‘Queer things happen in May. Little forgotten faces appear, and plants thought to be dead suddenly wave a green hand to confound you’. W.E.Johns.
The May garden is a place of daily delights. In gardening books you read sometimes of the May gap in the garden, but there is no excuse for a lack of blooms when everything is so fresh and lovely and you can have a rainbow of aquilegias, alliums, roses, irises and poppies. Every day brings new treats. I featured my fabulous tree peonies on Monday but there are plenty more treasures.
I always like to show you something a little unusual in my monthly top ten blooms, plants that you might like to try. So let’s start with the Chilean Lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum. This is supposed to need acid soil so I grow it in a pot and although the roots have long ago found their way into the ground, it seems very happy. I am not sure how hardy it is so I grow it against the wall of the house. The flowers are real show stoppers, waxy red lanterns and lots of them. It is evergreen but the leaves are rather dull and they are poisonous so don’t eat it. Well, why would you, it doesn’t look very appetising. Everyone who comes to the garden is drawn to this exotic tree.
And talking about exotic, the clusters of bright yellow claws of my Sophora tetraptera are really eye catching. I thought it was Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ until I saw it on a couple of blogs and realised that ‘Sun King’ is more of a shrub than a tree and it blooms in March unlike this one. But they do look very similar. They have long thin seed pods so I am growing some babies but they take years to bloom from seed so it is probably not the best way to propagate it. This tree comes from New Zealand and it needs a sunny spot.
Another lovely plant from New Zealand is the unusual Hebe hulkeana. In its native habitat it grows from cliffs and rocks and I wish I could contrive something like that here for it. It has long panicles of lilac flowers and must look wonderful growing from a rock. The shiny leaves are serrated and edged in red. It likes a nice sunny protected spot. It produces its buds early in spring and last year they got frost damaged so this year I gave it a fleece hairnet. It is worth the effort because it is so pretty.
Readers of my blog will know that I am mad on magnolias and I have a May flowering one which is a real winner. It is called Magnolia laevigata ‘Gail’s Favourite’. It used to be called Michelia yunnanensis ‘Gail’s Favourite’ until the inscrutable powers that be decided that it is a magnolia. Whatever it is called, it is fabulous. It is a slow growing shrub rather than a tree, with glossy evergreen leaves. When the buds appear they look as if they are made of brown suede. The flowers are gorgeous, creamy white with a boss of yellow stamens and they are fragrant. This shrub needs a sunny site and protection from winds. I don’t know why such a wonderful plant isn’t seen more often.
My number five is a shrub too. It is Abutilon x ‘Suntense‘. It has lovely saucer shaped lilac flowers and nice fuzzy felt buds. In my old garden it used to seed around but it doesn’t here. Still it is easy from cuttings. It belongs to the mallow family.
I love all the members of the scilla family but the most dazzling is Scilla peruviana with astonishing cones of metallic blue flowers. It comes from the western Mediterranean area, not Peru and is sometimes known as the Portuguese Squill, but not by pedants like me. It likes a warm, sunny spot and mine is flourishing in the gravel in my Mediterranean garden. It never bloomed at all until I moved it here. If it is happy it will increase. I don’t know why I only have one clump, I would like a river of it.
Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ is an unusual plant. If you like green flowers that look like a cross between Helleborus argutifolius, an umbellifer and a euphorbia you might like this. It has angelica type leaves and because the flowers are sterile they last all summer and they get a pink tinge later in the season. They can be dried for winter arrangements too, so it is a versatile plant. I would like lots of them but I’m not sure how to propagate it. It comes from Mexico and was first discovered in 1954.
Talking about umbellifers, Melanoselinum decipiens is the ultimate, like a pink Giant Hogweed without the danger. Its common name is Madeira Black Parsley; melano = black, selinum=parsley and it is endemic to Madeira. The seeds are black. It grows for several years until it is enormous with a stem like an elephant’s trunk.
I got the seeds for this from Rod Leeds who has written several books on bulbs and was president of the Alpine Society so not the sort of person you associate with giant umbellifers. When I asked what it was he said: ‘Oh you know, one of those umbellifers with pink flowers’ so I was expecting something like pimpinella or achillea and watched in amazement as it grew and grew and grew and this year for the first time it has flowers. Masses of them.
Each flower is huge.
I grow it in my Mediterranean garden next to the giant grass, Stipa gigantea.
Wisteria of course is not unusual at all but May is the month when they are looking fabulous. Over two of the arches in my secret garden, the wisterias are blooming for the first time and I am thrilled with them. One is white and the other is pink.
By the way, did you know that Japanese wisteria, Wisteria floribunda grows clockwise and Chinese wisteria , Wisteria sinensis grows anti-clockwise?
Elsewhere I have a wisteria which I am trying to grow as a standard but it is getting a bit wild and woolly. I wish I had invested in one of those wrought iron umbrella-type things to train it on. Last year the pigeons ate every single bud but this year they have decided that they prefer thalictrums. I grew this wisteria from a layered cutting which I brought with me from my old garden. This is the best way to propagate them. Don’t be tempted to grow them from seed, it is not worth it.
I don’t grow many rhododendrons or azaleas because I don’t have an acid soil so they have to live in pots. But I wouldn’t be without the wonderfully fragrant Rhododendron luteum.
If you grow groves of this you can make hallucinogenic ‘mad honey’. Xenophon described the weird effects of eating this honey. He was leading his army of 10,000 men from Persia back to Greece in 401 bc. and thought he had found a safe place to camp at Pontus on the Black sea coast in Turkey where this rhododendron grows in abundance. After eating the wild honey here the whole army behaved like lunatics and eventually collapsed and were paralyzed and incapacitated for days. The active ingredient is grayanotoxin and eating ‘mad honey’ is a dangerous way of getting your kicks. I think I am safe though with my one plant. I went to the beautiful Fairhaven woodland garden on the Norfolk broads last week and loved the way this gorgeous plant looked in a woodland setting, much prettier and daintier than the showier rhododendrons and the scent is amazing..
And talking about the Norfolk broads I hope you will allow a total digression, this has nothing whatsoever to do with my top ten blooms but whilst I was there I managed to capture this shot of a mother Crested Grebe carrying her baby and I am so delighted with it that it is now my screensaver. I just had to bring it in somewhere even if it is a total non sequitur.
So there are my Top Ten May Blooms. I hope you have found something a bit different that you might like to try in your garden. Please link with my blog and share whatever blooms you are enjoying this month.
By the way, if you live in the UK and would like to try some seeds of the tree peonies I wrote about in my last post please let me know later in the season when they are ripe.