Green in May is like food. That first mouthful of really good quality food. The translucent quality of young lime leaves gives the green hue an intensity that triggers a physical response similar to having eaten.
White is a prominent colour this month. It splashes over the hedgerows as the hawthorn flowers. Cow parsley rises from every damp corner of the meadows and ditches. In the gardens, the finest blossom displays come from Exochorda and The Snowball Tree (Viburnum opulus). Both well behaved shrubs that deserve a place in any garden. They reach just the right size to grow a clematis through later in the season.
We are establishing an important collection of lilacs. There are big survivors on the edge of the gardens in flower now and they tick a lot of boxes for us. Firstly, they withstand almost any predation from rabbits and deer. Secondly, we are on limestone so can’t grow rhododendrons or azaleas for spring colour and thirdly, they can withstand low temperatures for long periods.
Quality lilacs seem to be grown very little. You can buy lovely lilacs from garden centres and nurseries but be careful how they are grafted. The ideal lilac has its own roots but can be hard to find. At the very least, make sure that lilacs you buy show no sign of suckering (green growth breaking out) below the graft.
Specie lilacs are easily grown from seed. Syringa microphylla is flowering in the woodland walk. A delicate open inflorescence on airy arching stems. It makes a fine companion for the Aquilegia or Grannie’s Bonnets now filling the space left by spring bulbs. I grew this shrub from seed nearly ten years ago. Another success is Syringa wolfii, although it is more valuable for botanical interest than a great addition to the gardens. In the cold frames we have seedlings of Syringa pekingensis, a specie lilac growing in Colin Chapman’s garden. He holds the national collection of Lilacs in Suffolk and is the most accident prone man I have ever met. He has also been the generous pivot around which our young collection has grown.
Irises are breaking in the raised bed. Here they catch the best of the sun. It has taken some soil improvements to get them flowering well and this year we seem to have got it right. Yellow and blue Irises together seem to give the greatest impact. Like lilacs, Bearded Irises can take up a lot of space so make sure you do your research properly before you buy new plants because top varieties, grown well will give a lifetime of pleasure. Lesser varieties may not be worth the annual wait.
The greenhouses are bursting with half hardy plants that have soaked up the warm weather and put on prodigious growth. They will have to go out now. We hope we won’t get a repeat of 2009 when we had three nights of frost during Chelsea week. If we get away with putting them out we should have our best display ever, if not there’s still time for some late sowings.