APRIL AT CLUNY
This is one of the most rewarding months in the garden when everything is bursting into growth and looking fresh and healthy. Please take your time going around the garden. Listen for the birds and look for the red squirrels. Although there are a number of steps and it is steep in places, there are some seats with lovely views to enjoy and allow you to take in Cluny’s special atmosphere.
During April many species of American woodland bulbs can be seen flowering throughout the garden. There are approximately 18 varieties of white or maroon Trillium (Wake Robin, Wood Lily) throughout the garden. They are easily recognised by their 3 leaves, sepals and petals. The graceful nodding white, yellow or pink flowers of Erythronium (Dog’s Tooth Violet, Trout Lily) are gradually spreading over the woodland floor and paths! There are lots of varieties of Daffodils, Fritillaries, Scillas, and Chionodoxas and along with a large clump of Anemone blanda near No 10. Wild Wood Anemones appear throughout the garden especially where the ground is less disturbed. Large stalks of last year’s Cardiocrinum giganteum (giant Himalayan Lily) which flowered in July can still be seen. Their glossy heart-shaped leaves are already bursting out of the bulbs.
SKUNK CABBAGE & ARISAEMA
See if you can smell them before you see them! The spectacular large spathes of Lysichiton americanus (yellow) & L. camtschatcensis (white) are found in the wet areas of the garden. They are already growing huge green leaves which can reach as long as 1.5m. Another group of strange looking plants with a spathe rather than a flower are Arisaemas. They flower in May and June but A. nepenthoides aptly called the cobra plant from the Eastern Himalayas, will be through the ground in April.
The first Meconopsis should begin to flower in the latter part of April. These are mainly the grandis hybrids with large beautiful electric or sky-blue flowers and are found in a number of beds in the garden. M x cookii a hybrid between M quintuplinerva and punicea, flowers with plum-pink drooping petals in the lawn bed at No 2 and we are now attempting to establish it in other areas of the garden.
Cluny is famed for its Asiatic primulas. The pale pinky-blue P hoffmaniana, dotted around the garden has the unusual feature of propagating by runners with next year’s flowering plants on the end of each runner. A large group can be seen from the viewing platform at the top of the garden. Other Asiatic primulas, including the rich purple P bracteosa, pinky purple P gracilipes, white P kisoana alba, royal blue P griffithii and yellow P strumosa can be seen around Nos. 18 to 20. There are drifts of the more common primulas such as oxlips, cowslips and even clumps of primroses, probably the most beautiful of them all. The first candelabra, the yellow P chungensis should appear this year by the end of the month shortly followed by the purple more robust P pulverulenta as well as naturally occurring hybrids between the two.
DENTARIA & GROUNDCOVER PLANTS
European woodland plants of Dentaria or Cardamine flower in tight, purple or cream clumps in several spots mainly between Nos. 11 & 12 and 15 & 16. Throughout the top half of the garden there is good ground cover provided by Dicentra eximia, a graceful spreading groundcover plant with pink nodding flowers. In various hues of blues and with spotted leaves, is a large swathe of Pulmonaria (Lungwort) around numbers 18, 19 and 20. Towards the end of the month the graceful yellow flowered woodland Uvularia grandiflora (large merrybells) flowers in a large clump at the far end of the lawn.
TREES AND SHRUBS
As long as there are no hard frosts, the early rhododendrons should flower throughout the month. Look high to see their flowers for the best effect. Two good specimens of the colourful Pieris formosa are at No. 22 and between 29 & 30. The first Magnolias and Prunus spp. (cherries) flower during April. It is still a good time of year, before most of the leaves come onto the trees, to appreciate the colour and texture of the various barks. One good example of this is the Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula tibetica with its red, peeling bark. The original plant in the garden can be seen at No 10. It is now over 60 years old, very shaggy, especially around the base, but redder and more polished in the younger stems closer to the top.
You should see one of our resident Red Squirrels without difficulty. They are given hazelnuts, pine nuts and peanuts in feeders around the car park and at the first Sequioadendron (No 5). They can often be heard but not seen, racing up and down the trunk. There are plenty of garden birds on the feeders including tits, siskins, chaffinches and greenfinches. Many species are now busy nest prospecting and nest building especially the long-tailed tits, blackbirds, song and mistle thrushes, bullfinches and dunnocks. There are 2 great-spotted woodpecker territories around the garden and they are regularly heard drumming or giving loud “chattering” calls. We are having more frequent fly-overs by ravens. Usually the first summer migrant to arrive in the 2nd week of April is the willow warbler, then we know spring has arrived. We had our first bumblebee and honey bee in the third week of March but they have disappeared again due to the returning cold weather. However as important pollinators, we hope they and the butterflies will have a reasonable season. Look out for the hare usually seen sloping off or not seen while it sleeps peacefully in the sun.
Large quantities of our own leaf mould are spread over areas which have been recently weeded and tidied up. This acts as mulch and helps to suppress weeds. Spaces which have occurred over the winter are planted up with home-produced perennials and the occasional young tree. In the potting room, plants are being potted on for sale and seedlings pricked out.