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May 2011

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Frost survivors, hazel woodland and smothering flame flower

May is the month that the garden here is at its most colourful. This is partly because it is cut out of hazel woodland, and most woodland shrubs and flowers are at their best before the overhead canopy becomes too dense. Plants from different parts of the world enjoy the same conditions and our native bluebells and anemones blend in with the candelabra primulas, blue poppies and the long-flowering blue fumitory, all of which come from the Himalayas. 

Camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and pieris are amongst the most attractive woodland shrubs , all from the Asian continent. They enjoy acid soil and our wet Galway climate. Luckily none of these plants had problems with our severe winter. However, embothrium, the Chilean fire bush, and crinodendrons, the lantern tree, from South America were damaged for the first time in thirty five years when the temperatures dropped to - 15° Celsius.

The hard work that has been put into the garden during the winter suddenly starts showing positive results this month. Usually I change only one section each winter, but this year I was mad enough to alter three different areas, which certainly added to my work load. Often my main reason for change is because the surrounding trees have started to encroach on an area and overhang shrubs and plants. This was the case with a small section beside the stream and bog garden. Hazel and hawthorn trees had spread out and it had become positively gloomy. Four large trees have been cut down and there is now plenty of light for the young embothrium, and the irises and day lilies should flower much better.

The second area to be changed was due to my own inability to keep an escallonia hedge under control. The removal of the hedge has been highly successful and the new entrance to the herb garden is a great asset.

The third area was altered due to weather conditions. I had no intention of changing the planting on the slope below the new house, but by March the azaleas were looking so sick that drastic action was needed. The beautiful climber Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum, scrambles over the azaleas during the summer. Last year, the growth was phenomenal over a prolonged period and it really damaged the azaleas.

The cold winter obviously did not help and the result was sick-looking shrubs covered with moss. My initial idea was to cut a number of them to base level and hope that they would regenerate. However, when they had been cut back the area looked much better, so they have been replaced with irises , primulas and hemerocallis. This will require more maintenance but it makes the section feel larger and will add to the colour of the garden in late spring and summer.

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