End of May View 2016


A botanical eruption has occurred, thanks to a beautiful spring combined with prodigious watering by The Brazilian and my sister while I was away for almost two weeks in New York and Boston (you can see lots of shots of my American garden moments on Instagram). Before I left, the garden had still to throw off the vestiges of spring: the morello cherry looked like a pretty bride all in white blossom, the Menton tulips had still to come out, the drumstick primulas were nodding their purple heads, and the honesty had just started to show its colours. By the time I returned, summer had galloped into town in a coach and four, whip cracking and a whinny and a snort. Fresh off the plane, I dropped my suitcase and stared at the now enormous leaves of the honesty, big as dinner plates, at the delphiniums drowning the roses, at the coarse fronds of the once delicate primulas, the giant seed heads of the muscari and the grotesque, hairy buds of the oriental poppy, and through my haze of jetlag felt as though I’d sparked life in a creature that was now careering wilfully out of control. Had I applied too much blood, fish and bone before I left?

Morello Cherry in the first week of May
Last vestiges of spring
Honesty just showing its colours
Lithodora ‘Heavenly Blue’, Tulipa ‘Holland Chic’, Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winter Bells’ (PBR), and Muscari ‘Album’ in the first week of May.


On my return, the Morello cherry … is developing cherries!

My Menton tulips are currently the stars of the garden. I grew these last year and was so impressed by their size and vigour that I decided to repeat the effect. Though I left last year’s Mentons in the soil, I was sad (though not wholly surprised) to see that none returned this spring. In contrast to snowdrops, muscari and daffodils, which multiply reliably year after year, tulips can be an expensive habit as they need purchasing anew each autumn. Now that this year’s tulips are over, I am already considering which varieties I will grow next year and I will try to write a post specifically about my successes and failures in 2016 which will be of great help when ordering my tulips for 2017.

T. ‘Menton’
T. ‘Menton’

There were supposed to be more Mentons, but a dastardly squirrel has eaten several of the buds. (If anyone has any suggestions for deterring squirrels, please pipe up.) Meanwhile, the earlier white (unknown variety) and yellow (‘Golden Apeldoorn’) tulips in the large terracotta pot have also been a happy success, though time has reduced them to all but bare stalks and smudges of vintage yellow petal.

‘Golden Apeldoorn’ and an unknown white variety looking good in early May
‘Golden Apeldoorn’ in the sunset of its years


Never mind the demise of the tulips, because allium time is almost upon us. The chives are already in flower (I have been adding the flowers to salads for modern elegance and a spicy kick) and the ‘Purple Sensations’ have produced numerous flowers that will be out in the next week or so. I await the giant white ‘Mount Everest’ with great anticipation.




Meanwhile, the garden has been taken over by honesty, a biennial that I grew from seed last year and which has grown somewhat taller than I foresaw, adding plenty of height and colour and delighting the bees; the flat seed pods are beginning to form, and these will look excellent in vases.

Honesty, with flat seed pods beginning to form

No British garden should be without columbines. Last year I raided someone else’s garden for seeds and scattered them across my soil, but despite their famous promiscuity no columbines were begat chez nous. So I blued a tenner on two pots of ready-grown and I’m so glad I did because I am already greatly enjoying the heavenly dark purple ‘granny’s bonnets’, which look so lovely in among the honesty. I have been working hard to increase and maintain a  variety of British native flowers in my garden such as columbines, foxgloves, honesty, and lily-of-the-valley, as they look natural, are reliably hardy, self-seed or spread easily (free plants!), have decent resistant to our native pests, and most importantly attract native pollinators.

Aquilegia vulgaris, columbines or ‘granny’s bonnets’

The future stars of my garden are going to be the geraniums that I planted in profusion this year and last. “When in doubt, plant a geranium” said Margery Fish famously. Several of mine are self-seedlings taken from my mother’s garden and whose variety shall be a surprise, and I have added several ‘Rozanne’ here and there. Already in flower is my Geranium phaeum or Cranesbill, which is a very subtle little flower of burgundy red, which I planted last year and which I liked very much on a recent visit to Shepherd House near Musselburgh, where they have a very good display of them.

Geranium phaeum or cranesbill

My peony ‘Avalanche’ has been exceptionally vigorous given that this is just its second year (no flowers yet, but I hope I might get some next year). Elsewhere, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, also in its second year, has not developed quite so well and I wonder if I may have planted it too deep. Peonies do not much like to be moved, and I am loathe to take the risk of disturbing it, so will wait another year and see how it does before attempting to alter its position.



As I mentioned, the oriental poppy has grown enormous and we should see flowers in the next fortnight. I sowed quite a lot of seeds from this poppy and was rewarded, or punished, whichever way you look at it, by the runaway success of this enterprise, resulting in at least, oh, a thousand healthy seedlings which I have been potting up and giving away as gifts. Elsewhere, the little yellow poppies that grow like weeds all over Edinburgh have come back again; I do not mind, and quite appreciate the dots of butter yellow they provide to the front of the border. I have also spied seedlings of ‘Black Peony’ poppies half buried at the back of the border, which I grew in 2015 and which lasted about twelve minutes in the high winds. If any survive to maturity, I shall shake some seeds closer to the front of the border where they shall be more visible next year. In a slightly different shade of deep red, my Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’ is out (I thought I’d killed it). I am considering moving this sun-loving shrub to the back garden and replacing it with a hydrangea ‘Limelight’ that will go very well with the coppery blue of the pot and will not mind the temperamental and rapid shifts from light to shadow that occur in the front garden after the street trees come in to leaf.

Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’

The first delphinium spikes are showing, as are the foxgloves. I adore tall plants; they somehow make the garden feel enclosed and secret.

First delphinium spike
First foxglove spike

End of Month View is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener. Do visit her blog and see how hers and many others’ gardens have fared during the month of May.


11 thoughts on “End of May View 2016

  1. What a picture of profusion! Your garden has taken shape beautifully.
    The white tulips might be Clearwater, 24″ – quite tall but nevertheless good for pots, according to Amands. You are probably right to think that tulips in pots will not return successfully a second year. I’ve given up trying and buy new each autumn. However in the ground it is different, and on several occasions I have planted tulips one autumn and seen nothing of them for two years. This spring some gorgeous red ones, planted 2014 of which there were not even any leaves last year, appeared. Three tips : 1. Plant the bulbs with some bonemeal. 2. Feed them with a high potash feed (tomato or flowerite) when the leaves appear. 3. Cut down and dispose of remains shortly after flowering to minimise risk of disease.
    You will never have to buy another aquilegia, and you will get some interesting variations. I love your blue one and if you do too keep the area round it clear of seedlings and mark it carefully or you may pull it out by mistake next spring (you’ll find you can’t keep all the seedlings).

    1. What useful tips – thank you! When you say cut down and dispose of all remains, this sounds contrary to common advice of leaving the leaves to hang about forever gathering energy. Do you not bother? I’d love to get rid of the old flopping leaves!

      1. So far as I know the rule only applies to tulips, unfortunately. You’ll find that mid-season / late tulip leaves are more or less over by the time the flowers go anyway. Not sure about early tulips because most of mine are later. But with crocus, narcissi, bluebells, hyacinths if you had any, the leaves persist in a healthy state after the flowers have died, and while they are still green and lively you should continue to water and feed them if you want them to reappear in good form next year. Allium leaves, like tulips, barely survive the flowers, but don’t need removing. They vanish under the surrounding plants, I find – a most civilised flower.

  2. Wow! What a huge difference a month has made and I can clearly see why you were stopped in your tracks on your return Joanna.
    The best time to lift that peony is when it just all but died back in autumn. It may only need lifting an inch or so to make the difference. Peonies don’t mind being moved provided you do it at exactly the right time. The myth comes by way off folks replanting them too deeply which can hamper their flowering for many year to come. If you still have no success Joanna, I have a huge clump of Sarah Bernhardt to which you are welcome too a good sized chunk off to try again.

  3. Also meant to add C. Dusky Maiden is always late to leaf compared to the others I grow. I’ve tried it in full sun and part shade and it makes no difference.

    1. I’m fairly sure it was seeing your lovely plant that inspired me to buy one of my own! I’m going to move it to the (sunnier) back garden anyway as it will fit in better with the colour scheme that is developing there.

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