I WAS reminded this week to praise God "for dappled things", as
Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. I was working in the Goldsmiths'
Company garden, in London, under two mature plane-trees in a
microcosm of flickering light. The spring sun has gained sufficient
elevation to reach over the surrounding buildings, and, with leaves
on the trees only just emerging, the clear light can briefly
saturate the woodland planting before the summer canopy is in
Ground level has something of a seabed quality to it, and
certain plants are shining now, and belong to this twinkly world
that peaks in April. The gardener's touch needs to be especially
light in this habitat, and, even then, Nature's bluebell woods and
hedgerows will outshine us. As always, it is to wild-plant habitats
we need to turn for inspiration.
Epimediums are native to woodlands and shady rocky places, from
Turkey to eastern Asia. Their flowers quiver in the breeze, which
explains their common name, Fairy Wings. Other common names for the
same plant are Bishop's Hat, and a string containing words such as
"rowdy", "randy", and most explicitly, "horny". These relate to the
genus containing icariin, akin to the active ingredient of Viagra;
but I digress. Best stick with Latin.
Euphorbia x versicolor "Sulphureum", which has sprays
of yellow, is perhaps the most reliable garden performer.
Epimedium x warleyense is less vigorous, but more
striking, with coppery orange and yellow flowers. Both contrast
well with violet-blue Aquilegia alpina, the first of the
columbines to bloom.
The white dicentra is getting into its stride: its fleshy,
glaucous shoots unfurl day by day, tipped by buds that will soon
become lockets dangling from arching stems. I am not keen on the
candy-pink of the straight species, but the crimson cultivar
"Bacchanal" is sumptuous in a spotlight of sun.
Uvularia grandiflora is equally dainty, but less
commonly seen. The drooping clusters of slim, clear-yellow bells
are showing against a foil of the fresh ferny foliage of Sweet
Cicely, Myrrhis odorata. The latter is a beautiful plant
if you want the cow-parsley look without such rampant
The scene under the planes is held together by late daffodils:
pale varieties that do not outdo the herbaceous woodlanders. "W. P.
Milner" shifts from pale straw to creamy white, and "Thalia" is
pure white - it is a triandrus type; so it has several blooms to
each stem, giving a feeling of abundance. Both have a quaint,
As a contrast to the pale yellows and whites, Anemone
blanda "Ingramii", and Brunnera macrophylla provide
splashes of intense blue.
If parts of your garden have the promise to be a dappled
underworld, but have become too heavy and dingy with evergreens,
April is the perfect month to get the loppers out and redress the
balance. Shrubs such as laurel, privet, and yew all respond well to
drastic pruning to reduce their height or thin their framework. Let
there be light!