Notes from the garden – May

Writing this as June begins fills me with a tinge of sadness, because May is my favourite month of the year.

While from the purpling east departs
The star that led the dawn,
Blithe Flora from her couch upstarts,
For May is on the lawn.
A quickening hope, a freshening glee,
Foreran the expected Power,
Whose first-drawn breath, from bush and tree,
Shakes off that pearly shower.

William Wordsworth – Ode, composed on a May morning

The stunning Clematis ‘Rebecca’ begins flowering in May

May is the month when the garden is growing quickly in the warmth of the sun and the flowers are beginning to show in abundance. The initial green burst of April is tempered by the new mass of colour.Iris, peonys, Ceonothus, Kolkwitzia; the list of plants coming into flower throughout the month is endless. Where one flower blooms and disappears another is quickly there to take its place, the garden is full of youthful vitality.

Rosa ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’

In the garden the month began with the last of the daffodils and saw the apple blossom gradually peak and then fade in the orchard and ended with the first of the rose flowers. The weather, like April, was changeable, seeing a generally dry and warm couple of weeks turn back to the cold and wet I thought we had escaped. Despite this the garden had bloomed with an imperfect perfection that only nature can bring.

Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort

One of the most beautiful natural displays and plant combinations in the garden could also be found lining the old hedgerows surrounding the local lanes. The delicate nodding heads of the native bluebell, so much more elegant and richly coloured than the invasive Spanish counterpart, began to unfurl. The deep blue alongside the delicate mass of white flowers of the greater stitchwort created a perfect display of contrasting colours .In previous years the council have decimated the verges by hacking them down just as the bluebells were about to flower. Fortunately, partly due to budget cuts and the public reporting on the inappropriate cutting, the verges have been allowed to flower this year.

People are hopefully coming round to the idea that road verges do not all need to be cut regularly. I think a sensible approach is to cut once a year at the appropriate time and concentrate on junctions and visibility splays. This way money can be saved whilst also allowing the native wildflowers to mature and not only create pretty displays but also to provide important sources of nectar for insects.

An old Hawthorn tree in flower

The most impressive display in May was the ‘May blossom’ of the native Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna). This old specimen’s bent trunk arches over the main entrance path to the house and as the blossom finishes it gently flutters down on the breeze like confetti giving it the nickname of the wedding tree in our family. Our field is bordered by old overgrown hedgerows where hawthorns have been allowed to mature into gnarled trees, every year these hedges are clothed in white. We have also planted an interesting double pink flowered hawthorn that is something quite special but still nothing quite compares to the simplicity of the white flowers.

Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet
A bee pierces a hole into the Aquilegia Vulgaris or Common Columbine flower to reach the nectar

May also brings another welcome sight, the delicate bell flowers of Aquilegia. In our garden the Aquilegia have self seeded in borders, walls and cracks in the paving and have crossed in an abundance of varying shades from deep purple to white. Its ability to self seed so freely and the resulting range of colour combinations atop the lacey foliage puts the Aquilegia towards the top of the list of my favourite plants.

Self seeded white and blue Aquilegia

Although we say goodbye to the season of blossom, it is hard to lament the passing of a month in the garden for too long because the next will bring treasures of its own and the promise of summer stretches out in front of us.


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