5 pieces of gardening advice from the April issue of Gardens Illustrated

From planting tulips to building steps, here are five pieces of advice from the April issue of Gardens Illustrated.


April is a busy month in the garden and in our April issue there's plenty of information to absorb and to take note of. Here, we've rounded up five of the best pieces of advice to bear in the mind this April. 


Arundel Castle's head gardener Martin Duncan gives tips for growing tulips.

  • Tulips look fabulous in drifts but are as good, if not better when combined with other bulbs, annuals and perennials in varying heights to create tires of stunning colour.
  • Underplant tulips with shorter spring bulbs in a similar colour, for example Tulipa 'Angelique' with Hyacinthus orientalist 'China Pink' and Chionodoxa 'Giant Pink'.
  • Vary the heights in large clumps of tulips to prevent the military 'guardsman' look.
  • Extend the season with spring bulbs that flower before and after tulips, such as Anemone blanda, crocuses, low-growing muscari, tall, late-flowering narcissi and fritillaries, and combine these with forget-me-nots, wallflowers, euphorbias and vincas.
  • Be bold with colour as tulips rarely clash. Purple and orange are rumoured to be the on-trend colours at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

See our feature on the tulips at Arundel Castle on page 40 of issue 246.


In the second of four visits to Mary Keen's garden in Gloucestershire, Mary cherishes the unruly nature of her garden in spring.

'As well as preferring simple forms of flowers, I also like humble effects and cottage plants... "Kerria japonica?," high horticulturists ask with an uncomprehending stare, when they see the unruly yellow bush near the churchyard door. But this is a cottage garden favourite... with the Clematis macropetala 'Midwell Hall' it makes a rowdy picture, but rules are meant to be broken. Especially the ones that you make for yourself. A garden that is too self conscious is very dull. Woven into every Persian carpet was a deliberate mistake. Gardens too are all the better for the odd departure from good taste'.

See our feature on Mary Keen's Cotswold garden in spring on page 50 of issue 246.


Tips for an eco-friendly garden from a cottage garden in the southwest of the Netherlands (page 58).

  • Don't be too tidy. Leave dead stalks and withered foliage over winter and collect in spring.
  • Save all your pruning and build dead hedges around the perimeter of the garden. Don't use rose of fruit-tree prunings as these can spread fungal diseases.
  • Compost all leaves. Oak leaves are acidic, so when compositing them add lime. The organisms breaking down the leaves can't live in an acidic environment. With added lime, oak makes a good leaf mould.
  • Never dig, plough or rotavate. These activities disturb the delicate subterranean web of microbes, plant roots and beneficial fungi. Top dressing is better than digging.
  • Never use fungicides, herbicides or insecticides. A lot of fungi are beneficial and assist plant growth. Herbicides leave residues in the soil and water. Insecticides indirectly poison the whole food chain.
  • Gravel paths are better than hard paving. Some plants love to sow themselves in gravel, much more so than in regular garden soil. 

See our feature on this Dutch cottage garden on page 58 of issue 246.


Painting with plants from Dutch television presenter and gardener Claus Dalby

'Creating a garden is a combination of intuition and experience. The theory is quite straightforward. It is a matter of choosing a colour scheme from ground level upwards with shrubs, trees or evergreens, perhaps in the form of topiary, providing punctuation points. The painting is created by repeating simple patterns and packing the borders with plants. Structures, such as classical buildings that provide points of interest and character, are simply the framework so they should not dominate a garden, while foliage, flowers and stems deliver the finer details. Nothing should detract from the plants'. 

See our feature on Claus Dalby's garden on page 82 of issue 246.


Garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair says embrace uneven landscapes and relish the excuse to build a set of eye-catching steps (page 96). 

'Steps can multi-task: if you have the space, try to make yours just a little but wider than necessary as they can then act as useful shelves for containers and pots. They can also be a comfortable place to sit. I have many photographs of family members lolling around on steps, as they provide the perfect opportunity for the artistic arrangement of children of varying sizes. Steps can be a site of entertainment – remember slinks, this coiled springs that insinuate themselves down staircases? and they're a good place for vigorous exercise, jumping or running up and down'.

See James Alexander-Sinclair's feature on steps in the garden on page 96 of issue 246.


The April 2017 issue of Gardens Illustrated (246) is on sale now. 



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