pink flowers

Back garden, April 2022

This Garden, this Spring

Every spring is different. Now that I’ve gardened this same patch of ground for nearly 30 years, I think I’ve experienced the full range of variations. Except that with a changing climate, there may be shocks and surprises along the way.

This has been a slow, cool spring, quite different from 2021 (the year of the Heat Dome). Last spring was dry, with April temperatures in the 20s (degrees C; that’s 70s F). This year we’ve had more rain than normal (and that after an extremely wet fall and winter), and below normal temperatures. On April 12, wet snow fell for several hours. Strong winds from all four directions (on different days) battered plants and scattered twigs.

But late April and most of May are the best months in this garden. Spring bulbs are in bloom and there’s lots of fresh foliage. Things are green and juicy. The cool weather means tulips, narcissi, and other flowers have remained in good condition for weeks.

Bluebells, narcissi, ajuga, hellebores in north circle bed April 2022

A few months ago I was unhappy about my hellebores, which seemed to be suffering the effects of excessive autumn wetness followed by severe cold at the end of December. I am happy to report that they shook off the doldrums (assuming hellebores can get doldrums). Most bloomed as usual, and are now approaching the stage where I remove the flower stems to prevent seeding.

Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum," hellebores, Brunnera "Looking Glass" in side bed April 2022
Hellebores and companions in the narrow bed to the west of the house.

Inevitably, there are a few disappointments. The pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) that used to bloom together with white candytuft and flowering currant seems to have vanished from the scene. It appeared to be in decline last spring, so I thoughtfully dug it up and reset it in improved soil. Either it didn’t appreciate that treatment, or the June heat wave did it in. For whatever reason, there is no sign of it this spring, which is both sad and annoying.

purple anemone and flowering currant
Blooming well in 2017, now dead.

On the other hand, the gentians (Gentiana acaulis), which sulked last spring, are doing really well. Half a dozen flowers opened this week, with twice as many buds still forming. (I sometimes berate myself for counting buds and blooms, but do it anyway.)

Gentiana acaulis
The bluest of blues.
Gentiana acaulis single flower

This is really the best time to be a gardener here. Cleanup and mulching are done. The miserable business of pruning is finished and the tyranny of the hose and watering can hasn’t yet arrived (although soaker hoses are in place and ready). The hardest job is mowing the grass, which looks deceptively good right now. The gardener strolls around, admiring and self-congratulating. Even common, weedy plants look good.

Lunaria annua, Money plant, Honesty
Money plant, also known as Honesty (Lunaria annua)

Whether because of the excessive heat last June or some other reason, huge numbers of laburnum seedlings have appeared. I must have pulled up hundreds of them by now, and I see more every time I visit certain parts of the garden. Some of Nature’s excesses demand intervention by the gardener. Others are to be invited and celebrated.

Kerria japonica double form
Kerria japonica, like an explosion of sunlight.
Pink and white tulips
Reliable tulips.
Dryopteris filix-mas, Male fern, Fiddleheads
Also reliable is this fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). The clump gets bigger every year and has developed a kind of topknot.

One plant that’s doing better than usual is the Bleeding Heart (now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis by botanists, although I still think of it as Dicentra spectabilis). Mine has always bloomed on disappointingly short stems, but this year it looks more or less as it should. When I see its dangling little heart-shaped flowers, I always think of garden writer Henry Mitchell’s description of them: “Like Valentines hung out to dry.”

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart, single flower
Pink tulip close-up
This one tulip’s colour is the same shade of pink as the bleeding heart. It’s been blooming for weeks.
Hellebores and Pieris japonica new foliage
Hellebores again, this time with the new pink foliage of Pieris japonica.
Primula auricula variety unknown
Primula auricula, variety unknown. Doing well this year in larger pots.
Photinia x fraseri and Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii
Photinia x fraseri with lots of new red leaves following pruning in February, with Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii. Self-sown bluebells nearby.
Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum" and bluebells
Bluebells again, this time with yellow ornamental grass Milium effusum “Aureum.”

When I’m feeling grumpy about the look of the garden after hot, dry weeks in August, I should look at this post and tell myself it will be like this again.


Last chance to pre-order my latest novel, She Who Returns. It launches on May 1st!

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