April in the Garden

 This month I ask myself what is different when compared to previous Aprils. First, we have had a record dry spring so we've already watered, which usually begins in June. Second, we've had very cool temps (compared to the average) as well as that February snow event. 

How does this translate to the state of the garden? To be honest, we must wait on the long-term impact. The stress of the dry soil could manifest later for trees and shrubs, and newly planted material may become overly stressed if adequate water is not available, which is the primary reason for watering. 

We enjoyed some sweet rain last weekend and are hopeful more is on the way.

So . . . what to blog about this week? I have many themes rumbling around in my head, i.e., a foliage post, sedum sampler, another native plant post, etc., but decided a ramble through the exploding April garden is where my heart is. Despite the dry, cold spring followed by unexpectedly hot weather, there is a sudden and overwhelming amount of leaf and flower growth, which is right on track for April.

A wide shot of the edge of the labyrinth garden with a Berberis darwinii in full orange bloom. From the looks of this first photo the garden seems right on track, FM having mowed the field grass a few times already this spring.

Our native Cornus nuttallii, dogwood tree, is spectacular this year. It seems about every other year the flowering is prolific. I'm just pleased to have any blooms at all on this notoriously difficult tree to grow in cultivation. I think this one was simply always here - a wild seedling from who knows how long ago. I don't think it was planted by anyone based on the history of this property.

A closer in shot of the edge of the labyrinth with the neighbor's fruit trees flowering in the background.

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku' and its very vibrant red flowers. I have no memory of seeing these before, perhaps they are having a banner year. The native big leaf maples, Acer macrophyllum, set a bumper crop of seeds and I'm dealing with literally thousands of seedlings right now in the shade garden. They do that about every other year.

One of two redbuds on the property that light up this corner of the garden when in bloom.

The edge of the shade garden. On the left Geranium macrorrhizum is at the front of the borders. This tough solution plant is not only semi-evergreen but spreads to form colonies and the foliage has a pleasing spicy fragrance. It handles dry shade and as you can see does fine under large trees. The shade garden in general is doing fine this year. Slow but fine. I've lost several lovely plants the past few years to voles and mole tunnels, but other plants will eventually spread and take over so it all balances out in the end.

My oceanic goddess was moved from the greenhouse to live on the deck for the season. It's nice to be able to see her out our window.

Sedum 'Winky' has been moved to a new location where it won't be overtaken by other perennials. Its cheerful pinkish foliage is quite charming, but if I remember correctly it does change throughout the season to lose the pink blush and turn more green.

Where natives collide. On the left is a very happy colony of Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Ruby' and on the right is Vancouveria chrysantha. This is in a very dry area under large fir trees in shade and these both do quite well here.

At the western base of the deck Dorycnium hirsutum also known as hairy canary clover is taking over the gravel path. It has seeded profusely in this area, but it's so charming that I let it do so. Plus, I pot up little seedlings.

Salix eleagnos var. angustifolia also known as rosemary willow is a salix in the center of the labyrinth garden. It's finally large enough now to form a small canopy, something I had imagined from 6 years ago. 

One thing I've learned gardening on two acres is that I simply cannot give plants the attention I did in the old garden, the size of a standard city lot, 100' x 50'. How that translates to this garden is that the old adage "the first year it sleeps, second it creeps, third it leaps" is more like the fifth year it leaps. That is the case here.

FM had this dogwood in a large container on the front porch for years at the old house before moving it out here and planting it. Since its planting some 5 or so years ago it has not really bloomed. Until now. At the old house the flowers were a much paler pink, here they are practically red. Unknown Cornus florida cultivar.

At the top of the driveway, the western-most edge of the berm garden with FM's new (as of last summer) staircase. Zauschneria californica and Sedum spurium have taken over below quite a large crop of Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’.

The largest flowers of my epimediums, Epimedium 'Amber Queen' is strutting her stuff a full several weeks after the others have bloomed.

More native Oxalis oregana mixed in with Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Ruby'. The latter is the larger leaved foliage with a white mark, the darker green clump underneath is last year's foliage. When customers at the nursery ask for drought tolerant groundcovers for under fir trees, this is it, people. Especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest. Mimic what nature does - those large fir trees suck up moisture from the soil so planting fancy primulas and whatever other water lovers are out there might not be successful. This is what wants to grow there. Now if you plant this in your fancy shade garden with lots of water, it will spread. A lot. 

Spiraea vanhouttei 'Pink Ice' 

Heuchera americana 'Green Spice', one I really like.

The Berberis jamesiana is going to be epic this year. These branches are loaded with buds. 

A wider view of the edge of the gravel garden with creeping thyme, Armeria 'Victor Reiter' (blooming pink), Hebe 'Sutherlandii', 'Quicksilver' and 'Karo Golden Esk', Festuca 'Beyond Blue' and others. The Cornus nuttallii shown earlier in this post can be seen on the left in the background.

A moody, sexy salvia - S. discolor and its blackish flower. I keep this one in the greenhouse all winter, all the greenhouse snowbirds are now out in the fresh April air.

At the edge of the labyrinth garden, Oscar the agave hangs out with a variety of sun lovers including Eremurus (likely E. bungei) foliage, Helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant' (just beginning to bloom orange behind Oscar) and many others.

A favorite airy shrub, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' has sparkling variegated foliage, red bark and often fantastic fall color including pink and orange tones on the foliage.

A mash up of greens at the entrance to the labyrinth garden including one of two Acanthus mollis that flank a path. These have settled in nicely and don't require as much water as they initially did, likely due to that tap root reaching some water source below.

Also at the top of the driveway a little farther east along the retaining wall is more of the berm garden including a large section that I call the "eye level eco-roof" where sedums, Acaena 'Blue Haze', Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and others are allowed to battle it out. All are low growers and it's fun to see them a little higher than ground level.

More of the labyrinth with shrubberies standing out among emerging perennials and grasses.

At the edge of one of the shade garden beds, Carex 'Snowline' and Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens' play well together. Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' in the background is poised to take over this entire bed. She'll likely have her way.

An unknown inherited weeping salix tree that the birds really really like, otherwise I would probably remove it as it's awkwardly placed. I let it be and let go of my ocd sometimes for the birds.

More shade garden mash ups with Oxalis oregana on the right, Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevans' front and center, Fuchsia m. 'Aurea' just beginning to emerge and Pachyphragma macrophilla is the white flowering perennial in the center.

Under the unusual category is Ercilla spicata (syn. E. volubilis) blooming these odd pink fluffy flowers. It's an evergreen suckering vine from Chile that apparently can handle sun or shade. It is finally growing at a decent pace after four or so years in the ground.

Sidalcea campestris, our native checker mallow is so pretty and wins the award for longest bloom time in the meadow garden.

Front and center is Viburnum rhytidophyllum, although it could be Viburnum x rhytidophylloides 'Alleghany' - the person who gave it to me no longer had the tag. In any event I show it because a funny thread on Facebook from one of my garden friends was about how much he hated this shrub! Many people chimed in with their "I hate Viburnum" chants lamenting how common they are. What do I know? I love this shrub! Two measly people came to its defense, yours truly was one. It's all quite humorous in my opinion. We don't all have to like the same plants and it's ok to be hokey or fancy-pants - as long as you love nature. That's my opinion, for what it's worth. So to fellow common ol' Viburnum lovers everywhere, this one's for you.

Finally a mash up of Ajuga (unknown variety) and Ceanothus gloriosus flowers surrounding Buddha. This is a scene I did not plan but has surprised me with unexpected harmony. I put a 2" start of ajuga in a (then) blank spot of dirt thinking that if it survives, it can stay because I'm not watering this area. It's either the ajuga or field grass and weeds, so battle it out. Five years later, this is the result. Happy accident.

April is now right on track for foliage and flowers where earlier this month I could point out several trees and flowers that were easily three weeks behind where they traditionally begin growing for the season. It's raining as I type this so that's also more on schedule, and much needed. The vegetable garden went in about two weeks late due to super hot weather, now it's happy and settled in with a cool spring rain and I am confident it will take off like gangbusters in the coming weeks. In my opinion it's better to plant the veggie garden a little later than too early. Also, something small I've noticed this year is that the lettuce is fantastic; it's even lettuce from self-sown seeds of last year's crop so yay for that!

How is your April garden coming along? Has the weather been turning cartwheels in your region? Have you noticed any changes?

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening!


  1. So many of the plants in your garden are new to me so it's like a Master Class into unfamiliar genus'. Very cool. We live on 4 acres with about half cultivated. Most of my time goes into the vegetable area so like you the rest has to survive on it's own. It's quite surprising how well most things do without much intervention from me.

    1. I imagine with four acres and a veggie area that takes up a lot of your time! You understand letting things survive on their own, for sure. Nature takes care of so much.

  2. I've always complained that plants take longer to take off and fill in in my big garden, but never put it into words as well as you. Year 5 it leaps, indeed. Sometimes longer in really tough spots or if I did a particularly poor job getting a plant established. Speaking of, it's funny, I often see Oxalis oregana recommended for dry shade but have yet to succeed with it in my own dry shade. Having a nice mulch layer or at least decent, loose topsoil seems to make a big difference where I do have it spreading well. I tend to see it in more damp areas in the woods here. Not soaking wet, but definitely more on the wet side. Slopes with a bit of seepage, depressions that retain water a bit longer than surroundings, well-rotted logs that act as sponges, etc. But obviously a lot of other people have more success with it in dry shade than I do.

    1. Ah, yes, you understand. It just takes longer when each plant gets 1/5th the time they would in a standard garden. Just a numbers game.

      Interesting about your oxalis - it certainly looks fresher with some summer water. Maybe it comes down to soil types? You're probably right about slopes with seepage and the like. Interesting....just goes to show we all have different experiences with the same plants!

  3. Oh, I love that "Green Spice" heuchera!

    Things are coming along well in my little plot of land, with lots of new plants put in the ground, too. Everything is always rather slow to show here, especially in the long bed on the north side of the lot. Complete shade and wet and cold until right about now, and then full, blazing sun ALL day long until the fall comes back around. It's been a challenge to find things that are happy there long term. I have a few stalwarts: I had two baptisias that have been SO happy that I had to take one out last fall. They get so tall and wide - about five feet wide! - shading out everything around them. Gorgeous plant, they always looked, even with the scorching heat. But one is enough, it turns out. I knew about the tap root, but when I dug the one up I was shocked. It had spread about three feet in every direction. Amazing. I did have to give up, last week, on two "Powis Castle" artemisias that have always done well there. I read somewhere that that they poop out after a few years if the soil is - too good!

    As a novice/clueless gardener, I get SUCH a thrill when things I thought I'd killed or put in an uncongenial spot - I'm always putting things in the wrong place - come up for me anyway. A lot of that happening right now. Blessed little things. But I expect gardeners never really get over that thrill.... : )

    1. Oooh, Green Spice is a winner! So good!

      Your lot on the north side - makes sense that it would be slow to emerge, that's a tough situation but I imagine with your incredible eye that it's still gorgeous.

      Oh, I remember when you had to remove the Baptisia - you can't have a plant taking over! And the Powis Castle artemisia - I cut mine back very hard this year in hopes that they will be refreshed. The jury is still out as they do their active growing in hot weather. I'll let you know.

      Oh, Stephen, novice/clueless gardener? I don't think so! You're a full-fledged gardener and of course plants come up for you! Of course.

      And yes, the thrill of emerging plants is what it's all about. The BEST. xo

  4. I always appreciate my virtual strolls through your garden but the walk-throughs in spring are a real joy. I love all your groundcovers. I share only one, the Dorycnium, which spreads with some abandon here. I have two 'Sango Kaku' and have never seen flowers on them but I'll be giving them a closer examination (perhaps wearing my eyeglasses).

    While my garden is still flowerful at present, the nearly rain-less rainy season we had, combined with early bursts of heat on and off, seems to have seriously impacted my cutting garden, resulting in less seed germination and tiny flowers on extremely short stems. There are already serious concerns about the fires season here as well.

    1. Thank you Kris! xoxo

      Groundcovers are the best - that Dorycnium, you gave me seed, remember? It's such a cool plant.

      Yes, the 'Sango Kaku' - isn't that crazy? Do look and let me know if you ever see those flowers. As I mentioned I had never seen them before. (yes, I should wear glasses in the garden too...maybe that's part of the issue...ha ha!)

      That's sad about the rain and tiny flowers. We've officially had the driest April on record. I think we're all in for it this summer. :( Let us all pray for some rain this summer to keep the fires down.

  5. Stunning as always. Out of all this luxurious beauty the thing that jumped out at me the most was your swath of Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’. I cannot get that plant to take hold here in my garden and I've tried it everywhere. I'm envious.

    1. Curious, Danger....this is super spready for me. Where you see it pictured it is south facing, lots of gravel. It does fry in super hot weather so if I don't water it I'm doomed. But, having said that it's also in another area with high overhead afternoon shade, dry crummy but well-drained soil. At the nursery if we don't water the little pots on the tables they look like ca ca even though they are in the "dry border" section. So there's more info to confuse even more! Maybe a bit of shade from hot afternoon sun is key? Anyone else have suggestions?

  6. Another beautiful "virtual" stroll through your garden! Thanks for sharing. I always appreciate seeing your garden in a climate so different to mine.

    Steve B.


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