with Charlie Wilkins

The April Garden 2023

We live within fifteen minutes of Fota arboretum so why not visit to see where dozens of Magnolias can be found in all colours, shapes and sizes?


Spring flowers vary not only in their value, form, and colour, but also in their consistency. Their individual and unique unfurling from bare shoots fascinates me. Some, like the magnolia, are monuments of solidity and even at this early stage, many are looking quite superb with fattened, silky, furry buds, which look as if they might at any moment slip from the naked branches to be lost underfoot. Many fine specimens are to be found all around Glanmire. I have often said that three of the best gardens I have ever  seen are all within this area!
That said, have you ever considered investing in a magnolia for your garden? Perhaps not, but let me describe the plant for those who may this spring, invest in something so utterly lovely? Take magnolia Liliflora as one example.  I should begin with its blooms of very dark purple-red, arriving in great showers in early summer, continuing intermittently  into autumn. Bushy and deciduous, yet far more compact than its parents, this shrub or small tree will eventually grow to twelve feet, a little more under ideal conditions.
Another choice magnolia sold as ’Susan’, (flowering earlier than ‘Liliflora’) will be found exceptionally tidy in stature, flowering from a young age, and taking kindly to moist but not waterlogged soil. Its charm lies in its long, thin, goblet-shaped blooms which appear in April from slender, deep reddish-purple buds. The six inch wide flowers are composed of petals that twist slightly as they grow and are a rich purple red on the outside, paler within. Saw these and more (even a yellow-flowered form) at Hillside, Glounthaune in recent days.
Be advised that most magnolias bloom for a short few weeks (with intermittent flowers up to autumn on some varieties) and you have to live with the tree for the remaining weeks of the year. However, they won’t  mind pleasant competition beneath their branches or around their root spread. Good ’under-story’ companions could include the stunningly perfumed rhododendron ‘Praecox’, similarly endowed   azaleas such as the virgin-white and stunning ’Persil’, (which I highly recommend), Kalmia latifolia (the Calico bush) and varieties of Osmanthus with a jasmine fragrance and plentiful, dark, evergreen leaves. Most bulbs can safely be planted near to and beneath any magnolia and these will add a further colourful dimension over months rather than weeks. Good types include trilliums, erythroniums, all muscari, wood anemones, native bluebells and of course, snowdrops.                                                                                                                                              
Be aware also that most magnolias resent movement after settling into their first position. Choose wisely then, sitting the plant (in its container) in the space deemed most suitable then viewing it from the house, the driveway, and a number of different areas around the garden. When  totally happy, remove the magnolia from the pot, and plant in the prepared area. Finish by watering well and applying more should the weather turn dry and warm. In all parts of Glanmire and Riverstown, shapely specimens will positively thrive, but do pay attention to their moisture  needs This kind of husbandry will see your chosen plant  off on a long, long life of youthful vigour and fruitfulness. Garden centres will do a brisk trade in these once blooming commences, but why wait until then, and why take stock clearance remains when you could have first choice? Source a magnolia early this month.



I could not manage my spring garden without Anemone blanda growing in every sunny spot. These are cheerful little flowers, three inches tall and they grow without fuss in many situations; border, shrubbery, or rock garden. Under deciduous trees facing the sun, they’ll delight from early February. The multi-petalled blooms, about an inch across, come in a variety of colours, but the blue form is magnificent and in isolation appears sensational. In sandy soil they will spread like ground elder and for this reason I add builders sand amid their modest leaves once blooming ceases. I get a better return from these than any other spring bulb so do remember to invest in a dozen or two come early autumn. Some outlets sell potted bulbs this month so keep an eye out. The only other thing to note is that these anemones open their ray of petals in full sun so they are not bulbs for a shaded place.


April sees seed sowing reach its climax and one gem of a container plant gem I would not garden without for summer non-stop flowering is Bidens ferulifolia, a good tempered ferny annual with small yellow flowers held well above the plant from late May to the end of October. It requires no dead-heading or attention of any kind, and it survives well in dry, exposed even high ground conditions. Perhaps this is why the plant is used with such enthusiasm as subjects for window boxes and hanging baskets! Whichever, most Irish towns are awash with it during summer and none are the worst for that.


The arrival of Erythroniums, (Dogs Tooth Violets) are in my opinion, the very essence of quality spring gardening. Woodland plants essentially, they love loamy, leaf-enriched soil or similar whenever possible. If you can grow primroses well, then you’ll certainly succeed with these and one of the best to begin with is the pink E. revolutum which delights in self seeding when happily sited! This variety is ideal for creating a naturalistic effect in any-sized ‘wild’ meadow setting. Planted with the creamy white form E. Californicum and the pale yellow E. pagoda, the collection will look stunning. These are plants to thrill throughout spring so if you come across potted specimens in garden centres, invest. How glad I am now, that, in a moment of wanton extravagance, I bought and planted so many. They give a shaded part of the back garden a strong theme where otherwise there would be so