Ah jings, what a year we’re having with the weather. There’s still something inside of me that naturally wants to celebrate spring but the grey skies, cooler temperatures and of course rain, are all putting a dampener on things.
It’s certainly not making our jobs as gardeners any easier but despite this I’m sure, like me, none of you have been put off and are still enjoying it, rising to the different gardening challenges that this kind of spring brings us.
I always love spring for how fresh everything looks as the new foliage emerging after a winters rest has yet to be battered by the elements or nibbled by pests. It seems particularly more so this year with the additional wetness making the recently scarified lawns look really green and lush in the glimpses of sunshine.
I was giving a garden tour at Scone Palace the other week and midway when I stopped to talk about one of my favourite trees I had a mild panic as I thought this had died. Normally by mid-May the ‘Handkerchief tree’, Davidia involucrata, would be in leaf and adorned with beautiful hanging white bracts, yet as I turned around to address the tree I was stunned to see, well, nothing!
On closer inspection I was relieved to see the buds beginning to burst open, the winter weather and slow spring clearly having an effect on the timing of when it would wake up – however I am hoping this will actually work to our advantage.
Quite often a hard frost in May could see this all this new growth turn to brown mush, the wood being too soft and not yet ripened enough to cope, so fingers crossed this year the delay will put this display back a few week avoiding any frost damage.
I’m not quite sure I would count on it the way things are going…
A reminder of the dangers of May
After a few years of pretty spectacular warm and sunny springs there’s the other side of me that’s thinking maybe this is a timely reminder that May can be a dangerous month for us gardeners and we should remember to err on the side of caution.
I feel like I want to rush to the garden centre and get the first pick of all the lovely summer bedding which can be on display from early in the month, but it’s always worth remembering not to put them outdoors too soon, fully exposing them and any tender vegetables such as sweetcorn to the elements until the beginning of June, the traditional time for planting them out.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves as there is plenty in the spring garden for us to enjoy despite the weather.
You’ll have heard me say often enough by now to know that I like value for money in my plants and there’s a couple of belters out there doing just that the now.
Rhododendrons are the essential shrub for any spring garden providing the most colourful and spectacular flowering displays on medium to large shrubs. You may also have heard them referred to as Azalea which are more at the smaller end of the scale, they too can be evergreen like their bigger cousins and also highly fragrant.
A solid and reliable plant is R.luteum, producing stand-out, highly scented flowers which you can smell from all around your garden,
I have recently planted the cultivar ‘Jolie Madame’ where I ‘m eagerly anticipating seeing and smelling it’s pink flowers with an orange blotch.
During the summer this will give a backdrop to my summer plantings before the added bonus of an end of season autumn colour display.
All this from one plant, what more can we want!?
More plantings to consider
Another plant offering cracking foliage, useful for those tricky shady areas beneath trees and shrubs, is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’.
I have this plant growing in leafy soil up against an old, rotting log at the side of a wood-chip path which allows me to appreciate the silvery heart-shaped leaves with clear lime-green veins.
Atop the leaves mid-spring appear are sprays of blue forget-me-not like flowers and considering this plant started life off with me in a two litre pot it really fills up the space I have given it nicely, with a height and spread of 1.5ft/ 50cm.
In the garden setting, plants such as the ones described belong to the genre known as woodland gardening and if I’m honest with myself, probably my favourite kind.
Their ideal position is a site either in amongst or on the edge of a grouping of trees, the shrubs underneath plus the perennials and bulbs on the woodland floor making the most of the available early spring light to perform, before the canopy above casts shade on the plants below.
Some of our most choice garden plants are suited in these conditions- shrubs such as Magnolia, Camellia, Peony and Daphne, perennials of ferns,
Roscoea, Rodgersia, Epimedium, Primula and the stunning Himalayan blue-poppy.
And what delightful bulbs, one of the most stunning of all being Trillium from North America and Asia, flowers of three petals sitting above three often patterned leaves which make wonderful display drifts in time.
The sight of these in the garden is the perfection distraction whatever the weather.