Mad, manic, marvellous May

Monday, May 30, 2011

What a month! The old saying goes "March winds April showers bring forth May flowers" We had winds, lots of rain and flowers all in May this year and what a show we have had. We are 2-3 weeks ahead of where we usually are at this time of year and the flowering shrubs have been a delight. All the various viburnums, cornus controversa and kousa, spireas and kolkwitzia (the wonderfully named "beauty bush") have put on an unforgettable show. The scent from the philadelphus "Belle Etoile" now reaching its peak is absolutely overwhelming especially towards dusk. A perfume that sends a chill up my spine it is so intense. Even writing about it gives me an adrenalin rush! Many roses too that looked dead just 2 months ago are flowering earlier than I can ever remember here.

The herbaceous plants are marching on, the blue meconopsis had their main flush in late April, the hostas continue to astound us with their phenomenal growth and most amazing of all we have had some delphiniums in bloom for about 10 days. When we started opening the garden in late June 2000 I can remember being concerned that the delphiniums, a cornerstone plant of the picket fence cottage garden, would not be in bloom for the Open Day.

The same applies to the oriental poppies and we fear there will be none left for our first visitors next week. With the lighter nights it is a 12 hour day in the garden with so much to do before our first visitors on 9 June at the start of a very busy month. Someone once said that you can't have a nice garden and manage a plant nursery and at this time of year I can see why they said it! It's just the 2 of us doing everything but we are managing just about to keep on top of everything. I really have gone crazy on the plant propagation front and have run out of space for all the plants we have for sale. Some really choice stuff for our visitors and to plant out in the garden.


Weather report

Cooler than April with a couple of ground frosts and much less sunshine. Windy for the most part much of it from the east or south east and lots of rain thank goodness. No day time temperatures above 19C. Very good weather for all the many plants we have set out in the gardens


Garden update.

This month has been all about filling gaps in the borders partly as the result of losses during the cold winter and partly the refresh of the borders that I commenced last autumn. It should provide for better balanced borders and a wider variety of plants. Going to places like Great Dixter and entering the Daily Mail garden competition made us look critically at our planting schemes.

The vegetable garden is coming along well now after a false start in late March. The dry weather meant we had to re-sow carrots, parsnips and beetroot which struggled to germinate. However we are already harvesting cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuce and radish and the first strawberries are just a tantalising few days away from our first picking as are the new potatoes.

Some amazing survivors of last winter are now emerging. Dahlias are struggling but a good few have survived, the impatiens tinctoria has been checked somewhat but is now growing away, lobelia tupa is looking very well and most incredibly some tender salvias, including patens, involucrata, x jamiensis and darcyi overwintered in open ground and have started to regenerate from the base


What's looking good?

An amazing variety of plants are vying for attention but apart from those mentioned already, bearded iris and herbaceous paeonies  have been magnificient. Plenty of flowers and very strong growth. It is the first time some of the paoenies have flowered and we are delighted with them, especially an exceptionally large pink flowered form that came to us un - named.

The aquilegias are just starting to tail off but a.chrysantha is just getting into its stride, a lovely yellow flowered, long spurred species form from North America that is bone hardy and comes true from seed. It is a special favourite and eagerly looked forward to each year.

Hostas are just amazing all over the garden (it is said that they always do best when exposed to severe cold and dry winters which seems to be borne out this year). Near the house we have recently made a small rock garden to display the dwarf and miniature forms which are becoming increasingly popular and are very addictive but mighty expensive!!

Regular readers will know that thanks to our friend Tony, owner of  the nursery we have over the years, become introduced to arisaemas, aroids from the far east (commonly called the cobra lily on acount of the shape of their flower spathes). We seem to have had some good success with them and currently have 37 plants from 13 species in active growth around the gardens with more popping up every day. I continue to find suitable places for them and look to substantially add to our collection, (it helps when your best friend has one of the widest selections in the UK available at his nursery!!)  Although perhaps not to everyone's taste (Tony would hotly dipute this!!) they do add variety and interest with their unusual flowers and long lasting architectural foliage, and will grow in difficult areas of the garden.

Finally we have had great success with our tender plants overwintered in the polytunnels, justifying the expense of keeping them just about frost free for the duration of the winter. Of these the greatest thrills have been to see the erythrina crysta-galli (the coral tree) coming into strong growth from the base, and a plant from the Canary Islands, isoplexis sceptrum now in full flower with brilliant large orange foxglove shaped flowers on a relatively young plant. This has taken 8 years!! We bought the original plant at Pine Lodge Nursery in St. Austell in 2003. It got bigger and bigger, was fed and cossetted but never flowered. In 2009 because it had got so large, we donated it to the National Botanic Garden for Wales but took a couple of cuttings. One failed but the other grew exceptionally well and is the one now in flower. The motto seems to be that if all else fails, start again. It is such a lovely show in bloom that it has been worth the wait. No other single plant in the garden is giving me such pleasure just now.



A red letter day was 30 April when we took delivery a large consignment of fish to replace those we lost in the Paddock Pond during the winter, a mixture of common and golden rudd and some excellent mirror carp. They have settled in well and it is lovely to see their colour and activity. The tadpoles are growing rapidly, the frogpoles with their back legs already are much larger than the later spawned toadpoles.

I gave the Paddock Pond its  springtime deep clean last week removing masses of blanketweed, the pondkeepers nightmare at this time of year, and cartloads of leaves from last autumn, the source of all the pondlife deaths. Usually when I do this I dredge up, to name just  a few, newts, dragonfly larvae, water boatman, and the mighty great diving beetle, a fearsome pond predator. This year not one of any of them turned up in my net nor even a single pond snail. We really are starting again at the beginning where we were 17 years ago. On a brighter note the damsell flies have returned to the pond, a red banded one and my absolute favourite the stunning blue demoiselle in shades of midnight blue and emerald green depending on how the light catches them. A very special visitor to the pond and we are so lucky to have them for just a few short weeks.

The pied flycathers are back and forward to the nesting box feeding their young but already those predatory menaces the magpies have spotted their nest and in that sneaky and cowardly way of theirs are hanging around for easy pickings. They do this with all the nesting passerine birds in the garden which severely limits breeding success.

We have the lovely redstarts back after an absence of a couple of years their bright red tails much in evidence as they flit in and out of the hedgerows to their nests. All this way from sub Saharan Africa to give us such pleasure.



A few sneaky days off in May with visits to the Red Cross Plant Fair in Hampton Court Castle near Leominster, a really well attended event in a superb venue, and Malvern Spring Gardening Show which even in its 26th year just gets better and better. Some tremendous displays in the Floral Marquee (particularly from Edrom Nursery with a breathtaking exhibit featuring cypripedium , the hardy slipper orchids) where we spent even longer than usual, and made lots of purchaes (you can always find space for  a few more in your garden if you really try!)

After next weekend its our turn to play host as our garden open season begins in earnest with 12 group visits in June, including 4 from Holland and one from Hilliers Garden Club which was a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable visit last year and we are pleased and honoured they are returning to us again this year. It will also be a pleasure to welcome back our Dutch friends including 2 groups from the Dutch RHS.

If you would like to visit the gardens this year our Open Day for the NGS is 24 July from 1- 5.00pm with home made teas and lots of quality plants for sale, including Tony's famous arisaemas


Finally pictures - don't mention them! My internet creation template is causing all sorts of problems and loading pictures from the wrong files in the wrong text. My guru Ed is on the case. Hopefully I will bombard you with pics one day soon just in time for the explosion of colour expected in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space.