At last some good news this month as the world seems to be tentatively moving to a recovery from Covid and slowly making it’s way to normal times again although it will be a new norm and not the world we knew pre Covid 19 .
In mid May the garden centres were allowed to open again . We of course headed to our local Clonmel Garden Centre , long queues but great to see the friendly faces of Chris Hanna and his staff all lined up behind tables full of glorious plants and all seemed almost normal again , a long way to go but a welcome day in the calender . Next day we headed out to Mary Skelly’s garden centre in Kilcoran where there is one of the best displays of almost personally cared for plants in the country and great to see Mary and Rebecca back in business again – I visited both garden centres again after a day or two and thankfully the public had thronged in and emptied most of the stock and neither had to dump stock like they had to in the UK over Easter .
If there is one plant that has come to represent May in the gardening calender it is the wisteria which has come to be seen as the quintessential English plant although unknown in the UK before1815 when it was brought back as a cutting from China by the British owned East India Company . For me the purple flowering wisteria is the best but the white variety is also nice and both will take over five years after planting to bloom but once established in the ground wisteria will romp away up a building or cover a pergola as we have it here and you need to prune hard to keep it in check . Wisteria only flowers for three weeks but it is worth it and when not in flower the foliage is nice but it is not for the small patio garden as wisteria needs space to ramble and it also needs strong support as it gets very heavy , a lot of gardeners grow it up into a tree and I have seen an old wisteria take down a tree under it’s weight .
May is such a glorious month in the garden and so much is in bloom or coming into bloom that it is impossible to know where to begin but for me it is the giant gunnera and the hostas that lead the way along with the rodgersias and it is these perennials I miss the most over the winter from November to now .
By May you need to have protected your hostas from the slugs or else you will only have tattered leaves to admire so if you are an eco warrior who refuses to use pesticides you will not have hosta leaves to admire … but at least you will have your eco credentials intact and that’s important .. right … not for me it isen’t as I will have blitzed the little buggers to hell and back with slugtox !
With 70 species and over 3000 varieties you have a lot of choice in hostas but really a lot of the varieties , most of which are bred in the US , have only slight differences if any and in the past few years probably in an attempt to have funky sexy titles the names have become ridiculous . I mainly grow just three hostas , Elegans , Francis Williams and Halcyon , all big leaved big statement hostas but in the past three years I have added June and Gold Standard to my three reliables , both bred in the US with award winning pedigrees from 1980 and while Francis Williams remains my long term favourite of over thirty years and my go to hosta for any new perennial bed , I have come to really appreciate Hosta June in the past two years which I grow in pots and which has a really subtle colour and it does particularly well in partial shade . This month I added two new varieties , new to me that is , Patriot , a green and white big leave and Purple Heart which has solid dark green leaves carried on a purple stem , unusual and I am looking forward to see it grow .
Size matters or so they tell me and in hostas the largest with leaves up to one metre is Empress Wu , green ribbed leaves , I have three of them which I grow in pots without great success but I am not a fan of Empress Wu and just grow it for it’s novelty value as the largest hosta and would not recommend it .
I find hostas grow best when in partial shade , they like damp conditions but will do OK in dryish conditions provided you are willing to throw the odd bucket of water their way in drought conditions . Christopher Llyod was a huge fan of hostas and it was his book in 1976 , the Well tempered Gardener , that first got me interested in hostas and once interested I became addicted and he describes accidently throwing a barrow full of pig manure over some hostas and they grew “ like thugs ” and anything Llyod described as a thug I grow !
Hostas can be fickle enough as too much wetness in the soil and they will sulk and today I moved three hosta elegans from what I considered a prime site when I planted them two years ago but the soil bordered on water logged and they were more prone to slug attacks and never grew to anything like their potential so following my usual mantra of moving a plant or shrub after two years if not doing well and today was their day to try pastures new and the three elegans went into the new bed in the front garden that Snezana has just cleaned which hopefully will suit them better .
Hostas are great in pots but they need large pots as they develop a huge root system which will quickly outgrow a small to medium pot … most of the small leafed hostas are fine in pots but I would advise particularly against planting the variety elegans in a pot no matter how big the pot as it’s roots will quickly crack a pot after three years growth as I have found out to my cost and this hosta elegans has broken a previous pot and has already put cracks into this pot … so why do you continue putting elegans in a pot I can hear you say but this is the only elegans I have in a pot and I love it for it’s big dramatic statement … and I get pleasure out of it every time I pass it so I reckon a broken pot every few years is worth it !
Hostas won’t tolerate other plants alongside them in pots or I should say will quickly smother other plants apart from a few bedding annuals only there for a few months in summer and my system here is to only use large statement pots for hostas and leave them idle for the winter months where the pots are big enough to be a design structure in themselves either through their colour or shape .
As can be seen regularly in the blogs I am a great believer in pots in the garden and we even have a page on the Petrovska Garden web site devoted to our collection of garden containers .
Pots the larger and colourful the better , make a great design statement but need looking after with water in the summer months but you can get away with ground cover geraniums which will tolerate drought quite well .
As gardeners we all make mistakes mainly by shovelling the wrong plant into the wrong place or in misjudging the highly aggressive swamping nature of some plants as I did here with introducing parrot feather into our water areas and we will be trying to eradicate it or contain it for the foreseeable future and I won’t mention the bamboo that is threatening to take over parts of the Lower Garden … so it is with pleasure I notice that even the great Monty Don has made a howler with his own garden pond at Long Meadow which he built only five years ago and on Gardener’s World last week he announced that they were moving the pond to a new location in the garden . From the beginning it was obvious even to me who shares the same over planting habits that Monty has that he had planted too many big leaved hostas and was continuing to over plant the margins of the pond and in the end the growth was so rampant that you could barely see the water let alone get into the pond to thin it out … I shouldn’t have used the word “pleasure ” and I do share Monty’s pain but luckily he has the money resources of the BBC behind him to move such a large pond !
Colour in the May Garden
Regular readers will know that I am not a great fan of summer flowering shrubs in general unless they also come with an added bonus such as great foliage as otherwise after the ritual three weeks of flowering you are left with a drab looking specimen but there are some exceptions that I break the rule for , wisteria as I have mentioned is one and another is Viburnum Plicatum variety mariseii which has layered branches bursting with white flowers throughout May which I have growing along paths in the woodland garden and it has great Wow factor at this time of year and even though it is only in bloom for three to four weeks but because of it’s layered structure to about three metres high it looks quite good even when not in bloom . Viburnums that are evergreen and flower in winter are also great value and should be included in any garden planting scheme with Viburnum Tinus one of my favourites , it has great structure and masses of flowers throughout the winter months when you have little else in flower and really need a lift in the garden .
Another great shrub flowering in May is the wedding garland spirea , spirea arguta , fabulous flowers and a must for every garden with space or even for a small garden as all spireas can be pruned hard AFTER FLOWERING , I stressed after flowering because the other gardener here cut ours back to the base in early spring in 2018 which meant no flowers not only in 2018 none last year either and only now is the spirea back to normal so the important rule for all flowering shrubs is only prune immediately after flowering .
The Royal Horticultural Society description of spirea arguta describes it perfectly “ Gorgeous arching sprays of white flowers in mid and late spring and toothed, bright green leaves. This popular, deciduous shrub is ideal for a sunny, well-drained shrub or mixed border. Relatively vigorous and easy to grow, to guarantee an abundant, foam-like display it must be pruned annually immediately after flowering.”
It is a shrub that is best in a stand alone position unlike where I have it growing amongst other shrubs at the back of a border where it hasen’t enough room to spread out it’s arching branches to full effect but I intend to buy some more arguta and give it enough space to really strut it’s stuff .
There is another May flowering viburnum that I tend to forget until like today I walk upon it in the May garden , Viburnum Opulus also known as the Snowball Tree which as the name suggests bursts into flower with masses of white flowers the size of snowballs and for three weeks it is a knock out of a shrub /small tree but then looks nothing for the rest of the year which is why ours is hidden among shrubs in the water area but it could be a nice tree on it’s own for a lawn area .
Regular readers will know I don’t grow roses due to the twin dreads of black spot and white fly both of which you can never get rid of and need to spray weekly for and even then roses can be sickly and sulk but there is one exception and that is the semi wild rose , rosa rugosa , which does not get black spot or white fly , has lovely fresh glaucus green foliage … rugosa has two flowering types , white and pink and generally flowers only once in the summer but the foliage looks great and the rose is so tough you can take a chain saw to it and cut to the ground each November and it will come back twice as good again the following February .
A neighbour of mine grows fantastic standard roses in lines across his front lawn , different variety roses on a single grafted root stock five feet tall that are beautiful to look at in flower and this week we were chatting about his constant fight against black spot and white fly and I asked what was his best advice to a potential new rose grower and the reply says it all “ don’t grow roses ” which reminds me of a bus tour through Sarajevo in 1991 just when the war in Bosnia began … the airport was being shelled and the main road in to the city which became infamous as Sniper’s Alley was under constant fire , in short all hell was breaking out when in the middle of it all a charter plane with a full load of Chinese tourists somehow managed to land , get all it’s passengers off and into a bus which more miraculously ducked and weaved through Sniper’s Alley and dropped the tourists off at the Holiday Inn … an incredulous TV reporter outside the hotel asked the tour leader on arrival what would be his advice to anyone wishing to visit Bosnia … No go Sarajevo , No go Sarajevo was the excited reply , just like my neighbour with No Grow Roses !!
Sarajevo is one of my favourite cities and I had the privilege of working there for three years in the mid 1990’s when the siege had just been lifted and the people were just coming out onto the streets after almost four years of lock down and under constant fear of death from shelling and snipers … so today when we complain about being under lock down for eight weeks due to Covid spare a thought for what the people of Sarajevo went through .
A day old foal in our next door neighbour’s field May 5th 2020
We have been busy here in the garden during the lock down and what we call our Covid wall has been built and the area reclaimed from ground ivy by Snezana has been planted up , a shady area , not great soil but with the addition of a couple of bags of John Innes potting compost and a lot of watering we hope for the best !