings all jostling for prime position in limited space.
Cobea seedlings grabbing all of the light and space from poor little struggling zinnias.
Summer pots can be planted up if you have space to store them in a light, frost free environment, ready to be brought outside in May.
This is the final moment for transplanting evergreen plants within the garden as the soil is warming up but it is not yet too dry - but remember to keep them very well watered all summer. If in doubt, then wait until October.
Roses should have been fed after they were pruned - if you didn't do it, then it is not too late. We also add well rotted manure around their bases. Perennial shrubs and trees can still be given a handful of bone meal or a similar slow release fertiliser to help them through the growing season.
And then when you have five minutes - bugs and beasties are back with a vengeance. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, processionary moth caterpillers and box moth caterpillars, aphids and flea beetles, which regularly turn our rocket into lace curtains at this time of year. Broad beans are also susceptible to attack by black fly. Like us, they are all longing to eat the first, fresh shoots of springtime. If possible, try to use natural predators or remedies where possible as chemically annihilating a link in the food chain can create problems further down the line.
There is also the prospect of spring flower shows to visit - and time to stock up on new plants, meet new suppliers and find inspiration. This April we plan to go to Neuvic-sur-L'Isle where their spring plant fair takes place on the 30th of the month. See more here: https://tourisme-isleperigord.com/agenda/journee-des-plantes/
Richard at Neuvic last spring - the shopping had only just started and we had told ourselves we were "buying nothing this year".
As ever, we will also have to find time for weeding, mulching, pruning shrubs which have just flowered and generally attempting to muddle through what is an incredibly busy time of year. But what joy it is to be outside in the warmer, lighter evenings watching birds nest and fledge, flowers and leaves unfurl and delicious food grow, magically, almost overnight in the potager and orchard.
Cerinthe Major purpurescens - easily grown from seed and will then self seed year after year.