The garden in May
Kari-Astri Davies is dazzled by colour, brightening up the vegetable plot and planting up pots for summer
“Tis like the birthday of the world, When earth was born in bloom; The light is made of many dyes, The air is all perfume” Thomas Hood, ‘On May’
SOME OF THE tulips in pots are starting to go over: a single, crimped cerise, orange and gold ‘Rococo’ petal floats in one of our raised water tanks. A wasp, newly wakened, alights on the sunlit petal to sip water from the tank. The colours of the gold and black banded insect and the petal zing together, ephemeral and glorious.
I have been growing small numbers of annual, biennial and perennial flowers in the veg patch for the past few years, so I thought I would provide a May update on some of my cutting flower patch adventures.
Peonies were planted first, the ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ succumbing to peony wilt. The most floriferous is later-flowering, pale pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, which explains the enduring popularity of this cultivar, first introduced in 1906. The newest purchase, ‘Tom Eckhardt’, is a deep pink single, with a central boss of pink and gold petaloids; it is unashamedly over the top.
The sweet williams ‘Auricula Eyed Mixed’, sown last year, are just about to flower; I shall pick and enjoy them over a number of weeks. Zinnia ‘Sunshine Mix’ and old-fashioned aster ‘Duchess Mixed’, grown this year for the first time, will be planted out in late May.
Gladioli are good value for money, as corms are generally cheap. Unfortunately, over the last year or so, they have succumbed to sap-sucking thrips, which distort the flowers. As thrips overwinter underground, I will not plant glads in the veg patch for a while.
There is room for a few dahlias; last year it was ‘Café au Lait’. I can see why this variety is so popular, especially for bouquets, but to my mind, although attractive, the beige tint to the cream makes the overall colour a little flat. This year, I have gone for something stronger: ‘Crème de Cognac’ and the large, decorative ‘Penhill Dark Monarch’, described as a “two-tone mix of deep salmon and pink”.
Later in May, as the threat of frost recedes, I will start planting up summer pots in terracotta and large, recycled, black plastic shrub pots, with handles. The majority are placed on the patio just outside the kitchen. This end of the patio is south facing and sunny: pots dry out quickly, favouring plants that prefer Mediterranean conditions.
Pelargoniums are a good bet for sunny aspects. The intense carmine petals of one of my favourite trailing ivy-leaved pellys, ‘Surcouf’, worked well with agastache ‘Blue Boa’ and Salvia sagittata ‘Blue Butterflies’ last year. This year, I am leaning towards orange flowers; perhaps pairing it with lantana ‘Calippo Tutti Frutti’. Years ago, in
California, I was stopped in my tracks by a bed of lantana, aflit with hummingbirds. Maybe we will see the Hawk-moth version here, later in summer.
Another sunny combination will include African daisy, Venidium fastuosum; a perky orange annual.
In a shadier place on the patio, there is a cheap metal trough that is getting progressively more bashed up each time I wrestle out the finished spring or summer displays. Last summer, it contained cheerful single dahlia ‘Honka Rose’. Much enjoyed by bees, the propeller-petalled flowers were willingly produced for months. This year, it is the turn of tan-orange single dahlia ‘Waltzing Mathilda’, accompanied by deep-purple scented heliotrope. With a bit of feeding, these displays should last into October.
Looking forward to next year’s flowers, I will be sowing seed of some biennials: sweet william and deepest red ‘Sooty’. I missed the scent of wallflowers in the garden this spring, so I will try the rusty-red ‘Vulcan’ or salmon-apricot ‘Aurora’. I also have a hankering for a haze of pale blue forget-me-nots, Myosotis sylvatica, running through the copse next May.