April

 

By Vita Sackville-West

 

April 6, 1947

 

I must start with a warning not to despair about plants apparently killed by the frosts, ice-rain, east winds, and other afflictions they have had to suffer. They may look dead now, but their powers of revival are astonishing. You may have to cut some shrubs down to ground level, but my recommendation would be not to dig anything up rashly until you are quite, quite certain that it has no intention of putting out green shoots again. This certitude may not come until the summer is well advanced. I remember the agreeable surprises we got after the cruel winter of 1940.

All garden work has been so much delayed that many people will have to rely on generous sowings of annuals this year for extra colour. If you have not time to spare for the ideal method of growing them in boxes and then planting them out, you still have a large choice of those which may be sown straight into the ground. A finely broken soil; sow thinly, not too deep; thin out remorselessly, for most annuals will fill a space from a foot to two feet wide if given the chance, looking sturdy and bushy instead of drawn and spindly; and remember that it is far more effective to sow large patches of a few varieties than small patches of many. What you sow must depend upon your personal taste and the colouring you want.

 

As a change from the usual jumble, pretty and gay though that may be, you might find it more original to concentrate on one colour. A combination of Phacelia, Nigella (love in the mist), Nemophilia, Asperula azurea, would give a brilliant blue effect, especially if massed in front of delphiniums. Coreopsis, Eschscholtzia, Calendula Orange King and Lemon Queen, Nemesia yellow and orange (not quite hardy) would lie in a pool of sunlight. Mauve and purple stocks, Alyssum Lilac Queen, mauve Candytuft, mauve Godetia, Clarkia Purple Prince, Petunias (not quite hardy), make a sumptuous association. These are only a few suggestions, just enough, I hope, to indicate what scope there is for ingenuity. April 9, 1950 For once, instead of giving advice, may I ask for it? How does one protect the choicer sort of primroses from the attack of sparrows? Has any reader of these articles a sovereign remedy against this naughty, wanton, wild destruction? Short of putting automatic cartridges amongst my primroses, I have done everything I can think of. I have made a sort of cat's cradle of strong black thread, pegged down in the hope that the birds would catch their nasty little claws in it as they alighted and thus be frightened and discouraged. It doesn't work. The sparrows don't seem to mind. I can only suppose that they crawl underneath the threads and nip the flowers off, scattering the buds and the heads all over the ground at dawn before I have got up in the morning. This is a real SOS. I have quite a collection of uncommon primroses, Jack-in-the-Green, Madame Pompadour, Cloth-of-Gold, and so on, but what is the good of that if the sparrows take them all? I would try not to grudge them their fun if it was of any benefit to them, but it isn't. They are mischievous hooligans who destroy for the sake of destruction.

 

Some of these old primroses are very charming and there are signs that, like several other old-fashionable flowers, they are coming back into favour. Unfortunately they are neither easy to obtain nor to grow. Sometimes one sees a happy clump of the double white or the double purple in a cottage garden, but then it is a truism that things will flourish without any attention at all in a cottage garden, when all the skill and science of the professional well-instructed gardener leads only to the petering out of the last miserable sickly survivor. Still, the doubles do not appear to be so choosy, and a half-shady corner with plenty of leaf-mould should suit them. They associate very gladly with their relations, the Auriculas, or with the Hepaticas (a kind of anemone), and they are all, I think, plants for an intimate recess where their low beauty may be studied apart from the flauntings of their spring contemporaries such as the daffodils. They need to be observed in the small secret of their chosen shade. This is all very well, but what am I to do about the sparrows?

 

The Pasque-flower,Anemone pulsatilla, is blooming just now for Easter as its name indicates. This is a native of our Downs, getting rare in its wild state, but still cultivated in gardens. It is a soft and lovely thing, pale lilac in colour with a silvery floss-silk surround: and it can now be obtained also in a rosy-pink colouring, which mixes and merges most exquisitely with the original mauve of the native...There is also a white form. It is easy to grow anywhere, though as a native of the chalk hills it appreciates a bed of limey rubble in the sun. The sparrows so far, touch wood, have left it


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