Garden Journal - April 2020 Plant of the Month: Clematis alpina

April 5th, 2020
April is a busy time for the gardener, lots of sowing, mowing, growing and planting to do.
April is a busy time for the gardener, lots of sowing, mowing, growing and planting to do. Its probably one of my favourite months in the gardening year due to the abundance of new life sprouting everywhere. It’s a great time to plant so if you have been thinking about adding anything new into your schemes now is the time to visit the nursery and see what treasures they have for you.

If you are looking for an early flowering clematis that doesn’t get too rampant, is easily maintained and provides you with loads of beautiful spring flowers then Clematis alpina may just be the clematis for you. As its name suggests, Clematis alpina is a high altitude plant. It is found, along with C. macropetala, in the mountains of central Europe and northeast Asia. All cultivars are very hardy, immune to disease and quite undemanding. They can withstand temperatures down to -40, they don’t need much pruning and can even be said to thrive on neglect.

The alpina varieties flower from March to Mid May with hundreds of nodding flowers, mainly 4 sepals, but some can have more, varying in length. After flowering they have fantastic seed heads for the rest of the season which create interest for some time after the flowers have gone. They thrive best in moist, neutral or slightly alkaline soils, in north facing or other cool locations. They prefer dappled sun, but will also grow in a sunny site.

Clematis alpina is suitable for growing over all kinds of garden supports including trellises, gates, pergolas and low walls. They can be grown over fences replacing a hedge, but they are really superb when grown over natural supports such as evergreen or deciduous shrubs, in the way they grow in their natural environment. These clematis are not rampant growers so there's no danger that they will harm their hosts, and their rambling stems will add charm and beauty to any garden.

They flower on the previous seasons growth so don’t be tempted to prune until after flowering. Clematis alpina flower at the same time as tulips and they look fantastic planted together. They also look good surrounded by wallflowers, alliums and fritillaries, or you could grow them through a short tree or shrubs like berberis, ribes or spring lowering viburnums. If planting in containers, underplant with hyacinths, tulips and forget-me-nots for a really dazzling springtime display.

Jobs to be doing this month include:
Ornamental Garden:

• Continue to remove faded flowers on spring bulbs but not the foliage until it is withered.
• Keep borders weed free.
• Mulch borders if not completed last month.
• If the weather is mild then trim weak or straggly     growth of sage and rosemary.
• Penstemons – Cutback last years stems down to the new growth – if the weather is very cold delay until end of the month.
• Check evergreens for any frost damage – lightly prune if necessary.
• Look out for early aphid attacks and treat if necessary.
• Sweet Peas can be direct sown now to produce plants that flower later than those sown under glass or over wintered plants.
• Prune early flowering shrubs such as forsythia etc.
• To ensure strong growth on roses apply general fertiliser.
• Plant evergreen trees and shrubs/move existing evergreens if necessary.
• Trim back frost damaged foliage.
• Plant summer fruiting corms and tuberous plants including dahlia, gladioli and canna.
• Apply combined feed, with moss and weedkiller to lawns if necessary.

Vegetable Garden:
• Continue planting potatoes and finish planting onion setts by mid April.
• Direct sow vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, lettuce, radish, turnip, peas, spinach and parsnip.
• Prune young stone fruit trees such as cherries and plums as leaf buds open.
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