Favorite plants in April

Lady Banks in full bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

This month my favorite plants are a combination of those that are saying goodnight before settling down for a long sleep and those that have reawakened with a bang.

Among those that have delighted me are my Lady Banks rose and the Camellia japonica ‘Jacks’. There are lots of reasons to grow Lady Banks but there is one caveat: It’s technically a zone 8 rose so that a late March frost can snub out the flowers – and this is a rose that only blooms once. Because it’s a zone 8 plant, add it to your garden in the spring, not in the fall. A strong root system is a huge defense against an early fall frost.

Among its many charming attributes are the facts it has no thorns, deer tend to leave it alone, and because it’s a species of rose, it requires no fertilization or spraying. It will grow in many different soils provided they are well-draining. It’s okay to subject it to some vigorous pruning provided you do so right after blooming. This is a rose that blooms on old wood so a late winter’s pruning (typically when we prune the hybrid teas) would destroy all the forthcoming blooms.

While Lady Banks comes in two colors, white and yellow, typically ‘Lutea’ (yellow) is the hybrid you will find at garden centers. This is a rose that asks for patience as it typically will take three growing sessions before it’s persuaded to put on its annual show.

‘Jacks’ has to go down as my favorite camellia. Set to start blooming in March, it will persevere into the middle of April before it decides to call it a night. The blooms are perfect and I have never had a freeze affect the blooms. This is a slow growing camellia, requiring a smaller space in the garden than other camellias.

The viburnums are the real showstoppers in April. Bathing the garden in the afterglow of white, they appear in different sizes and shapes. The fragrant V. burkwoodii is a star in the March garden but when it begins to fade, V. plicatum var tomentosum ‘Shasta’ takes over with its two rows of blooms descending down each branch. The startling V. opulus (or the Chinese snowball viburnum, V. macrocephalum) with its oodles of snowballs grabs the spotlight – and will hold it as these blooms last and last and last.

Viburnum opals. Photo by Kit Flynn.

The Japanese roof irises (Iris tectorum) have not only reappeared, they are beginning to bloom. These are by far my favorite irises. Although I admire the blooms of the bearded irises, I cannot live with their foliage that I find disturbingly unattractive. The foliage of I. tectorum is in a circular shape with lovely purple or white blooms bursting forth.

However, the shrub that has me absolutely gasping in delight is a barberry: Berberus jamesonii. Sara Wilson, who initially helped me in the garden, planted two of them but didn’t know the name of the species she had introduced.

Berberus jamesonii. Photo by Kit Flynn.

For a long time, I searched, trying to discover what species of barberry this was, all to no avail. Finally, I resorted to my all-time fallback position: I emailed Tony Avent along with sending him photos of the shrub. Immediately he replied that it was B. jamesonii, a product of Ecuador. There is very little information on this barberry and the only thing I can tell you is that the seeds do not sprout so there is no worry as to potential invasiveness.

Did I tell you that this is one cool plant for the two months while it’s doing its thing? The yellow flowers lining underneath the branches gradually turn red—and then hang in there for a long time.

The Itoh (Intersectional) peony that insists upon disappearing in August is now in full bloom. ‘Pink Double Dandy’ is far more attractive than its unfortunate name. This is the first of my Itoh peonies to bloom, following the species tree peony, Paeonia ostii that blooms in March.

There are some shrubs that emerge, making a dazzling entrance, only to revert back to green nothingness for the rest of the growing season. Such is the shrub, Deutzia, although mine is of an unknown species. For most of the year it’s a shrub that holds little attention until April comes—then it becomes a mass of white flowers. Deer reportedly ignore it. Related to the hydrangea family, it’s best to prune it (if needed—mine has never required it) right after blooming. Once established, it’s drought tolerant. What more can you ask of a plant?

Here in the Triangle, April is a fabulous gardening month. The temperatures are lovely, the plants aren’t stressed, rain has been plentiful. My advice if you want to take advantage of what this month offers is to get past the showstoppers; instead, notice those plants like Deutzia that quietly contribute to the ambiance supplied by April climatic conditions.

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