Spring’s challenge is just keeping pace!

May is busting out all over and Liz Knowles is racing to keep up!

May 27, 2010 | | Blogs

There is so much in bloom in the garden at the end of May, it’s hard to know which way to turn.

By Liz Knowles

The weeds are keeping pace so it’s a constant challenge!

The lilacs have never looked better, the honeysuckle is in bloom around the swimming pool and the rhododendrons continue to put on a great show.

One of my favourites is Rhododendron Ingrid Mellquist: it’s perfectly hardy in our Zone 4 garden. The buds as they open turn from deep pink to pure white and it’s still under three feet tall after 12 years. All it requires is rich woodsy, moist soil.

Rhododendron Ingrid Mellquist. Photos by Liz Knowles

One of the more unusual plants in the garden is Podophyllum hexandrum. Its native habitat is the mountains of China.

Podophyllum hexandrum

I’ve seen it growing in both Sichuan and Yunnan, but it grows equally happily in the Hockley Valley as long as it gets semi-shade in woodland conditions.

The marbled brownish-purple leaves emerge first on 30cm stalks, then a small pink flowers appear. Red pendulous fruit appears in the fall and it will seed around if happy. It’s the Chinese cousin of our native Mayapple.

Podophyllum hexandrum

Another shrub that gives value for money at this time of year is Weigelia Pink Princess.

Weigelia Pink Princess

Three plants anchor the west end of the rock garden, they are underplanted with a red tulip, T. Red Hunter which finished blooming a week ago.

The plants each stand a meter tall and about 1.5 m wide and their pink tubular flowers attract the hummingbirds.

They also make an attractive pairing with Allium giganteum, whose 1m high purple globe-like blooms spring up all over the garden.

Primulas come in all shapes and colours. The earliest ones such as P denticulata bloom in April; yellow and orange P elatior, P veris, etc bloom early in May; and one of the last to put on a show for the season is P. japonica.

Primula Japonica

Its preferred habitat is beside a pond or stream and it comes in a range of colours from white, pale pink to red. It’s one of the candelabra-type primulas that can extend to 50cm or more. It too seeds around happily and, grouped with the large leaved Astilboides tabularis, it makes quite an imposing sight.

It’s always a red letter day when the first meconopsis come into bloom. After the past two cool, wet summers the plants are looking great and the first to bloom was the hybrid M. Lingholm, a cross between M grandis and M betonicifolia.

Meconopsis Lingholm

I have never seen M grandis in bloom.  We saw rosettes of leaves in Bhutan, but early May was too early for the blooms.

M betonicifolia (now renamed M baileyi) has a much paler blue flower. It’s the hybrid that gets the prize for its intense blue colour. Both species hail from the Himalayas and so they are used to monsoon conditions and they like rich humus enriched soil in semi-shade.

I try to emulate those conditions and I have worked a lot of composted pine mulch and leaf mold into the soil. They dislike intense heat and humidity, in 2005 I had over 30 plants and lost well over half during the frequent heat waves that summer.


Liz Knowles gardens at Larkspur Hollow in Hockley Valley.

About the Author More by Liz Knowles

Liz Knowles has been gardening in the Hockley Valley for more than 25 years.

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