April is the prettiest month in an East Texas garden - at least it’s my favorite month in my own garden. Early in the month the last of my early spring bulbs provide effortless color - Spanish bluebells (which I’ve planted in blue, pink, and white) and purple oxalis. As they start to fade, other bulbs add their blooms to the garden.
My two favorite April bulbs are amaryllis and lilies – those same blooms we enjoy for Christmas and Easter. If you plant your potted amaryllis and Easter lilies in your garden once we’re past the last freeze, they should return and bloom each April. There are other lilies that do well in East Texas – Asiatic lilies and their cross with Easter lilies called ‘LA Hybrids’. Check when you buy your bulbs to see that they’re the right varieties so you’re not disappointed.
Some of the older homes in the area have magenta flower spikes in the front yard – these are Byzantine gladiolus. Still more homes proudly display the blooms of bearded iris, tall and short. Among the first to bloom is the white cemetery iris, which I’ve even seen in the Highway 80 median strip. The tall spiky leaves set off the pearlescent blooms no matter where they’re blooming. The best place to get these plants is from a friend – that way you’ll have both the blooms and the memory of your friendship.
April also begins the bloom time of some wonderful perennials such as homestead purple verbena. This low-growing plant makes a great border or will happily fill a well-drained sunny bed. There are other Texas-tough verbenas in different shades, such as pink princess and blue princess, a Texas Superstar® plant. If you need some height in a bed, ‘Henry Duelberg’ salvia thrives in the same conditions, with blue blooms that start in April and continue through the year.
While azaleas steal the show for early April color, there are many other shrubs that peak now, such as snowball viburnum and oak leaf hydrangea, both of which have big white clusters of blooms. There is a variegated weigela at the Quitman Arboretum & Botanical Gardens that has green and chartreuse leaves and deep pink, almost red flowers. Its beauty is often missed by visitors to the garden as it’s on the back of the bed with the birdcage – you can see it from the hiking trail.
Some spring blooms also produce fragrance for the garden, and we have several at the Arboretum for you to enjoy. The aptly-named banana shrub fills the air with a ripe banana scent, while mock orange can provide a light citrus fragrance. The Henry’s Garnet sweetspire that’s in the bed by the pergola will soon be covered with drooping, white, fragrant blooms. Some of the roses that remain in the beds are also fragrant. I won’t tell you which ones; you’ll have to smell for yourself.
At home, I have a citrus tree that doesn’t produce flavorful fruit (it’s mostly used as a root stock for grafting), but my one small tree perfumes the whole yard and reminds me of spring in Florida. I have also planted Virginia sweetshrub, with exotic-looking red or white flowers with their own indescribable sweet fruity smell – I detect hints of pineapple, melon and strawberry.
My final shout out to spring color is not to blooms but rather to the new growth on many trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Some Japanese maples leaf out in shades of chartreuse to deep red, and provide a great contrast in the garden. I have one in a pot that I’ve placed by an oak leaf hydrangea, and the contrast in leaf form, texture, and color is quite attractive. Some of the Japanese spirea form small mounds of brightly-colored foliage such as ‘Goldmound’ before they put on their pretty pink blooms – as an added bonus, they’ll have colorful fall foliage as well. The Autumn fern has new fronds of coppery-red that that contrast with its evergreen foliage that holds through the winter. Finally many hosta have dramatic spring leaves of blue, green, chartreuse, and gold; I find they do best in my sugar sand if I keep them in pots or containers. I planted an old wheelbarrow with different hosta and they look great each April!
The Friends of the Arboretum will hold our spring plant sale on Saturday, April 14, from 8 till 1. We have annuals, perennials, succulents, herbs, shrubs, and trees, including many of the plants I’ve written about here. Stop by the sale, and I’ll show you plants for spring color, in your East Texas garden.
Lin Grado is a Texas Master Gardener in Wood County.