The April Garden

Euphorbia’s for all seasons!

Many Euphorbias (spurge) are at their flowering best during spring, and as one of the largest plant genera in existence, there really is a Euphorbia for every garden. In fact, there are well over 2000 species and cultivars found across the world, some low growing and statuesque, others sun loving and shade tolerant, or found from woodland to desert – the list goes on.

Some non-hardy Euphorbias are treated as houseplants in the UK, such as our favourite Christmas plant, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and the cactus-like succulent, Euphorbia horrida, Africa. (‘horrida’ means ‘spiny’ in its native South Africa).

Here I focus on some of my favourite garden varieties that do well for me and suit different gardening styles. I grow several Euphorbias in my garden, but my favourite is E. characia subsp. wolfenii. This tough sun lover is statuesque and architectural, reaching 1.5m tall and perhaps a metre wide. The impactful heads are actually numerous bracts surrounding tiny flowers, so their lime green colour persists for weeks after the flowers fade.

From the mediterranean, it will thrive in gravel gardens in full sun, or a sunny border, which is where it resides in my garden, surrounded by the perennial wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ – a delightful combination. Cut out old flowering stems – fresh growth is already waiting in the wings to flower the following year.

E. ‘Silver Swan’ is a lovely cultivar has silvery leaf margins that seem to glow in the dark and is around 1m fully grown. Perhaps plant with grasses. A harsh winter might see it off however, so protect if necessary or grow in a pot that can be moved under cover.

For part shade, Euphorbia griffithii may be for you.  It also has the advantage of tolerating heavy soil.  Useful for difficult areas under trees, it’s a vigorous spreading plant that reaches around 1m x 1m, with red and orange ‘flowers’, along with decent autumn colour.  For deeper shade, choose the tried and tested E. amygdaloides var. robbiae.  It thrives in under trees and will form a carpet of upright lime green flowers during early summer, against attractive dark evergreen foliage.   This wood spurge shiould be chopped back each autumn to keep it in check.

E. myrsinites is a spring flowering evergreen spurge that forms a low carpet of waxy blue leaves, with contrasting lime green flowers just 10cm high. I have seen this looking fantastic in a hanging basket also, as it will grows well in containers.

All Euphorbias exude a milky sap which is an irritant, so wear gloves when working with or near them. They can also be short lived; expect to replace them every 4 years or so.

Jobs for April!

It’s time to get organised now, as the gardening year ramps up another level. Make a regular checklist of what tasks need to be undertaken, breaking it down into manageable chunks so you don’t become overwhelmed.

• This is an ideal time to move evergreen trees and shrubs, if necessary.
• Mulch borders with compost to feed plants and conserve moisture.
• Tie in climbers as they grow and start supporting rapidly growing herbaceous plants such as delphiniums and Paeonies.
• Trim winter flowering heathers – a good shear over the top works well.
• Sow tender vegetables such as beans and courgettes. Use single pots or modular seed trays and keep warm until germinated.
• Slightly tender perennials such as penstemon can be pruned back now to encourage fresh growth.
• Deadhead flowering bulbs as they fade, leaving foliage to die back naturally to feed the bulb.
• Feed lawns now.

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