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Myosotidium hortensia
Posted on: 17 May 2024
Posted in Blog

Highlights from the May garden

With the days getting longer and warmer and the garden buzzing with life, May is perhaps the busiest and most rewarding time to be out in the garden. While the birds are busy nesting and feeding their young, over-wintered plants can be placed outside in their summer positions, and the planting out of bedding, tender vegetables and herbs can begin to create your oasis of colour and greenery.

Trees blooming in May

One of my favourite spring flowering trees is in bloom now – the Paulownia tomentosa. Also known as The Foxglove Tree, it was introduced from China in the first half of the nineteenth century and is best grown in a sunny and sheltered site in good to well-drained soil. Paulownias can be grown in two ways:

  • If allowed to grow naturally, when established, it produces erect panicles of attractive pale lilac foxglove-like flowers in spring from overwintered buds. Remember, if the buds are overwintered, the flowers can occasionally be damaged by severe frosts. 
  • Paulownias can also be grown for their large architectural leaves by cutting back all the growth to the base each spring; an established tree pruned like this can grow 2.5m in a year and give the garden an exotic-looking focal point.

Another excellent late spring flowering tree is Argyrocytisus battandieri. This fantastic tall deciduous shrub or small tree has silver-grey leaves which are silky when young. In late spring to early summer, it produces fabulous cone-shaped clusters of bright yellow and pineapple-scented flowers, which are a real talking point. Argyrocytisus grows best in full sun in well-drained soil on a wall or in an open but not exposed position. Available in 3 ltr pots for £9.99.

Pretty perennials for May

A striking grass looking its best now is Carex elata ‘Aurea’. This beautiful golden sedge is one of the many plants named after the horticulturist and writer, E. A. Bowles, who discovered it growing wild in Norfolk in the late 19th century. In spring, it produces spikes of brown feathery flowers alongside vibrant yellow and green-edged leaves to form an arching clump around 60cm high and wide. ‘Aurea’ is ideal for damp sites in the garden which enjoy full sun or partial shade; it also looks good when grown in a container or with a water feature. Available in 3 lr pots for £7.99.

Many members of the pea family are beautiful at this time of year, including Lathyrus aureus. This hardy and reliable variety hails from the mountains of southern and central Europe and is a real eye-catcher. It forms a bushy clump of light green to around 45cm and is topped with spikes of up to 25 bright orange-yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. Although it grows in well-drained soil in its native habitat, in my Norfolk Garden, it seems quite happy in clay soil and has thrived for many years. It enjoys sun or part shade and is drought tolerant when established – it’s a plant not often seen but well worth seeking out.

A slightly trickier but very rewarding plant to grow is Myosotidium Hortensia. The Chatham Island forget-me-not is its more commonly known name, and it comes from the islands just east of New Zealand and is almost extinct in the wild. It has thick, fleshy stems and luxuriant glossy leaves to around 60cm. In the late spring and early summer, it produces clusters of bright forget-me-not-like flowers which rise above the foliage. Myosotidium will tolerate some frost but might benefit from some protection in colder temperatures. Give it a sheltered spot with some shade in moist but well-drained soil for the best show. Available in 2 ltr pots at £12.99.

The gem of the May garden

Ceanothus are an absolute star in the spring garden, and most are alive with pollinators at the moment, however, they can occasionally be caught by severe frosts or cold drying winds. With careful sighting and choice of varieties, there is one for most gardens. One of the most striking is Ceanothus ‘Concha’ – a medium to large mounding variety with arching stems, dark green leaves and showy deep blue flowers which emerge from red buds in spring. A larger and more tree-like variety is C. arboreus ‘Trewithen Blue’ – this large evergreen has broadly shaped dark green leaves up to 8cm in size and produces a profusion of lightly scented blue flowers borne on panicles up to 12cm long in late spring to early summer. For something a little different, try the smaller-growing C. ‘El Dorado’ with glossy variegated leaves featuring a dark centre and yellow edge to add interest year-round. 

Others well worth trying:

  • The dark-flowered C.puget blue is a medium-sized shrub that performs incredibly well in clay soil.
  • C.’Cascade’ bears long clusters of bright blue flowers on a large open shrub. 
  • The later flowering C. ‘Autumnal Blue’ is a hardy variety with sky-blue flowers from late summer to autumn and occasionally in spring. 

Ceanothus are relatively easy and quick-growing if you choose a sunny spot out of cold winds – against a wall or fence is a good choice. If you plant to prune to tidy or control the size, do so in early summer after flowering.

Question time

I have bracken invading my garden from a neighbouring field – what can I do to kill or control it?

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) is a tough plant to remove and can spread by spores, but the main problem is the underground stems. If possible, dig out and remove all the underground stems. If this can’t be done, chemical control is a last resort and is most effective in midsummer before the bracken browns. Whichever method you use, deal immediately with any regrowth that reappears – persistence is the key to eradication. If it’s coming from neighbouring land, you may also want to consider a root barrier along your boundary to prevent it from reinvading.

I live on a corner plot and am looking to plant an intruder-proof hedge to prevent people from cutting across my garden. Which would be the best plant for this?

There are several options for this. If you’re looking to grow a native hedge, then Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn) or Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) both make efficient barriers and are beneficial to wildlife. Ilex aquifolium (Holly) is an evergreen option and performs well in sun or shade. A non-native option which makes an impenetrable hedge is Berberis. There are evergreen and deciduous varieties which grow from as low as 45cm up to several metres.

We have a courtyard which gets very little sun – are there any plants I can put in containers and hanging baskets to brighten it up?

Yes, there are several colourful plants which could brighten your courtyard. For hanging baskets, Begonia illumination comes in a fabulous range of colours. Trailing Fuchsias are also good in shady baskets and will flower right through to late autumn if deadheaded. You could also try impatiens (Busy Lizzie), which are one of the best annuals for shade. 

For containers, hardy fuchsias have a long flowering period and come back year after year. If you like different foliage, Heucheras are hard to beat and come in many colours. To cover the edges of containers, Vinca and Hedera work well, and, like the Heucheras, are perennial and won’t need replacing every year. Good shrubs for shady containers include Camellias for spring colour and Hydrangeas for summer and autumn.