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May 2011

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Splitting erythroniums, ghost fern and planting a drift of agapanthus

May is bursting out all over. We grow many varieties of azaleas, both deciduous and evergreen. My favourite Azalea lutea is flowering and scented. I underplant it with early dwarf daffodils, followed by blue-flowered Corydalis flexuosa and edged with frothy London pride. In front, I have planted pineapple lily or eucomis and yellow kirengeshoma for August colour. Most deciduous varieties have pastel colours and can be planted in mixed selections. Evergreen azaleas flower mainly in stronger colours and tend to have masses of flowers so I plant them in drifts mixed with acers and grasses.  Southmay2011

This season marks a milestone. After seventy years the original rhododendron here has become leggy and need to be drastically pruned, this will leave a stumpy skeleton. Within two years, plenty of foliage will have reappeared and flowering will recommence with the aid of a top-dressing of manure and compost spread at a thickness of 25cm. I forgot to remove the reversion on some variegated pieris for a few years. This plant tends to revert back to the green but if I prune it now there will be little of the variegated plant left. Oh... let's just buy another!

As a large clump of overcrowded erythroniums die back after flowering, I split up the clump of bulbs individually and plant them in soil enriched with old leaf compost. Trillium seedlings, being more valuable and definitely slower to flower, are potted up individually, five years to flower. Brunneras are some of the best low herbaceous plants flowering from March until mid May. With so many new varieties available flowering in white or blue, with plain green or spotted foliage, I use them as an edging plant surrounding a large pot.

Another good edger is a superb fern, Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum ‘Ghost' with delicate silver markings that light up a shady corner. I planted it with Astrantia ‘Ruby Wedding' behind which adds later colour. Eventually after two years, I moved a mature tree peony which had never flowered, and the plant has produced three big buds, well worth the effort. It's now in a hot sunny border backed by dahlias.

Between old age and winter weather nearly all my euphorbias have died off. The robust Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow is well-behaved, growing in bad ground, and looks superb with herbaceous Potentilla ‘Dusty Red'. March-flowering Cornus mas ‘Variegata' was spectacular, its clear white and green variegation has been pruned into a small tree and carpeted with deep purple salvias.

The border facing our plant house became a mess, filled with bits of herbaceous plants. Apart from large rhododendrons and snowdrops as a backdrop, they all came out. The soil was enriched with manure and I divided large clumps of agapanthus into thirty pieces to fill the entire area. They may take a year to settle down but should be spectacular.

When I hear of plants multiplying quickly, I shy away in fear of an invasion. But after many losses with sempervivums last winter, thankfully these do just that - multiply quickly. Agaves, are not as invasive, but the young side shoots will soon be split off and potted on in a gritty mixture. Of the many plants that died last winter, I miss dianella from Tasmania which produces small blue flowers followed by large purple berries. Having removed the entire clump last March, I noticed a small green shoot last week appearing, let's hope for the best!

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