"Early morning in the May garden"

Much can be seen during a stroll in the garden now.
Sunday, 22 May 2022     

Narcissus Soleil d Or

When I was younger, I toured my garden almost every day, peering intently at every plant, desperate to see progress and to nip any pests in the bud. It doesn't happen as often now as I tend to be racing along most of the time I am in my garden, but the past week, in an effort to improve my sleeping patterns, I have been following a tip to be exposed to natural light early in the morning. At first, I thought I would just stand outside for a while, but then it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to prowl around my garden and see what it's up to!

With the beautiful, clear weather we had earlier in the week, it was an utter delight to be in the garden at dawn. It wasn't too cold, though the air was crisp. Dew spangled the lawn. I wandered around slowly, stopping to ponder on each area. These days, May is a very busy gardening month for me, so I was able to mentally note some of the jobs that need to be done. Previously, I did most of my pruning of my warm-climate shrubs and perennials in early August, but I have learned from other gardeners that many of these can be pruned in May in my basically frost-free garden, and they will be more advanced later in the year than if pruned in August. (In colder suburbs,I would advise waiting till August or even early September, as any new growth in winter would be potentially killed by frost.) Many of the smaller salvias (such as the Salvia x jamensis hybrids, the 'Wish' series, Salvia microphylla cultivars, 'Marine Blue' and 'Indigo Spires'). Lantana hybrids and Buddleja (except for the spring-flowering cultivars) are crying out to be cut back. Dahlia need their gaunt, shabby stems cut to the ground, along with herbaceous perennials that have finished flowering, such as windflowers and Echinacea. I also cut back my Erigeron and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' hard now; they soon regrow.

On my rounds, I also noted shrubs that need moving (this is a great time to do this job), or that I realised I am sick of and that I resolved to remove altogether. Some just haven't performed as well as I hoped, or grew too big and took over, or just don't please me anymore. We need time to reflect on how things are working in our gardens, and all too often I am racing past, too busy to stop and really look. This week some of the things I noticed is how the stems of my Salvia mexicana with lime calyces always get snapped by the birds that sip nectar from its purple-blue flowers, making the whole thing look like a wreck, so that is going to get reefed out. Close examination of Salvia 'San Carlos Festival', which bloomed brilliantly for years, but not so well lately, made me realise how gnarled and woody it has become - after all, I have had it for at least 20 years and these plants do have a shelf life! It has now been removed.

Other tasks that need to be done presented themselves to me during the morning walks: to take cuttings of my numerous coleus plants, to ensure I have replacements if the main plants succumb to winter cold (I keep the cuttings in a propagation box until early spring); to rake the leaves off garden beds, where they are smothering plants; and to cut back the shabby leaves of my daylilies to allow fresh new foliage to grow over winter. They can then be sprayed with white oil if there are aphids in evidence. Another task is to examine older plants to see if they need to be replaced by a cutting - such as Abutilon and Pentas. This is a good time in general to take cuttings.

The phenomenal growth we have experienced the last few months has also produced a lot of overcrowding of plants, making me aware of the necessity to remove some to give others more space. I find that I lose plants due to overcrowding more than for any other reason, as I seem to forget how much plants can grow over a season and am always trying to shoehorn in 'extras. This usually doesn't end well.

There can be wonderful surprises discovered during a leisurely circuit of the garden: the opening of jonquil buds, with their sweet fragrance; the discovery of tiny self-seedlings of winter/spring annuals such as Orlaya, heartsease, forget-me-nots, Nigella and Primula; the germination of vegetable and herb seeds that I have planted for winter crops (such as snow peas, rocket and baby spinach); the profusion of lantern-like blooms on my Abutilon plants, due to all the rain; and the lovely carmine-pink flared blooms of Ruellia makoyana just starting to bloom.

The jury is still out on whether these early-morning perambulations have improved my sleep but the renewed connection with my garden has had great benefits!

 Reader Comments

1/2  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 23 May 2022

Inspecting the garden with coffee in hand was always how I started the day, and what a pleasure it was. Now, it is not such a pleasure. The lawns are usually too sloshy to cut, the beds are too sodden to weed, and the pruning and cutting back is way behind schedule because of the weather. All I see is work to be done, and little chance to do it! Yes I know how dispiriting that can be. I am trying to get out in the garden on every dry day; we were fortunate last week here to have some nice sunny weather for a while. Alas, the rain has since returned ...Deirdre

2/2  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 25 May 2022

That's interesting about the loss of plants due to overcrowding. Since the turkey invasion I have crowded plants more than usual so that there is no space for them to enter. Works well if the border is their height. However this requires careful maintenance. Now with all the rain it's a free for all. Will have to get the gumboots on. The idea of dense planting to deter those turkeys is a good one - it's a balancing act to make sure a plant doesn't crowd out its neighbour. Deirdre

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