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April 2007

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‘Apollo', the ‘chop', love-hate April, and the battle with celandines!

About five or six years ago my daughter Paula gave me a lovely metre-high camellia for my birthday in April. It was the Camellia japonica hybrid ‘Apollo' with the usual glossy camellia leaves and was well festooned with flowers that almost glowed in red, my favourite colour. I was so taken with it that I kept it inside our perishing cold front porch. That was obviously very much to Apollo's liking because it flowered for a long time - much longer than it would have done outside in the wind and rain.

However plants in the unheated porch can cause condensation problems, or so Davy would have me believe, so the camellia had to be planted outside. It was well sheltered from the east because it's an established maxim of gardening that camellias should never be planted where the sun shining on them after a night's frost can do serious damage to their blooms.

It didn't flower the following year. Or the next. Or the one after that. In fact it hasn't bloomed since its sojourn inside. I thought it might be sulking until I learned that the Japonica hybrid camellias do not like climates with high rainfall, feeble evaporation and lower than average hours of sunshine. The climate here ticks all those boxes. The Williamsii hybrids, on the other hand, don't mind these conditions and were actually bred for them by J. C. Williams of Caerhays Castle in Cornwall during the 1920s. The other camellias I grow in the garden, ‘Saint Ewe', ‘Brigadoon' and ‘Mary Christian', all Williamsii hybrids, bloom their little hearts out every year. Incidentally, the Williamsii hybrids are more tolerant of lime in the soil than the Japonica hybrids.

'It was the Camellia japonica hybrid ‘Apollo' with the usual glossy camellia leaves and was well festooned with flowers that almost glowed in red,...


In April last year I decided that something needed to be done so ‘Apollo' was informed that it was going to have the ‘chop'. Using flour past its sell-by date, I marked a circle of about 45 centimetres in diameter around its base. Then, and I was feeling really nervous about doing this, I root-pruned it. This entailed plunging a sharp spade into the ground right round the circle. The object of this exercise is to shock the plant out of its smug, comfortable, non-flowering state, to threaten it with extinction by cutting into its root system so that it flowers in order to survive.

There followed our usual cold spring with an almost constant north-west wind but then June and July were glorious and would have been very much to Apollo's liking. In August it rained nearly every day but then camellias appreciate that too when their flower buds are forming. And then ... joy of joys, ‘Apollo' formed plump flower buds in September. There weren't as many as there were when I first received it but enough to make a good showing. I suppose I shall never know whether it was the root-pruning or summer heat that did the trick.

I have a real love-hate relationship with the month of April. When there are no killer frosts, there are all the blooming beauties like camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons. I love spring-flowering herbaceous perennials and woodland floors carpeted with anemones and primroses and violets hiding in mossy banks. But there are also detestable dandelions and celandines. I am continually battling against them and sometimes despair that I'll ever be rid of them.


Organic garden principles are - I must confess - ignored in the battle against these enemies so I spend much of the month taking the flowerheads off dandelions and zapping them with glyphosate. Some always manage to survive. As for the celandines ... I've come to the conclusion that they must actually like glyphosate for how else would they survive after being sprayed when they're in growth? They delight in associating with other bulbs. Drifts of celandines with muscari. Celandines with dwarf narcissi - the smaller and choicer the better. Celandines with scillas. Celandines with small tulips. This year I even had celandines in full flower with snowdrops in January.


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