May 20, 2021 by IG

April 2021 Garden Journal — IG

US Midwest, USDA hardiness zone 6a

I thought I had spring blooming bulbs figured out. ‘Exotic Emperor’ was at the top of my best performing tulips list, it bloomed so long and was so striking in the spring of 2020. ‘Winston Churchill’ was my longest lasting daffodil variety that season. I regretted having planted hundreds of tulips in the front garden, as they’re not expected to be reliable perennials and wished I’d planted daffodils instead. I decided that for spring of 2021, I would plant tulips only in containers for a spectacular annual display and expect nothing more of them.

‘Exotic Emperor’ tulip. All photos in this post by IG.

Well, my mistake was assuming that one year’s stellar performance was a gauge for all subsequent years and that I knew what tulips would want to perennialize without giving them time to make up their own mind. Last year’s April was consistently cool, which kept the daffs and tulips going in the most glorious cycle of slow bloom. This year’s April started off by dipping into the low 20s (Fahrenheit) and swinging up 60 degrees within a few days. The early bloomers like ‘Exotic Emperor’ and ‘Purissima’ tulips did make a return appearance in their second year but shattered quickly in the heat. The late flowering ‘Creme Upstar’ bloomed early, at the same time as ‘Purissima.’ ‘Apricot Beauty,’ purported to be a decent perenializer, didn’t bloom at all — not one of the 50 I planted in the fall of 2019. My early spring blooming ‘Replete’ daffodils couldn’t take the heat and promptly wilted.

What happened to the rest of my double daffodils was even sadder — bud blast. There is no conclusive research on why this happens, but it seems that late blooming and double flowering varieties are prone to this phenomenon. It is speculated that a combination of temperature swings and too much or too little precipitation could be the causes. In addition to the fluctuating temperatures, this spring has been the driest I can remember, nothing like last year’s seemingly never ending downpours. Or perhaps it’s the fact that these bulbs were planted along the East wall of the house and didn’t get enough sun…but I’d rather not believe that.

Some of the tulip containers didn’t perform well either. ‘Princess Irene’ was very short, I suspect because the containers I kept in our unheated sunroom didn’t get enough chill hours. Perhaps the space was too warm during the days. And I think in my fear of the bulbs rotting, I failed to provide some other containers with adequate moisture and the bulbs weren’t able to establish a good root system.

A very short ‘Princess Irene’ tulip.

On the other hand, the front garden tulips I regretted having planted, put on a nice show, with ‘Triumphator’ being this year’s MVP, standing strong through crazy fluctuating temperatures and…snow. The evening of April 20 involved a lot of hastily placed frost blankets and boxes over hostas and my long suffering lone Hydrangea macrophylla. Despite having wrapped the hydrangea in Harvest-Guard during the early April frost, the leaf buds on the upper half of the canes which had miraculously survived winter, got zapped and I had to prune the branches down. This time, the plant was short enough that I could fit it under a cardboard box, which turned out to be much better protection against frost, although the temperatures never dipped as low as the 20s during this snowstorm.

The night of April 20.
Morning of April 21, heater turned on in the sunroom, seedlings happy. The empty backyard is where my garden will grow (I hope.)
‘Flaming Flag’ tulips looking like snow cones, then back to normal a few days later as if nothing had happened.
This scene was covered in snow just a few days prior.

I provided the pansies I planted out in March with no frost protection through either cold spell and they didn’t mind at all. I left the winter sown containers out during the cold nights in early April and the seedlings took it in stride. But as the snow started, I looked at my growing seedlings in the milk jugs and chickened out, bringing them up to the sunroom.

By April 20th, I had found out that some of my dahlias had successfully overwintered in the ground. But as the snow storm hit, I forgot all about them and did nothing to protect them. You think you know where this story is going? Well, on the off chance you guessed that plants never seem to do what I expect them to, you were right. The green shoots survived completely unscathed.

Meanwhile, my seedlings were growing, I was washing old nursery pots in droves and potting up the growing plant babies. Wire racks, a countertop, windowsills, and the sunroom were filling up with plants, online plant orders were arriving and my husband was probably in need of a support group, watching it all unfold.

Dreaming of a flower garden. Wait, why did I grow so many tomatoes?
This is fine.

The wild onions were swallowing up the peonies, geum, poppies, and feverfew in the flower bed outside the sunroom. Like a gardener possessed, I found myself digging out those plants, with no plan on where to replant them. Half the bed was left looking like it had been under attack, which I suppose it was — from me and the weedy onions. The peony broke in two as I was digging and some of the tuber was damaged. I barely fit the two parts into the biggest pots I had left, the crowns sticking out of the potting mix because the pots were too narrow to accommodate the tubers any lower down. Despite the stress I caused them, the accidental divisions are still alive, but I’m sure they’d like to be planted in the ground soon. Although, have I learned nothing this month? I have no idea what plants are really thinking.

And now for a photo retrospective of the best of April 2021:

Clockwise from left: Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant,’ one of the very few Narcissus ‘Winston Churchill’ that bloomed this year, Narcissus ‘Canaliculatus,’ Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour.’
Clockwise from top left: Tulipa ‘Hakuun’ with Erysimum ‘Bowls’ Mauve' and lamium, Dianthus barbatus, Tulipa ‘Montreux’ and Erysimum ‘Bowls’ Mauve,' Hiacynthus ‘Woodstock’ with white Muscari botryoides in a window box.
‘Jimmy’ and ‘Ronaldo’ tulips, Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie,’ ‘Cha Cha’ daffodils with ‘Merlot’ tulips, ‘Sorbet Antique Shades’ violas.
Winter sown Santolina, Dianthus barbatus and Dianthus carthusianorum nestled among chives, thyme, and alpine strawberries.