Monthly Masterclass: April

Do it: mowing

Rotary mower, mowing, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Rotary mowers can cope with long grass as well as short

Step 1

After a couple of high cuts earlier in the season you should now be cutting your lawn on a regular basis at the height you want it. This can be as frequently as once a week at this time of year or twice weekly at the height of summer. If drought hits you should avoid cutting altogether or leave a fine layer of grass clippings on the surface of your lawn to help reduce evaporation. Otherwise, grass clippings make excellent, nitrogen rich content for your compost heap. Don’t forget to mix them together with plenty of dry, woody material to help keep the heap open and airy.

Cylinder mower, mowing, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Cylinder mowers give a finer cut

Step 2

Rotary mowers which you walk behind are probably the most useful for general purpose lawns. They work using a horizontal blade which spins very quickly and is good for tackling grass of different heights. Cylinder mowers give a much finer finish. The scissor-like blades cut lower to the ground but cannot cope with long, weedy grass. Both can be fitted with a roller to produce stripes or graduated to a ride-on machine with much bigger blades. If you have a lawn big enough to justify the purchase, larger mowers will repay the additional cost in time saved on the job.

Ride-on mower, mowing, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Ride-on mowers will save time on larger lawns

Step 3

Whatever your preferred piece of equipment it is a good idea to vary the direction of cut from week to week. Alternating between horizontal and vertical stripes, for example, will prevent ruts from forming beneath the wheels of your machine. Remember, fine mown, weed free turf is a horticultural triumph in itself but it has little benefit for the environment. You don’t have to let your lawn run wild to do your bit. Simply cutting less frequently and allowing daisies or dandelions to flower will provide a valuable source of food for bees and other important pollinators.

Grow it: Bergenia

What: Bergenias are mostly evergreen, ground-hugging rhizomatous perennials bearing panicles of white, pink or magenta flowers and thick, glossy leaves which sometimes turn shades of red in autumn and winter.

Where: Bergenias will tolerate a range of conditions but are happiest in moist but well-drained soil exposed to full sun or part-shade. The best foliage colour will occur on plants grown in soils which are not too rich and get plenty of sun.

Bergenia 'Ballawley', Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Bergenia ‘Ballawley’ in the Pink and Blue Border

How: A quick tidy of dead leaves in spring before new growth emerges is usually all the maintenance Bergenias require. Keep a vigilant eye out for vine weevil and treat with a natural predator in late-summer as the grubs begin to form.

When: Divide and plant in spring or autumn and water well in the weeks which follow. Deadhead flowers regularly as they fade in March and April and you may get a second flush much later in the year.

The Gardener’s Verdict:

Bergenias are amongst the hardest working perennials in the garden. They produce enormous elephant-eared leaves on the ends of thick rhizomatous trunks and small but equally substantive flowers in spring. We grow them along the front edge of the Pink and Blue Border. Here they punctuate the fiddly ephemera of neighbouring herbaceous perennials providing form and colour throughout the year.

The best varieties are grown for their late-season foliage in addition to flowers. B. ‘Ballawley’ is by far the most popular we grow at Winterbourne. It is an old Irish cultivar and has some of the biggest leaves which turn crimson and bronze as the first frosts arrive and remain all winter.

Some newer cultivars have superior flowers but lack the benefit of brightly coloured foliage at the end of the year. B. ‘Silberlicht’ produces tall panicles of brilliant white flowers which flush pink as they age but its leaves fail to deliver and even look tatty in the winter months.

Bergenias can also make useful groundcover plants in dry, shady areas of the garden. Deciduous species, such as B. ciliata, will not perform nearly as well and neither will variegated forms, such as B. ‘Tubby Andrews’, which require plenty of sunshine to maintain their vigour. Even those recommended, such as B. ‘Eric Smith’, will flower less profusely when planted in shade.

Left alone Bergenias will spread and often form dense clumps. Monotonous carpets like this unwisely substitute impact for mass. It is better to regularly divide overgrown clumps and make room for other interesting companions. Yuccas are a favourite bedfellow being similarly solid in form whilst the froth of ferns, such as Dryopteris, makes for an interesting contrast in turn.”

Daniel Cartwright, Outdoor Area Supervisor, Winterbourne House and Garden

Read it: March Masterclass

Your daffodils might have finished flowering but they still need plenty of attention. A few simple tasks now will make all the difference later. Catch up with last month’s ‘Monthly Masterclass: March’ and find out how to make your daffodils even more spectacular next year.

Deadheading daffodils, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Deadheading daffodils

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