How did it get to be May already? It seems a very short time ago that we were looking at the low sun and listening to the lone robins sing, bare earth and branches waiting for a temperature hike. Well, the Garden has plumped up with leaves and life, almost fluorescent in its vibrancy. It’s a wonderful time of year, even when it rains you can almost see the plants growing.
While the rain is soaking into the May soil, it also threatens the flowers of one group of plants in our Chinese Herb Garden. This year we have completed our peony garden, a unique display here in the west country, and on Sunday 12th May we’re holding a day dedicated to peonies in celebration. One thing we’d like for people to see in this area is of course the flowers of peonies, and the weather was doing its best to rain on our peony parade. So we decided to pamper these plants with an umbrella each. It might seem over the top, but it’s a treatment that some of them are accustomed to. In days gone by the gansu mudan peony has led a life of privilege; ancient China knew it as the Emperor’s flower and law decreed that it was only grown in his gardens. Specialist growers were tasked with cultivating it for use in the imperial borders, but if anyone got ideas above their station and sneaked some in their own garden, well, they were executed! So some of these peony flowers have the air of ‘an umbrella is no more than I deserve’.
May also brings wildlife into the Garden and one thing I look forward to is the emergence of the dragonflies. For most of their lives dragonflies exist as fierce underwater predators hunting and eating almost continuously; for some species this can be as long as five years. During this time they moult a number of times, changing shape and size until they’re big enough to climb out of the water. This time is about now, when the iris leaves are swordlike and the bogbean is in full flower, there is a night when all the dragonfly nymphs emerge together, as if waiting for a signal. As I write this it hasn’t happened yet, but there is the feeling it is any day now. The nymphs crawl onto the sturdy stalks and leaves and, like an alien, a new beast breaks out of the exoskeleton and perches, translucent on a surface. If you catch them at this time you can see them drying themselves and slowly colouring up around the garden before they begin the gravity defying aeronautic displays that we all enjoy.
Also in the pond, we’ll be climbing in and re-potting the water lilies this year time permitting. We tend to do it every other year, and when we do the plants respond to their new compost with vigour and plenty of flower. The water lily rhizomes will successfully search out food in the wild but are restricted in a pot so the soil needs to be changed to keep them sated, and a well nourished plant will reward us with a wonderful display.
I hope you enjoy the May ambience, the chatter of birds and bees and brightness of foliage. The rain helps towards the early summer sprint of plants into growth, but soon the sun will shine and we’ll all be t-shirts and barbecues!
By Andy Winfield