The gar­den in... May and June

Kari-Astri Davies is en­joy­ing the first flush of flow­ers in the gar­den while plant­ing for more colour.

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Ev­ery May Day, I mark the ad­vance of sum­mer by how many can­dles of flow­ers are lit on the horse chest­nut trees. Some years all the can­dles are lit, oth­ers maybe only flecks of white show on the low­est tiers. We tend to take this pretty, of­ten mon­u­men­tal, smooth grey-bark tree for granted. I learned re­cently that it comes from a small area in the Balkans and is found on rocky out­crops, un­like the park­land set­tings we are used to see­ing them in.

Ex­u­ber­ant dis­plays

As well as en­joy­ing early sum­mer’s ex­plo­sion of fo­liage and flow­ers, I am cur­rently plant­ing for later sum­mer colour. In the shadier, south-fac­ing raised beds, the theme is sort of ex­otic. Last year saw an eclec­tic mix of bed­ding be­go­nias, a rici­nus, a Te­tra­panax pa­pyrifer, a red-leaved ba­nana, ama­ran­thus, gin­gers, nas­tur­tiums and dahlias. I had an­tic­i­pated that some of the dahlias left in the ground the pre­vi­ous year would not sur­vive the win­ter, so I bought more, end-of-sea­son sale bar­gains. All of the tu­bers left in the ground came up again, in­clud­ing ‘Sarah’, a dark-leaved mini with sin­gle red flow­ers fad­ing to rust, and taller-grow­ing ‘Karma Choc’. The new dahlias went in at the end of May; dark red, al­most black, semi-cac­tus ‘Rip City’ and, sim­i­lar in colour, wa­ter lily type ‘Sam Hop­kins’. By au­tumn, lovely as all these dahlias were, there was too much of a lush dark dahlia thing go­ing on. This year, I have bought airy sin­gle-flow­ered ‘Ma­genta Star’ from the Na­tional Dahlia Col­lec­tion to lighten the plant­ing. The more stolid ‘Rip City’ may have to go. A small se­lec­tion of ten­der and hardier fuch­sias was also added. They were pro­vided as lovely healthy cut­tings by Other Fel­low Fuch­sias and then grown on by me, not so ex­pertly. Once planted out, ‘Lord Roberts’ and ‘Jester’, both ‘typ­i­cal’ fuch­sias with dark pink top petals and sin­gle and frou-frou pur­ple skirts re­spec­tively, made a good start. How­ever, they and most of the oth­ers suc­cumbed to fuch­sia rust in last sum­mer’s dull con­di­tions, with leaves and flow­ers dropped. Al­though the more ten­der cul­ti­vars seemed less af­fected, they were shy to flower. I am not go­ing

“For thee, sweet month; the groves green liv­er­ies wear. If not the first, the fairest of the year; For thee the Graces lead the danc­ing hours, And Na­ture’s ready pen­cil paints the flow­ers.” John Dry­den, ‘Pala­mon and Arcite’

over­board on fuch­sias this year. As a child, I ad­mired the sil­ver and pur­ple pat­terned leaves of a Be­go­nia rex my gran grew in her din­ing room. Un­til re­cently, I had never grown these flashier types of be­go­nia. Two years ago, I bagged a Be­go­nia lux­u­ri­ans from Nor­well Nurs­ery. This be­go­nia is cur­rently more than 3ft (1m) in height, with large, heav­ily fin­gered fans of green leaves. It stops most peo­ple in their tracks when they see it. B. lux­u­ri­ans is ten­der, and is over­win­tered in the con­ser­va­tory at a min­i­mum of 5°C. This year, more ‘cane’ be­go­nias are be­ing added, in­clud­ing ‘Lit­tle Brother Mont­gomery’, rec­om­mended by Di­b­leys Nurs­eries. This has heav­ily cut sil­ver, dark green and red pat­terned leaves. I will also be fir­ing things up with B. bo­livien­sis, of which there are a few cul­ti­vars around, in­clud­ing ‘Fire­cracker’ and ‘Santa Cruz’. I am think­ing of hang­ing them in big pots in the ap­ple trees.

Bed­ding plants

Us­ing an­nu­als and ten­der peren­ni­als to mix up colours and shapes in a small way ev­ery year, in the south-fac­ing raised beds and in pots, keeps things fresh. The beds look a lit­tle sparse for a while com­pared with other parts of the gar­den, but most of the new tem­po­rary in­cum­bents will soon get go­ing.

Thomas Hood, ‘O Lady, Leave Thy Silken Thread’ “There’s crim­son buds, and white and blue The very rain­bow show­ers Have turn’d to blos­soms where they fell, And sown the earth with flow­ers.”

Plug plants in small quan­ti­ties were or­dered in Jan­uary. Then, in mid-May, I will visit some lo­cal gar­den cen­tres for in­spi­ra­tion and buy a se­lec­tion of more ma­ture plants. This year’s plug plants in­clude a pe­tu­nia species new to me, Pe­tu­nia ax­il­laris, with scented white flow­ers. Gen­er­ally, petu­nias seem to do bet­ter in pots than in the ground in my heavy­ish soil. I took lots of pelargo­nium cut­tings last year, most of which rooted. My pots will in­clude deep red ‘Lord Roberts’, spark­ing off more or­angey red ‘Gus­tav Emich’, with a dash of shocking pink, trail­ing ivy-leaved pelargo­nium ‘Sur­couf’. Added to these

John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightin­gale’

will be scented deep pur­ple he­liotrope ‘Mid­night Sky’, bought as plugs. Sadly, my own heir­loom he­liotrope cut­tings did not take this au­tumn. One of last sum­mer’s gar­den cen­tre dis­cov­er­ies, planted in the sun­nier, south-fac­ing raised beds, was Iso­toma ax­il­laris, or lau­ren­tia, a lo­belia rel­a­tive. This Aus­tralian na­tive formed 18in (45cm) high hum­mocks of thin-petalled, starry, light-blue flow­ers. It proved im­pres­sively long-last­ing, only giv­ing up in mid Oc­to­ber, leav­ing be­hind a fine skele­ton of in­ter­laced stems. I will def­i­nitely be us­ing this plant again. Also in these sun­nier raised beds, Neme­sia sun­sa­tia ‘Pa­paya’ pro­vided a rich or­ange splash of colour along­side es­chscholzia ‘Jelly Beans’. The neme­sia did not quite have the stay­ing power to make it into the au­tumn. It may have lasted longer in pots. A cou­ple of years ago, I wrote dis­parag­ingly about the per­for­mance of ‘Jelly Beans’. I had mis­re­mem­bered what I had sown. The dis­ap­point­ment was ‘Mis­sion Bells’. ‘Jelly Beans’ pro­duces sump­tu­ously ruf­fled, semi-dou­ble flow­ers in or­ange, cream and lilac shades. Pale lilac-flow­ered ver­bena ‘La France’, from the Beth Chatto Nurs­ery, proved a stal­wart in my soil. Siz­zling pink trail­ing ver­bena ‘Siss­inghurst’ failed to get go­ing, with coarser and taller-grow­ing ‘La France’ en­gulf­ing it all around, flow­er­ing on and on. Dead­head­ing keeps the flow­ers com­ing. Def­i­nitely a good ‘do-er’. I am plant­ing this ver­bena again, but not so much of it this time.

“Fast fad­ing vi­o­lets cover’d up in leaves; And mid-May’s el­dest child, The com­ing musk-rose, full of dewy wine, The mur­murous haunt of flies on sum­mer eves.”

Sum­mer bor­ders

The white, yel­low and blue themed bor­der, sploshed with the pink and deep vi­o­let of peony and aster re­spec­tively as an ex­per­i­ment, con­tin­ues to vex me. It is still not gelling af­ter nearly four years, al­though I did have some com­pli­ments last June. At that time the creamy lupins ‘Noble Maiden’ were gen­tly giv­ing way to the del­phini­ums, and the off-white ori­en­tal pop­pies were do­ing their brief blasé thing. Once the lupins had gone over, big gaps were left, with noth­ing to pick up the mid­dle sec­tion of the bor­der. It was the same with the del­phini­ums at the back. Once they had flow­ered and been cut back, the weather was very dry and, de­spite wa­ter­ing, the fo­liage did not re-grow much. How­ever, by late sum­mer, cos­mos ‘Pu­rity’, planted as plug plants from Sarah Raven, had grown to gi­ant pro­por­tions. These sin­gle, white an­nual cos­mos, with soft feath­ery leaves, flow­ered for ages, swamp­ing much around them. The bor­der looked quite im­pres­sive from a dis­tance though. I will try the smaller ‘Sonata White’ this year. Last win­ter, a num­ber of plants were hoicked out and re-lo­cated, in­clud­ing San­guisorba canaden­sis. Hav­ing lusted af­ter this plant, with up­right, off-white

fuzzy heads, the later sum­mer flow­ers looked dirty against whiter whites. One of two large clumps of cir­sium ‘Mount Etna’ also came out, re­placed by a much taller grow­ing, ‘looks like a cir­sium’, white form of Ser­rat­ula ly­copi­fo­lia. Sin­gle dahlia ‘White Honka’ al­ready adds a fairly solid pres­ence from July on­wards, now joined by dahlia ‘Star Child’. This has finer white petals than ‘Honka’s’ gold-bossed, white pro­pel­lers. The bor­der ide­ally needs soft link­ing plants in the mix. Um­bel­lif­ers should hit the spot. I have pre­vi­ously ex­per­i­mented with an­nu­als dill and ri­dolfia, which have not worked out. From seed, I only man­aged to pro­duce a few weedy plants, rather than abun­dant patches, and in hot weather they faded early. An­nual um­bel­lifer Ammi ma­jus did not thrive ei­ther. A lovely group of peren­nial um­bel­lifer, Selinum wal­lichi­anum, was sup­posed to bring cool­ness and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the bor­der, but died out af­ter a cou­ple of years. So, this year, to achieve a wafty, wavy ef­fect, plain, or­di­nary green fen­nel, Foenicu­lum vul­gare, is go­ing in in­stead. Pa­trinia scabiosi­fo­lia, a Siberian na­tive with loose yel­low flower pan­i­cles, is an­other plant which is new to me. It is said to be short-lived, but easy to raise from seed if I want to grow more in sub­se­quent years. Per­si­caria ‘White East­field’ and Veron­i­cas­trum alba have also been added as mid-bor­der fillers. For the mo­ment, sweetly scented Hes­peris ma­tronalis ‘Alba’, dame’s vi­o­let, has claimed the space va­cated by the selinum. Hes­peris is an en­thu­si­as­tic seeder, but a lovely ad­di­tion to the May/June bor­der none­the­less.

Left to right: Wa­ter­ing be­comes more im­por­tant as it gets warmer; pas­tel pink ap­ple blos­som; Be­go­nia Rex ‘Lit­tle Brother Mont­gomery’ with its bold sil­ver-marked leaves.

Horse chest­nuts have an abun­dant show of up­right white flow­ers. Left to right: plant­ing out dahlias in a bor­der; a blue tit gath­ers grubs on a fir tree; shadetol­er­ant hostas.

Left to right: lupin ‘Noble Maiden; Paeo­nia lac­t­i­flora ‘Bowl of Beauty’ lives up to its name; gar­den fra­grance comes from sweet rocket, Hes­peris ma­tronalis ‘Alba’; waves of fen­nel.

Left to right: scar­let pest, the lily bee­tle; pale lilac flow­ers of ver­bena ‘La France’. Kari-Astri Davies started gar­den­ing in her twen­ties with pots of roses, gera­ni­ums and sweet peas on a para­pet five storeys up in cen­tral Lon­don. She’s now on her fifth gar­den, this time in the Wilt­shire coun­try­side. In­spi­ra­tion in­cludes her plant-mad par­ents, as well as Dan Pear­son, Beth Chatto, Keith Wi­ley and the Rix & Phillips plant books. Kari de­scribes her ap­proach as im­pul­sive, mean­ing not ev­ery­thing is done by the book.

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