Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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May brings …

May brings flocks of pretty lambs
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

I think it’s fair to say that you’re unlikely to see many skipping lambs in and around either Hounslow or Whitton these days and certainly not in my garden!  However, I do have rather fond memories of an overnight stay in the Lake District at a rather unusually named pub if I remember correctly (possibly the Eagle and Child near Kendal) where unseasonably warm April weather meant that we sat outside in their beer garden (in the days when you could choose between sitting outside or in!) from which we were entertained all evening by gambolling lambs!

Lamb getting ready to gambol around the Lake District! (c) John Malone

In the gardening world, May is normally associated with the Chelsea Flower Show but currently this is planned for September for the first time in its history.  Chelsea normally means alliums.  Lots of those purple pompoms on sticks that contrast so vividly with the acid greens of spring foliage.  We’ve grown quite a few alliums in the garden over the years with varying success.  We have plenty of Allium Purple Sensation which have multiplied but we’re also rather fond of Allium Roseum which, as its name suggests, is a light rosy pink.  It’s also a more open flower that the usual tight globes.  I’ve yet to be tempted by any of the giant Alliums that you see around.  If you have any of the smaller globe types, such as Purple Sensation, let the flowerheads dry out after flowering and try to keep them intact through the autumn.  Last year we succeeded in doing this and John was then able to spray the seed heads silver to decorate our Advent crown.

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ (c) John Malone

I’ve often mentioned how I’m drawn to purple flowering plants and May is when the flower border really does turn purple.  As well as the alliums, it’s time for the geraniums to get going and we have some very large clumps of Geranium Johnson’s Blue which isn’t blue at all.  Like many geraniums (cranesbill), this one will spread anywhere and take over the entire garden given the chance so I crawl around on hands and knees teasing out its running roots every spring to try to maintain some order!

Geranium Johnson’s Blue (c) Elizabeth Malone

I’ve gradually come to realise that if a geranium is happy, it will quickly turn into a thug!  A few years ago we visited the garden belonging to the parents of newsreader Sophie Raworth.  I saw a very unusual deep pink geranium that I liked.  It took a white to track this down but John eventually located it in a small specialist nursery and gave it to me as a birthday present.  It has the extremely wordy title of Geranium oxonianum thurstonianum and is described by the RHS as “a vigorous perennial”.  Three years ago it arrived in a small 5cm square pot.  The clump is now at least 50cm across!  Thankfully it’s very pretty and flowers its socks off!

Geranium oxonianum thurstonianum (c) John Malone

Another more recent purple acquisition and favourite is Centaurea Jordy.  Centaurea is the posh name for perennial cornflowers or knapweed.  I’m afraid that I’m of the generation where mention of the word ‘knapweed’ conjures up Constable Knapweed from the children’s TV series ‘The Herbs’ (very educational!)  This cornflower is a deep, dark, beetrooty purple.  It’s great for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.  Unfortunately it does have a tendency to develop mildewy leaves and to be nibbled by those insects so sadly mine always seems to start the spring well but then falters.  May be this year will be different?

Centaurea Jordy (c) John Malone

Sticking with the colour purple, Clematis Niobe should also be in flower in May.  I used to rate clematis as my favourite plant and we have lots of different varieties around the garden.  It would even be true to say that we have some form of clematis in flower every month of the year.  However, if it is my favourite plant, then it does seem some years since I added a new one.  Perhaps the empty fence behind where the birch tree used to be is crying out for one? 

Clematis Niobe (c) John Malone

I’m also hoping that our Wisteria Amethyst Falls will produce some decent flowers this year.  Often advertised as ‘abundantly flowering’, I would disagree!  We chose this variety as we don’t have an appropriate spot for a huge, traditional wisteria.  This one is certainly smaller and lower growing but it’s also been quite difficult to establish and persuade to flower.  In its defence, it could be that it’s being drowned out by an over-enthusiastic cotoneaster growing alongside. 

Wisteria Amethyst Falls (c) John Malone

Finally, I mentioned the Raworth’s garden above which we visited as part of the National Garden Scheme.  We all need some different gardens to visit this year so please do consider booking a visit to an NGS garden.  These openings of private gardens help to raise huge sums of money for health charities such as Macmillan, HospiceUK, Marie Curie and Parkinson’s.  Whether the garden you choose to visit is large or small, I promise you won’t be disappointed!


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Promise tree

The children in our Sunday Club at church this morning created a Promise Tree. It’s similar to making New Year’s Resolutions in that you write your intention on a ‘leaf’ and pin it to the ‘tree’. Rather than New Year’s Resolutions, it struck me that a Promise Tree was ideally suited for us gardeners and that set me about thinking what would be on my ‘leaves’ this year?

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Promise Tree by the St Stephen’s Church, Hounslow, Sunday Club children (c) Elizabeth Malone

Be bold! This particular commitment is inspired by my constant fight with the giant Escallonia which, when I was trying to disentangle dead perennials yesterday, seemed more giant than ever. This is it below – big, dark and green, lurking behind the light, flowering and fragrant winter honeysuckle!

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Escallonia (c) Elizabeth Malone

It’s not just that it is giant and dark but it has become a mass of hard, spiky wood. Unlike many challenging shrubs, it is surprisingly good at shooting from what appears to be dead wood and it is that quality that has led me to keep it all these years. It has provided endless greenery to complement bunches of daffodils for Mothering Sunday bouquets and it also has pretty pink flowers but, sadly, it is no longer attractive and I fear it has served its time.

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Woody Escallonia (c) Elizabeth Malone

When I suggested to my husband that we get someone it to remove the offending article, he looked up with some glee, clearly delighted at the prospect of removing this himself!

My second promise leaf would be a continuation of previous year’s resolutions – plant more for bees and butterflies. During an NGS open garden visit last summer, I came across Geranium Thurstonianum. I’m thrilled to discover that the RHS shows it as being bee-friendly. I think it might just fit in the large gap left by the Escallonia.

And finally my third promise leaf has to be on the hot topic of the moment – plastic. Thinking about this in the garden context, I believe I’m doing OK. I re-use all my plastic pots and very rarely do I ever throw one away. It has to be really broken for that to happen. I re-use plant labels and we often re-use compost bags for bagging up leaves etc. The bubble wrap on my greenhouse was renewed last winter but that was the first time in about fifteen years. So I think it is other areas of life where the plastic promise leaf will need to come into its own.

So what would be on your promise leaf?