As the insects and plants atLewis Cottage spring into life, they are preparing to welcome back visitors to their garden by planting along the banks of their long driveway. Among his gardening tips for May, Richard Orton urges us to be creative if we can’t get the plants we want at the garden centre.
‘Oh what a wonderful thing to be……..a healthy, grown up, busy-busy-bee’. As I sit here in the garden with my glass of wine, there is the definite and audible hum of insect life, busy about their springtime chores. It might be a bit chilly but the skies are clear and the garden is beginning to wake. A singular sign that spring has truly begun is when the heady scent of the Balsam Poplar fills the air and drifts of Caucasian comfrey (Symphytum azureum) carpet the ground with their china blue flowers mingling perfectly with wild primrose. But much as I’d like to sit and listen to the bees, there is much work to be done.
Planting up the drive
First on the list is to plant up the drive. We have been growing plants to compliment the wild flowers already in situ. Alongside aquilegia, we’ve chosen to plant some wood sage, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), miniature solomon’s seal (Polygonatum humile), jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), Lamium orvala, some perennial foxgloves (Digitalis stewartia) and of course plenty of native foxgloves from seed collected last summer and a few primula as well.
Along with the species roses planted in the hedge recently we should see a riot of colour and pollen for the bees, if not this year then certainly next season.
Of course, all of this planting requires a lot of compost/organic matter but thankfully there’s always a good supply round in the yard. I will confess to not being too scientific about how we make our compost. Suffice to say that we don’t put in perennial weeds and tend to keep to organic matter rather than adding paper and cardboard etc. It works for us as we can leave it to mature for several years if necessary but, for those who prefer a more scientific approach, there is plenty of advice online and in books and plenty of devices available to speed up the process too.
A wildflower and grass border
At the top of the drive there is now an area of bare earth where the soil from the drive has been spread and it’s an ideal opportunity to plant a wildflower and grass border, something we‘ve been planning to do for a long time now. As you know it’s more involved than just scattering some wild seed about, so choosing the most appropriate mix is important. We’ve chosen a roadside mix that will tolerate both sun and shade and which contains some quite tough plants such as cow parsley, hedge bedstraw, wild parsnip, wood avens and nettle leaved bellflower amongst others. These a real perennials so will only need minimal tending. We used a company called Habitaid who support over a dozen nature charities through every sale made.
A shortage of plants and compost
I’ve noticed that it’s getting increasingly difficult to get hold of plants and compost this year. Hardly surprising I guess given the double whammy of a global pandemic and Brexit, the uncertainty of whether businesses would be able to open again has surely chastened owners against over stocking. This means we may need to be a little more creative with our hanging baskets and patio pots this year and shop with an open mind using the plants that are available.
We tend not to use many annuals at Lewis Cottage, but if you garden on a smaller scale they are a great way of ringing the changes season to season. If you haven’t already ordered your annual plants, do so sharpish and if you miss out, don’t despair, try using perennials instead. Then plant them out in the garden proper at the end of the summer for a more permanent display next year.
Gardening tips for May
● Check patio pots you’ve overwintered for vine weevil, top dress with some fresh compost and start to feed once a week.
● Roses are particularly greedy right now so make sure you give them a good feed with a general fertiliser.
● Prune winter flowering shrubs such as forsythia as soon as flowers fade to encourage new buds on current season growth.
● Pinch out growing tips of sweet peas and fuchsias to encourage bushy growth.
● Penstemons should be pruned back to the ground now if there is new growth visible at the base.
Further information about the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here.
The garden will be open to the public on the May Bank Holiday weekend - 29, 30, 31 May