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Her Outdoors: April flowers

Jane Merrick

We were up in North Yorkshire at the weekend. Every morning, a heavy mist hung over the Howardian Hills, refusing to budge until well after lunch. In the morning, it was chilly enough for coats and fleeces, but when the sun broke through it felt as though there was a 10 degree increase in temperature. A woodpecker tapped at a horse chestnut tree in the garden every day we were there. The mist seemed to dull its noise; only in the afternoon sun did the rat-a-tat reverberate around the hillside.

In North Yorkshire, the daffodils were in full swing (particularly at Castle Howard, where there must be thousands nestled in woodland), but the trees were all bare. When we got into London, after five days away, it was like coming back to a new city. Clogged up with traffic and Saharan-driven dust and smog, yes, but many trees are in full leaf – very different to 200 miles north. The cherry blossom in our front garden is nearly out (I don’t know which variety of cherry it is, but it is always the last in the street to flower), but, best of all, the tulips whose blooms were hiding before we went away have burst into flower.

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Tulipa 'Purissima' in the front garden

I bought a collection of tulip bulbs from crocus.co.uk last October – 1o bulbs each of five varieties. Three types went in the raised beds in the front garden, while the other two I planted at the allotment. This is ‘Purissima’ which is an elegant creamy yellow.

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'Pink Impression' and 'Red Impression'

and here is ‘Pink Impression’ and ‘Red Impression’ (as well as a few rogue flowers that are left over from last year). I try to keep the front garden beds simple, because of time, and as long as I plan well ahead in autumn tulips never fail to make an impact for very little effort. The garden is on a slope facing away from the road and also the sun, so I built three raised beds so they are like steps against the slope.

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The tulips almost filling the raised beds

When the tulips fade, they can be replaced by Cosmos, Dahlias (which should only be planted in the soil after the risk of frost has gone) and Nicotiana. I have bought Dahlia tubers to plant, but am also growing some from seed – they have been the easiest to germinate out of all the flowers, and judging by this crowded shelf in my mini-greenhouse, need to be hardened off and planted out soon.

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Seedlings of Dahlia, Cosmos and Phlox in the mini-greenhouse

Half will go into the beds, the other half at the allotment – probably in the bed of fruit trees and bushes which are in their first season, meaning there’s lots of space to fill around them with flowers.

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The fruit bed which has lots of space for flowers

Today I also checked on my tomatoes, which are also in the mini-greenhouse and going strong. I need to strongly resist planting them into pots outside this weekend – I should really wait until May, although I usually risk it and go for mid-April. But I don’t want them to get too leggy and weak under cover. As ever, it’s a careful balance!

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Tomato seedlings are going strong

In amongst the tulips are my crates of carrots and lettuce I wrote about back in February. They were taking up too much space on the steps, in the end, and on top of the raised beds adds to the stepped nature. Here are the carrots:

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The tiny carrot seedlings are enjoying their new home

and the lettuce has doubled in size in the past week:

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Lettuce seedlings loving the warmth

It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but I love April.

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