“May brings tulips, lilies, roses, fills the children’s hands with posies”
Spring at last
At last the sun is shining and we have warm weather. The winter has passed, and the countryside is dressed in vibrant shades of green, white, blue and pink. Those of us with tender plants and seedlings to worry about, are keeping an eye out on these clear nights for low temperatures and possible frosty mornings. All around you can hear the sound of lawnmowers cutting, soil being dug and gardens watered.
A long winter
The Spring was a long time coming this year but now it is tumbling over itself as daffodils and tulips give way to paeonies and poppies. Cherry blossom, such a decadent sign of the exuberance of spring has morphed into apple blossom and miniature oblong pears are already visible along the branches of the ancient pear tree which dresses the east wall of the house.
On a walk through the woodland recently I discovered a delicate carpet of flowers, ‘dog violets’with their dainty lilac flowers, white oxalis or ‘wood sorrel’, bluebells and wood anemones with their fragile, pinkish-white petals. There were areas where you could hardly step without crushing one of these jewels. Now the bracken is rapidly obscuring all the deer paths and the once barren trees are fully clothed in fresh green leaves. I think it would be almost possible to get lost if it weren’t for the cars thundering past on the nearby motorway.
Keeping a record
During these first years in the garden it is vital to photograph and record everything that is growing on the estate. We need to create an inventory of trees, shrubs, bulbs and other plants, photograph them in the different seasons and locate them on a map so that we can pinpoint them exactly if necessary for future planning purposes.
I would hate to think that we might accidentally destroy a bed of snowdrops by ploughing through a dormant colony in Autumn when we begin to install footpaths, so it is crucial to know what is growing where. Once we have the images we can begin the task of identifying the different daffodils or apple trees, and in many cases, we may need outside, expert help for this.
We are about to begin a wildflower survey next week. This will require a second visit in mid-July and is an important part of our garden restoration plan, as we need to establish whether any unusual plants have taken up residence during the many decades that the gardens languished, untended. I’m hoping that we might come across some orchids and other rarer plants as there is a touch of limestone in the area.
6 different types of butterfly
We don’t intend to cut the grass at the back of the House before mid-July and so we will effectively have a meadow by then. It’s fascinating to see the rich tapestry of flowers already begin to evolve over large swathes of the grass – buttercups and thistles, speedwell and cuckoo-flower – all of which are host to many butterflies and other pollinators. So far this year, I’ve noticed six different types of butterfly and several types of bumble bee and, of course, the ever-present rabbits!
Victorians love for rhododendrons
Our rhododendrons have just begun to flower, and they look magnificent in glorious shades of pink, red and lilac. I can totally understand why the Victorians fell in love with them, but ours are overgrown and huge. Once they have finished flowering, they will need substantial work carried out over the next three years to bring them under control and restore them.
Training the hedges
Similarly, our Holly hedges are truly veteran trees and from July, we will try to turn them back into hedges with a systematic pruning regime of cutting the top then alternate sides over three to five years. We have to go slowly as these elderly shrubs can get a shock when they are suddenly pruned after a long gap but hopefully they will soon be thick, neatly trimmed hedges still with abundant wildlife.
Never ending jobs
Then there is the box hedging to cut, plum trees to prune and evergreen shrubs to trim, mulch to apply, plants to water, weeds to remove and a never ending list of jobs needing done 5 minutes ago. But all this is the glory of the garden in summer when everything is so alive, so abundant and so absolutely stunning.
What Grandma used to say
When I was growing up my Grandma used to say to me, “ne’er cast a cloot ‘til May is oot”but did she mean the month of May or the ‘May blossom’on the Hawthorn trees? Either way, next week I should be safe to discard my winter warmers and thicker jerseys as the Hawthorn blossom will be in full flow and June approaches.
Blog written by Margaret in our volunteer gardening team
Photos by Lesley McPherson