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Last Month in My Garden: May 2012

‘Jottings from Bolam’ May 2012

One week I’m out gardening dressed in winter layers and fur hat, the next in shorts, skimpy blouse and perspiration. Crazy weather.

I have been making myself press on with the staking, always a pain, because I knew that as soon as it warmed up there would be a surge of growth. The beech hedge leafed up overnight, and lingering tulips faded, except for the last one now coming into flower, which is the stunning scarlet and perennial Tulipa sprengeri.

I bought 5 bulbs from Bob Brown at Evesham Cottage Flowers over 12 yrs ago and now I have 6 or 7 colonies. Grown in sun or part shade around shrubs, with other bulbs, and in light naturalistic plantings where I can leave its prolific seed undisturbed to do its thing, they are real eye catchers. Fabulous with the fresh green foliage of euphorbias, Smyrnium perfoliatum and Carex elata ‘Aurea’.

Seed just lies where it falls, and after the essential cold conditioning of the winter, germinates very early in the year, taking 5 or 6yrs to reach flowering size. Contractile roots pull bulbs down deep into the soil, safe from extremes of temperature, but causing bulb growers problems. Pot culture is tricky too as bulbs can escape through the holes in the bottom, which all goes to explain their high prices.

Seed is usually available from the HPS seed list, so why not have a go – just remember that it needs a period of cold to promote germination.

In May, the viticella clematis growth is staggering, and I dare not neglect tying in armfuls of waving 4ft stems before they are irretrievably knotted up. As long as the first growth is spread out and tied in, it acts as a climbing frame for the rest, and unless the bulk is secured to the support with ‘belts’ of string, a strong wind can bring the lot down later on. The odd broken stem is quite acceptable, as some nipping out is good and two more shoots soon grow away from the joint below the break.

I noticed that the stems on one plant were gleaming white – a sure sign of snails rasping off the outer green coat, allowing fungal infection into the stem. I decided to cut off the green plastic tree protector around the lower 12 inches, and was not surprised to find lots of small, smug, snug, snails. No longer smug.

The tube had been put on originally to stop voles from chomping the young stems, and the strip of wire netting in front, that scratched my hands and made access difficult, had been put there to stop fat pigeons from sitting on the bench in front and enjoying my clematis for breakfast! Gardening is guerrilla warfare!

By the way, you can tell when the culprits are voles, by the angled cut to the stem.

Heather Russell

Text and photographs by Heather Russell of the HPS North East Group.
You can visit her own website at


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