April is the mid-point between winter and summer, a time of sunshine and showers, and a very busy month in the garden. If you’ve been busy in early spring seed sowing, by now your greenhouse is probably overflowing but don’t be tempted to start planting out too early, keep an eye on the weather for frosty nights. Plant foliage is often the biggest attraction of any garden, seasonal colour changes, different shapes, dramatic hues and even variegated leaves add drama and contrast. Variegated plants are (usually) welcome in my garden, but I know some people dislike them and see them as sickly, chlorotic and problematic.
What does plant variegation mean? Plants with variegated foliage have leaves that are edged or patterned with different colours, in the form of splashes, spots, stripes or intricate patterns. White, cream, silver and gold are the most common colours, but you can also find vibrant shades of purple, pink, orange or red. Variegation is the result of a mutated leaf cell and can be inherited or random, and can only be propagated exactly by using parent tissue. It is produced when the plant cells lack pigment. White colouring indicates the lack of chloroplasts, which help in photosynthesis by turning solar energy in to plant carbohydrates. This means variegated plants tend to grow more slowly than their green counterparts.
With all the different types of variegated plants, it may be difficult to figure out how and where to use them. Variegated foliage is useful in the garden in various ways. It can add interest among a lot of plain green foliage – in front of a hedge, for example, or among shrubs; a large, variegated shrub can act as a focal point. I like to use variegated phormiums or cannas in the centres of large pots, and ‘underplant’ with matching annual flowers. For an elegant look use white and green foliage paired with white flowering plants. They will complement each other and form an area of peaceful lushness. Variegation also helps to lighten up shady places – plants with white, cream or gold markings stand out best (think Hostas!)
Some variegated plants may be affected by sun scorch, while some plants will revert to green if they don’t have enough light, so make sure you place them correctly. The new growth may also revert to standard green after a season or two. Cut back the new green growth to below a growth node and variegated material should regenerate.
Gardening with variegated plants offers a host of interesting opportunities to accent and brighten regular foliage as well as provide a unique foil for flowering specimens. The result is a glorious combination of texture, hues and tones.
Top Tips for April: • Stake plants now to avoid damaging fragile shoots and the ‘bundled up’ look later on • Take cuttings of fuchsias, geraniums, dahlias and chrysanthemums • As spring bulbs finish flowering do not remove any of the foliage or stem, leave them to die back naturally. • Feed hungry shrubs and roses • Protect fruit blossom from late frost • Check your container plants aren’t drying out - the warmer weather will quickly affect soil moisture levels.
Whatever April brings, I hope you are all able to enjoy some time outside in your garden.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk