LATE SPRING FLOWERS
The summer sunshine may be a wee bit hard to find this year, (a bit like the last two years) but on those days when it does put in an appearance you get the chance to wander around the garden and marvel at those flowering plants that just refuse to get washed out.
There are a host of shrubs and herbaceous plants all in flower at present. Some should have flowered weeks ago but got delayed by the cool wet climate, but now it is their day.
Herbaceous plants and bulbs
Doronicum is an early flowering herbaceous plant. It likes a bit of sunshine so this year the clump is not at its best, but the bright yellow star shaped flowers blend in perfectly with the drifts of bluebells now carpeting the ground under my apple trees. They have just finished flowering and promise a great crop if only the summer returns. However the apple tree foliage is still quite light so there is plenty dappled sunlight reaching the bluebells. They are a beautiful site covering the ground in my orchard (four trees, but ten varieties) and help to reduce vigour in the apple trees. They are very easy to grow and quickly multiply by seed dispersal, though you can dig up and divide clumps of bulbs any time after flowering. Once you have a good bluebell drift they need controlling as the seed grows prolifically and soon becomes invasive so remove all seedheads before they spread.
Wood spurge is another herbaceous plant flowering now. The best one is Euphorbia griffithii Fireglow. It has bright red flowering bracts and is a great partner to the lower growing lemon yellow Euphorbia polychroma. They are both happy in dappled shade in a deciduous woodland fringe and do not mind a dry soil. Another spurge is the favourite Christmas houseplant Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). However they all have a poisonous latex (white sap) that exudes easily with any damage to the stem. This is an irritant and can cause inflammation, so wash immediately if any gets onto your skin.
The Azaleas have always been the main show at this time of year, though there are many Rhododendrons still in flower. There are literally hundreds of different varieties to choose from in every colour. Some of the taller azaleas are deciduous and have a wonderful scent such as Azalea lutea a bright yellow variety and Azalea Gibralter is a fiery orange colour. Down at ground level and perfect for weed smothering ground cover are the dwarf Japanese evergreen azaleas. These are quite cheap to buy as small plants and they soon grow larger. They flower prolifically.
Azaleas need moisture retentive soil rich in organic matter such as well rotted leafmold, but the soil also needs good drainage so there is no standing water at their feet. Do not use any fertiliser as this may scorch the young tender leaves.
Ceanothus commonly known as the Californian Lilac (but is not related to the lilac) smothers itself in Blue flowers in mid May. They prefer a sunny sheltered spot to be at their best and an annual mulch of compost in winter will keep them well fed. They do not need any pruning unless they get too tall as they can grow up to ten feet tall.
Lilacs are another tall shrub or small tree flowering profusely in mid May. They are easy to grow, not fussy about soil and some varieties have a terrific scent. Mme. Lemoine is the best white and Michel Buchner a lovely warm light purple.
Cistus, known as the rock rose and sun rose will grow on poor dry soil full of stones where drainage is perfect and prefers full sun to flower at its best. It comes from the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean area. It only grows a few feet tall and flowers for only a short time, but it can really put on a bold display of flowers in a range of pink shades. Cistus Silver Pink and Cistus purpureus are both good varieties.
Broom and gorse are represented in the garden with several yellow to white flowered shrubs. Genista hispanica, Spanish gorse, Genista Lydia, a broom and Cytisus praecox, another broom all make a bold display if given a poor dry soil in a sunny location.
Plant of the week
Himalayan Blue Poppies known botanically as Meconopsis betonicifolia has a reputation of being hard to grow, especially if you grow from seeds, but it just needs someone to understand its needs, then it is a happy plant.
Sow freshly gathered seed in autumn in cellular trays and leave outdoors all winter. Keep the compost moist and protect it from birds, slugs and mice. Germination takes place in April. Grow them on and pot up after a couple of months. Plant out in autumn into a moist shady woodland border that gets dappled sunlight. Many plants will then flower the following May.
The deep sky blue flowers blowing gently in a breeze are a wonderful sight.