Gelli Uchaf Plant Palette – Early May

Below is the list of our favourite plants in the garden in the first half of May 2017. The idea of recording a dozen favourite plants in the garden every fortnight, came to me in mid 2016, so this is the last fortnightly slot to be completed. Phew! I don’t tend to repeat plants that have featured in the previous fortnight, so it’s an attempt to show how there is always something new in the garden to tempt us out, whatever the weather, though many of the previous month’s favourites will often still be in flower. In spring 2017 an early warm start lo growth left me thinking this palette would overlap with last year’s late May one, but then cool weather during April slowed everything down again.

This task has proved more demanding than I thought, and will no doubt be occasionally tweaked as the garden changes over time, with some new introductions and perhaps certain plants removed which die, or fall out of favour. However it is a distillation of what forms the basis of the garden, and what has been shown over years to thrive in our high rainfall, upland area without any real cossetting.

The process of recording everything has also encouraged us to look hard at the garden and distil its key elements, and work our which plants create interest for the longest period. So for anyone contemplating doing it, I’d say the benefits are huge – particularly if you have garden visitors, since it provides a very easily accessible resource to show what a plant looks like at a different time of the year, (even more easily accessible if you have decent mobile or internet access – which of course we currently don’t…).

1: Limnanthes Douglasii, (Douglas Meadowfoam) “Meringue”. This is a low growing annual which flowers prolifically and sets huge amounts of seed. Native to poorly drained moist ground in Western states of the U.S.A, it clearly thrives with us. Apparently in the U.S.A  it is grown commercially since its seed is high in a form of very stable vegetable oil. We like it because it self seeds in the retyred matrix garden providing weed suppressing low growing ground cover, which from late April or early May is covered in flowers. Self sown seedlings usually germinate in autumn. We’ve always found the more usual yellow and white poached egg plant a little harsh to include in a more muted garden flower planting mix. “Meringue” is all white, so works much better, and is also a very highly favoured nectar and pollen source for honeybees.

2: Hyacinthoides non-scripta – English Bluebell.  We have to own up to having quite a few Spanish bluebells in the garden, as well as many native bluebells grown from seed. There really isn’t anything to beat the deep purple blue of English bluebells, which typically open in the first 2 weeks of May up here. It tales a while for numbers to build up after seed sowing, but beneath deciduous trees and shrubs, they’re perfect extra interest before increasing shade and summer dryness limit lower level planting options.

3: Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus.  AGM A species variant of the Pheasant’s eye daffodil, which dates back centuries. Click here for more on DaffSeek. Distinctive because of its swept back petals, and its very late flowering time – always into May, and usually the last of all our daffodils to bloom. Sadly, it’s not reliable in all of the locations we’ve planted it it. In some it thrives, though it always takes a while to settle down. In others it fades away. Gorgeously scented flowers too, though in May sunshine they don’t tend to last all that long.

4: Galium odoratum. Sweet Woodruff/Sweet Scented Bedstraw.  A very pretty plant for awkward shaded places, covering the ground and then producing masses of small white flowers in early May. Sweetly scented, as its name implies, it could be a thug in good conditions, spreading by both runners and seed. We find it is one of those plants that refuses to stay where you plant it – spreading away from its original position, and then dying out where it was was. More favoured ground covers like bugle, London Pride and mossy Saxifrage do not seem to suffer from this problem – and I have no idea why!

5: Primula sieboldii. A Japanese origin primrose, which has been the subject of much hybridising over the centuries in both Japan and elsewhere. Our local excellent nursery (click here for details) has one of the biggest ranges of these in the UK, so in 2016 and 2017, I’ve been selecting a few forms to try to establish a section of more open woodland with a significant planting scheme. Beginning to flower in late April, a choice of cultivars should give at least 6 weeks interest. Many have intricately cut petals like snowflakes, in whites, pinks, lilacs and blues. Since they often die back in mid summer, I’m still pondering what to plant with them – Omphalodes cappadocica, Cyclamen coum, Lilium Mackliniae  and Saxifrage fortunei seedlings are the current ideas.

6: Clematis montana  var. rubens , “Elizabeth”, ” Warwickshire Rose”, “Tetrarose”. Three of an increasing number of Clematis montana cultivars which we’ve gradually added around the garden to give flower interest heading into late spring and early summer, as the bulbs finish. Bronze tinted young foliage, and then very pretty pale pink single flowers, for a month or so. We’ve planted them at the base of maturing or vigorous trees, often in combination with rambling or climbing roses to give a longer season of flower interest. Many will take several more years to achieve maximum potential. “Elizabeth” was a gift in the very early stages of our garden making here, so is already quite a size.

7: Paeonia ludlowii var. lutea. A very early planting in the shale of our shrubbery, 3 plants were grown from seeds harvested in our previous Bristol garden, which in turn had come from a plant acquired as a seedling from the old Bristol Botanic garden at Leigh Woods. Now a mature thicket, which has produced self sown seedlings in these unpromising conditions, the quite fleeting yellow flowers have great bumblebee and honeybee interest, and the foliage looks great throughout its season, with wonderful autumnal red features before it all collapses, with red stems and fantastic unfurling buds in spring.

8: Deciduous Azalea “Exquisitum”, or A. “luteum”. Nearly 30 years ago we visited the garden of Lady Anne Palmer at Rosemoor, Great Torrington, just before she gifted the site to the RHS. As quite novice gardeners, arriving there in early May, we were wowed by the perfume from a bank of deciduous Aazaleas, just in front of the house. Now we have our own small collection, and in early to mid May, we get the same fantastic scents and flamboyant flowers in vibrant yellows/oranges/reds/and pinks. It’s difficult to choose favourites – it’s the overall visual and olfactory impact that is striking, but 2 examples – pink A. “exquisitum” and perhaps the strongest scented yellow A. luteum are very reliable proliferous plants ( a new and very apt word coined by F this week whilst struggling to find the correct one – prolific AND floriferous!)

9: Malus domestica and sylvatica.  We grow about 50 types of cultivated apples, and a few crab apples, and in most years the blossom begins to open in large quantities from early May onwards. There are always variations in timing with variety, and Brownlees Russet (bottom) perhaps has the prettiest of all the varieties, with very large pink tinged flowers. But it is the effect of many flowers together which has the greatest impact. And they attract a huge range of insects when in full flow. Some are half standard, some wall trained, but many are trained in a novel spiral fashion around stone filled pillars of tyres, as a way of mitigating late frost damage to blossom. Any edible fruit later in the year are now considered to be a bonus.

10: Pedicularis sylvatica – Lousewort. I’m including this in the list although for now it’s really a plant of our meadows, for two reasons. Firstly, it has a long flowering season and is a very pretty low growing hemi-parasitic perennial, with rosettes of crinkly foliage from which pale pink flowers are produced in profusion, from early April for nearly 2 months. Secondly, it’s loved by several early species of bumblebees as a nectar source, and so is one of the best very early native wildflowers, along with Common Dog Violets, to bring significant nectar producing flowers into our hay meadow. The fact that it is a hemi- parasite of other plants helps to weaken the grasses, rather like the much later flowering annual Yellow Rattle, and so allows greater floral diversity within the meadows to develop.

11: Myrrhis odorata – Sweet Cicely. One of the earliest flowering Umbelliferae, it’s a perennial herb with leaves scented of aniseed. Reliable white umbels from May into June, with very attractive ferny mid green foliage. We dead head it after seed formation, to prevent it taking over, since seeds germinate readily with us,  but the occasional plant dotted around adds real charm to the garden.

12: Convallaria majalis. Lily of the valley. Although having a very short flowering period, and looking tatty later in the year, in early May the scent from the tiny flowers justifies its inclusion. In our conditions it’s a potential thug, so is planted in a couple of challenging locations, and now in combination with earlier spring bulbs to extend the season of interest. In one sunnier location it also competes with the equally thug like Euphorbia cyparissias “Green Man” in a pleasing combination. It all originally came from inherited plants in our earlier Bristol garden where it was equally aggressive.

Thanks for reading.