"Focus on the Garden, not the Weather," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

April is a tortuous month for me. While it is clear that spring has arrived in the garden, the weather still feels like winter with only an occasional sunny day here and there to try and cram in all the chores that need to be done.

I want, in the worst way, to clean up the beds, plant some cool season veggies, and mow the lawn. But no, instead every day it’s the same old s#*t. Hell, we had snow last Sunday and they are predicting only two dry days over the next two weeks. I swear, I am going to lose it the next time someone tells me: “April showers bring May flowers.” If you too are feeling cranky this month, trust me, I feel your pain.

Every year for the last 30 years of living through this tug of war between summer and winter that we call spring, I have often thought that I should just leave for the month and return when it has all resolved. But then I remember how beautiful things can be in April with the pink puffy plums and cherries, the bright golden daffodils, forsythia and the blue grape hyacinths, and I am brought back to my senses.

Despite the typically crappy weather, April is a spectacular month in the garden. A quick survey of my garden and the nursery reveals no less than two dozen blooming plants. Here are some beautiful plants to consider that are sure to put you in a better mood…

Trees: Magnolias (sometimes called tulip trees), flowering cherries and flowering pears are all coming into full bloom with their mostly various shades of white to pink. Vulcan and Felix Jury are two incredibly dark pink (almost purple) forms of magnolia that are to die for. By the end of the month, crab apples will also be in bloom.

Shrubs: Camellias, early blooming rhodies (you have to see Blue Baron, it has an amazing blue flower) and the Hino Crimson azaleas (the first azalea to bloom in our area) are all going to look great this month. Flowering currants (a northwest native and hummingbird magnet), winter hazel (a haze of soft buttery yellow blooms), and the many forms of Pieris (aka Andromeda, with their bell shaped white to dark pink flowers that are great for luring in pollinators to the garden) are also April showstoppers.

Perennials and bulbs: Pushkinia and Chionodoxa (both sweet blue woodland-like bulbs), hyacinths, daffodils and, of course, tulips are April classics. Primroses (I especially love the hardy double forms), hellebores (yes, these are still blooming), Brunnera (stunning silvery leaves with blue forget-me-not flowers) and slug proof Epimedium (a tough, dry-shade loving perennial ground cover that only blooms this month so don’t miss it) are also great to have around.

Pulmonaria (aka lungwort) is a tough-as-nails perennial with blue and pink flowers on the same plant with silver spotted leaves in the summer and its also slug proof. Candy tuft (bright white blooms on this tidy low-growing perennial that is also evergreen), wall flowers (these early bloomers have a delightful fragrance and come in several colors), and violas and pansies (usually sold as annuals, these guys shine in April with their happy faces and multi-colored flowers).

Last but not least, my all-time favorite early blooming perennial - Gold heart bleeding heart, no garden is complete without this plant.

As you can see, while the weather is often depressing in April, the garden is anything but (at least with some minimal planning). Don’t stay inside waiting for a dry day, suit up and go enjoy the glory of an April Garden in the northwest.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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