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On a Chalk Hillside May 2021

Spring Blues

Yes, you are right, this is not the advertised article about the planting in the gravel garden bed I promised you last month.  Over the bank holiday weekend I had been crawling round various plants in the garden trying to get an “in-focus” shot in stiff easterly winds which have plagued us for most of April to show you this month’s star plants, when I got caught face down by my newish neighbours who asked if I was taking an art shot.  I explained I was trying to take photos of the various blue spring flowers round the garden to see if the camera could see the different tones of blue that my eye could, and they started to get very interested in the concept of a kaleidoscope of blue flower pictures.  As I was already having difficulty trying to narrow the star plants down to a manageable few without them overtaking the entire article, I decided to let the blue spring plants do the talking this month, and save the advertised article for next month.
I know I tell you every year that spring in my garden is noticeable for being awash with blue and yellow plants, but walking up and down the garden this month I had been particularly struck by the clear blues of the flowers several of them, (as opposed to the more lilac/lavender blues that we also call “blue”), and was musing that this is a colour that I don’t have in the garden during the later summer and autumn.  I think this initially stemmed from the astonishingly clear sky blue of the Myosotis (Forget-me-not) which I had loved in the vegetable garden last year so much that this year I planted a few clumps up by the Pergola so I could see them each time I went down the garden.  
Here is the Myosotis in the veg garden surrounding the Perpeptual Spinach on 27 April:-

And here on early May Bank holiday by the Pergola:-

On the same day (in only 30 mile an hour winds, so please excuse the blurriness) here they are in association with the Bluebells that are planted along the path under the Pergola:-

Now, these are Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, but you can clearly see not just a difference in colour, but also size of flower, and shape.  I cannot tell you how much pleasure seeing these flowers together has given me this year.  Further along I also have a Periwinkle flowering too – not that I can get a photo that shows it in focus enough to show you.  The much bigger flat round mauvy blue of that, considerably more like the Bluebells in hue, but a completely different shape, together with the bell shape flowers of the Bluebells, and the tiny flat sky-blue flowers of the Forget-me-nots are a thing of joy to me.  With very humble, common, easy to grow, plants you have a very good example of a complex garden design concept – texture/size/shape.  It is not just important to consider the colour of a plant (either its flower or its foliage), or even its eventual size and shape, but also the different textures both of colour, and shape, and how it marries/jars with its neighbours.  The various sizes and shapes of these flowers together, the contrast of their leaf shapes, AND the difference in the blue hues they exhibit give you a vibrancy and interest that if it was all just one size or hue of colour, or all one shape of flower or leaf, you would not get.  Here, just down the path under the pear trees is an example of what I mean – a more homogenised look – Bluebells and Grape Hyacinths together:-

The Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) bottom left of the picture are so similar in both leaf and flower colour and shape to the Bluebells next to them that your eye just scans over them all as one mass of lovely blue flowers, whereas in the photo with the Myosotis and the Bluebells your eye dances back and forwards over the different colours and shapes and sizes, and therefore dwells longer on the image, and uses more braincells to take notice.   Designers use words like “dynamism”, and “tension” to describe the effect.  Beth Chatto said she didn’t want a flower bed to look like a herd of sheep – all similar sized mounds – you needed pointy leafed things (like irises or crocosmia for example) to visually punch through soft mounds of foliage, as well as some different colour foliage.  This applies to flower shape and size too.
Before I move away from the Bluebells, I wonder if we can see the difference between English Bluebells and Spanish ones from my garden photos.  Here is an English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta):-

And here are some Spanish ones with the Epimedium x perralchicum ‘'Fröhnleiten'’ behind them:-

Hopefully you can see not only a deeper blue colour in the English bluebell, but its finer bell-shaped flower with the tighter curled rim to the flower?

This is the plant that my neighbours caught me trying to photograph – my “Russian Comfrey” or Symphytum caucasicum:-

I waxed lyrical about its wonderful blue flowers last October on this blog, but you have to admit, its colour intensity is hard to beat, and certainly, apart from Viper’s Bugloss, which I also talked about to you last autumn, I don’t have any other plant with this flower colour later in the year in this garden. So I try to appreciate it every day it flowers here.   Close by – and showing the same example of dynamic difference in flower and leaf size and shape to the comfrey is a clump of Alkanet – Pentaglottis sempervirens:-

And for completeness, as this tiny wildflower meanders between the two, Germander Speedwell:-

Three true blue spring-flowering plants.  
With varying degrees of mauvyness in their blue, I also have Centaurea Montana flowering beautifully at the end of April, with Ajuga reptans ‘Mahogany’ flowering at their feet:-

A much more “blue” blue is shown in the flower of Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’:-

This plant is flowering in several different spots in the garden, and I love how the different age of the flower affects the colour of its blooms, making it range from deep blue to a lilac colour.  Much like the Pulmonaria officinalis nestled close by this particular clump under the Rosa xanthina ‘Canary Bird’:-

Let’s finish with another intensely blue flower that takes my breath away each spring - Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’, which this year, as usual, is mainly growing in the paths of the rose garden rather than the beds:-

If I count up those plants I have talked about above which are not bulbs, the vast proportion of the spring flowering blue plants I have are members of the Boraginaceae family.  The Lithodora; Pulmonaria; Pentaglottis; Symphytum; and Myosotis.  Two of the others are Veronicas – the Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’, and the Germander speedwell – Veronica chamaedrys.   
Next time we will return to the planting of the L-shaped border in the gravel garden.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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