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Garden Newsletter: May

You’ll be expecting me to say this, but yes, growth has taken off as it does every May and the garden is heading for a maintenance crisis! Weeds growing apace everywhere and not enough gardeners to deal with them- the garden team now desperately need your help! You’ve only got to look at growth rates in yours or anyone else’s garden to understand just how much growth needs controlling!

With sunny skies, but cold winds and chilly nights (with some frosts) some plants have flowered early- especially trees- and some have had remarkable shows of bloom, for example primroses. There’s lots to see and even more to do in the Garden this month, so why not come along and help this month? This month’s sessions are Friday May 1st, the May Sunday session is Sunday 3rd May (9.30 until 1.00 as usual)then Friday 8th,Monday 11th, Friday 15th, Monday 18th, Friday 22nd, and Friday 29th. The June Sunday session will be on the 14th June not the 7th as I am at the Stansted Garden Show, hopefully selling lots of plants and publicising our unusual plant fair on 20th & 21st June. We need lots of people to come to our fair so please can each and everyone of you please tell all your friends about it and how good it is- we need a really good attendance this year!

Some of you may well have come- or are intending to go on- our Chair of Trustees’, Rosemary Irwin, walk Selborne to Oxford this week. With us was Sunday Telegraph’s Gardening Correspondent Helen Yemm who has written a piece about the garden in the coming edition of the newspaper- the publicity should really help our visitor numbers, which have not been good, despite the recent sunny weather, so far this year.

To turn to the garden, the Dining Room Shrubbery is running out of control at the moment! We urgently need help here to control the Rose Bay Willow herb and to weed the rest of the bed. This bed is in transition as there will be some changes as the lottery project to open up the yard to the public progresses. We will have to remove the groundsel bush, Baccharis halimifolia as it will be in the way of a new path through to the yard- in fact an extension of the existing truncated path by the old kitchen window. As a result we will need to take plenty of cuttings of this well established- its woody main stem is nearly 4” in diameter- shrub. It’s only listed by 2 nurseries in the 2014 RHS Plant Finder. I have a new propagator which sprays warm water over the base of cuttings- I shall be interested to see how it performs with a set of groundsel bush cuttings! Miller, the 18th century gardeners Dictionary author, says in his diary (unlike today) ‘this shrub is pretty common in the nurseries around London’ It was valued for its evergreen foliage, which does however get rather scorched in the coldest weather. The flowers are nothing to write home about, being white and appearing in November. Miller also says that ‘cuttings of the bush should be planted in April or May’ so my timing in eighteenth century terms is good!

Susan has been doing some careful weeding work all around the house- the front garden now looks very neat and tidy, and the beds under the Banksian roses are greatly improved. The magnificent display of bulbs by the garden door is now all but over, except for the line of Rembrandt tulips in pots, and the similarly striped, broken-coloured ones in the pots. These are still very colourful and so extend the display a little further. Overall, the price you pay for a very bold colour show, it would seem, is a lack of colour later. Still, I shall be off to select more colourful tulips at Chelsea later in May. The present ones will then adorn the annual garden, or even the cutting plots.

In the border opposite the Dragon Arums are looking handsome with their unusual striped foliage and spotted stems ‘like the belly of a snake’ remarks Phillip Miller. The dramatic deep red and black flowers with their rotting meat aroma, don’t come for about a month. ‘The flower has so strong a scent of carrion that few persons can endure it’ The ones on the NW side if the bay window seemed to have grown larger than those on the SW facing side of the bay. Does this mean they prefer a cooler site? There’s no conclusive evidence here, I guess. They used to be used as a medicinal – it is preserved in gardens to supply markets (Miller again) and Gerard in his earlier herbal said the leaves and berries were good for ulcers ‘and greene wounds’ but don’t try this at home!

In the six quarters there is a mass of new growth in all the borders. Some of that growth is wanted, but the weeds are certainly not! Diane has done a good job in removing speedwell from the tulip tree quarter, but there is much more to be done! Above that bed, the tulip tree canopy has been raised to allow more light to the annual beds beyond, and the bed below. We have been careful to leave some lower branches so that visitors can still the unusual green & orange flowers in June.

The blue and pink flowers of the Pulmonaria are features at this time of the year, I was told the flower changes colour after pollination. Is this true? I’m not sure which species we have here, it was purchased as P.officinalis, but there are several other possibilities and many cultivars. Jim planted in the pond garden many years ago, where clumps have thrived, but officinalis is an introduced/garden escape. Some investigation work would be interesting- if only I had the time! Pulmonaria longifolia, the narrow leaved lungwort, is quite rare as a wild flower in Britain being confined to southern counties of Britain, including the Isle of Wight, where it is described as an indicator of ancient woodland. It would be good to get some here and in the pond garden.

The south rose bed is pretty much dominated by red campion at the moment, where it forms good ground cover, but quickly gets out of control! Also here is the bistort, which is also becoming pretty rampant, although its spikes of pink flowers blend well in the colour scheme. In the north rose bed the wild tulips have been up, flowered and gone over in the heat, although their numbers seem much reduced. The early flowering monkshood (Aconitum napellus subsp anglicum) is now in bud. It is a poisnous plant, mbut very pretty at this time of the year. The soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)has really taken off in the autumn quarter – some serious control measures are also needed here. One is tempted to purge the whole plant when it has such vigorous growth, but it’s a very valuable drought resistant plant in the late summer!
In the herb garden Herb Cecily (Myrrhis odorata) is in flower, the clary sage growing nicely and the sea-kale persists amongst the bloody docks despite mistaken attempts to remove it. The roots of sea kale (Crambe maritime)go very deep. It grows in plenty on piles of shingle and shells on Hayling beach, near the ferry boat inn- I wonder if the roots go deeply into the shingle there? Gilbert White is reputed to be the first person to grow this coarse brassica with attractive blue green leaves and starry little cream flowers in a garden situation. As if the 600 cabbages planted in Turners vegetable garden weren’t enough! In the annual garden, as in the bulb bed near the house, most of the bulbs are now over, although the striped tulips, from last years Chelsea tub planting, are still in fine condition. The box hedges are not looking too bare, they have been sprayed with a fungicide to control this disease, but a further spray before planting annuals is planned.
The park field is full of Dandelions and looks beautiful: could we perhaps have a Dandelion day like we have a snowdrop day? Do we love or hate them? The park by the Haha was the scene of the picturesque departure of Chair of trustees Rosemary Irwin on her week long walk to Oxford in the footsteps of Gilbert white. Ronnie was there dressed as Gilbert White and riding on a pony, and Captain Oates appeared dressed on another Pony. Some of the Gardeners walked part of the way to Shalden, the first leg, I undertook the whole journey which didn’t take long and was a delight in the warm sunshine. Beautiful views, interesting people to talk to, and well timed refreshments. Pickle came too, rushing up and down the line hoping for food- she was more successful I think at Lunch time! Sadly, I was back before 4pm and straight into a meeting in the house- we all, I think, could have walked more miles in the sunshine! Much money has been raised for the museum by this walk, and we have had lots of publicity, including a Radio Solent interview and magazine coverage.

The double flowered cherry on the main lawn is a magnificent sight, covered in double white blooms. It’s now quite old for a cherry (Same age as me!) and might not last for many years (and will I?!) The yew tree on the main lawn has had its canopy raised to allow passage along Gilbert’s brick walk. It looks much better and will make mowing much easier. Now we need to look at removing a few more low branches on the other side- only after permission from the local authority though! In the orchard walk has Scorpion sennas full of yellow pea like flowers, and there is a scattering of fritillaries stillin bloom- including a darker later one which I take to be F. pyrenaica but needs checking.

The quincunx spruce continue to grow, and in the kitchen garden potatoes and some new asparagus roots have been planted . There are lettuces under the lantern cloches and the broad beans are doing well. Amanda’s flax (for textiles) is growing on, the second bed not having quite as good germination as the first, but may germinate more sporadically. The recent dry weather hasn’t helped. David (not me!) has done a fine job digging and removing weeds from the various docks, whilst Keith has kept the whole neat and tidy and looking better than it has done for quite some years. He has also planted melons and cucumbers in the hot bed, which now being watered are thriving. The cutting beds are gradually being planted with sweet peas cornflowers and marigolds, with bells of Ireland safflowers and many more to come.

As usual I’ve run out of room to describe any more, sufficient to say it’s a lovely time of year with the beech trees on the hanger just breaking into leaf- why not come and work in this beautiful environment- we really need you this month especially as we want to impress the RHS inspectors enough with horticultural excellence so we can become a partner garden!

Best Wishes & Good Gardening,

David Standing
Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden this month

  • Continue to Control weeds in bulb beds
  • Clean all interpretation boards of dirt & green algae, esp welcome to GW’s garden sign
  • Check new Dianthus collection for damage, keep watering when needed
  • Finish Cutting yew & laurel hedge by annual garden/plant sales area
  • Treat box hedge for blight again
  • Continue to Tidy and weed herb garden, make first sowings in situ
  • Protect Ranunculus with straw as needed, add more corms?
  • Dig out bulbs at end of month
  • Continue to process & packet seeds
  • Weed out ivy etc under all hedges
  • Continue planting/design work in pond garden: add water tub and bee skeps bee and other wild plants
  • Remove last ground elder and plant ferns by stone seat in pond garden
  • , continue sowing veg seeds as appropriate
  • Check, de-slug plant stands regularly
  • Water pots and plant stands regularly in dry periods, esp the pots and front troughs
  • Finish mending irrigation system
  • Continue to print new stick in labels
  • Clear up Blackthorn in Ewel
  • Remove nettles and make a path by taking out willow hoop to dipping platform at lower end of bridge
  • Ground elder control in pond garden
  • Mulch basons and six quarters (as possible) with mulching manure
  • Add wooden sign strips and Stock up plant stands with new plants
    And much, much more!