May is for gardening

‘Peggy Martin’ makes a comeback. Photo courtesy of Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

I have a saying: Anyone can have a gorgeous garden in May in North Carolina.

The temperatures are still relatively mild, old friends are returning while at the same time we are introducing potential new friends to the soil. The plants are thriving instead of merely surviving through the summer heat and humidity.

Without question, the month of May is when the roses insist upon being the stars of the garden. Earlier, Lady Banks rose, a species rose, dominated the landscape from the middle of March to the middle of April. Now it is the turn of the shrub roses, the hybrid teas and the climbing roses to shine. This first flush of blooms is simply awesome, one that will occur again, although on a more limited scale, in the fall.

The emotional star of this show is my ‘Peggy Martin’ who threatened to leave the garden permanently last fall. Her comeback has greatly lifted both my spirits and my confidence and the bignonia I ordered to replace her now resides near the fence.

Several other roses are making their long-awaited debuts this month. Two years ago, I planted ‘Bliss Parfuma’, a lovely Kordes rose reputed to be disease resistant accompanied with a lovely fragrance. For two growing seasons the rose simply sat, doing nothing. Now to a lady of a certain age who is a fan of instant gratification, this was not an endearing quality. However, I persisted, meaning I didn’t rip it out of the soil in a fit of frustration—and this month it is rewarding me with lovely flowers.

Patience is a necessity if you’re going to garden successfully.

Many dear rose friends are returning but two especially are gratifying: ‘Queen of Sweden’ and ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. The ‘Queen of Sweden’ is a fabulous David Austin rose that has performed beautifully for me during the past three years. Not only does this English shrub rose remain on the small size, thereby enabling it to easily fit into the sunny portion of a perennial border, it also has displayed incredible disease resistance.

‘Miracle on the Hudson’, a winner of the 2014 Biltmore Rose Trials, has far fewer petals (around twelve in number) than ‘Queen of Sweden’ but its dynamic red color carries well in the garden. This shrub rose also has demonstrated superior disease resistance for the past three years.

The JC Raulston introduction, Euscaphus japonica, is an unexpected star this year. The reason to savor this small tree is because of its heart-shaped red seed pods. This year, the insignificant flowers have become so profuse that they are no longer…insignificant. I’ve written about this tree before and I undoubtedly will describe it again. I will only add that this is a tree worth searching out.

Opium poppy seed heads. Photo by Kit Flynn.

At the beginning of the month the opium poppies appeared. These annuals are absolutely delightful—and they are always a surprise because I never know how many will return. The trick to growing them is twofold: (1) always allow the seed heads to pop naturally, thereby spilling out their contents; and (2) refrain from using mulch in the area as poppies and mulch do not like one another. Some years I have masses of opium poppies in two areas while in some years the offerings are rather light. Don’t get discouraged. Persevere.

Spigelia marilandica is one of the most satisfying plants I grow. Slow to take off, after three years you will have a lovely clump of it. Not only is it a good accent plant—something much needed in every garden—it becomes a star in its right in May when it’s in full bloom. Because it is not an easy plant to propagate, it may be hard to find. One source is Plant Delights.

As someone into instant gratification, the smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria, can be frustrating as it takes at least three years before it deigns to smoke. Mine is finally producing blooms this year, not particularly prolific blooms, although I have hopes that someday it will be shrouded in smoke. However, I will take what I can get so I appreciate the flowers that it has produced this month.

What makes the May garden so enjoyable is that the weather is decent, there’s been some rain, the plants aren’t yet stressed, and all seems right with the garden world. The plants are downright perky. For gardeners these conditions constitute nirvana.

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