Monday, 15 May 2017

The garden in mid-May

Temperatures are steadily climbing and the drought of early May has at last been broken with some hefty showers. This has greatly benefited our allotment - but that's another story.
Here in the garden Clematis x cartmanii has been in flower for weeks. By and large I try to avoid hybrids but these flowers receive plenty of visits from bees, so it meets my approval! Its parents are two New Zealand species, Clematis marmoraria, from the Marble Mountains, and C. paniculata.
Clematis x cartwrightii. We grow two plants facing each other.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 May, 2017
The cross has been made on more than one occasion so several clones of this hybrid apparently exist. I'm not sure what we have but it is very floriferous.
Our rather featureless brick garage wall needed climbers to soften it and one of the plants chosen is Solanum crispum, a relative of the potato, S.tuberosum. It looks very much like our native Solanum dulcamara, but as crispum hails from Chile the similarity may be more superficial than actual. It is climbing rapidly and, with a clematis and a couple of fan-trained pears the rawness of the wall is being softened.
Solanum crispum or Climbing Spud Potato. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
15 May, 2017 
With relatively limited garden space, front and back, we have been forced to look at small plants, sometimes miniatures of larger and better-known plants. One species previously featured in this blog is Sophora microphylla. Greatly though I covet it, the space just isn't there.
Sophora microphylla, Badby Road West, Daventry.
3 May, 2017
Instead we have its diminutive relative, Sophora prostrata, from New Zealand's South Island. For us it makes a small wiry shrub only eighteen inches or so high - in the wild it can reach two metres - and carries yellow flowers and tiny leaves on zig-zag stems.
Sophora prostrata, curious rather than spectacular. Our garden,
15 May, 2017
We have it in a tub and the plan is to try and simulate its native habitat, where it grows in sun and in poor, gritty soil. Inevitably the flowers are small but nevertheless attractive. Although not bearing a typical pea flower it is in the Fabaceae, along with gorse, broom and broad beans. It is not a species with great impact but it is a curious and interesting little shrub.
The flowers are yet barely open. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
15 May, 2017
Far more flamboyant, and currently at their best, are the aquilegias. Most people are familiar with Aquilegia vulgaris, perhaps unsurprising given that it is a native of much of Europe including Northamptonshire. I grow the dainty Aquilegia canadensis, an early flowerer which is already over, but lovely alternatives are in bloom. A. caerulea is blooming in one of our sink gardens. This species, native to the Rocky Mountains of the U.S.A., is rather variable but we seem to have a particularly attractive strain.
Barely six inches high. Aquilegia caerulea in our back garden.
15 May, 2017
Aquilegias are promiscuous plants and seedlings are liable to pop up anywhere in a border, with various shapes, sizes and colorations represented. The colours may sometimes be a bit wishy-washy but occasionally we get a surprise and when a red and a blue plant, both of unknown provenance, popped up together in our front garden we were delighted with the serendipitous effect.
Aquilegias of doubtful parentage have popped up in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry, 15 May, 2017
In the sink garden, alongside the Aquilegia canadensis, sits a dainty alpine, Geranium cinereum. It hails from the Pyrenees although mine hailed from an alpine nursery. Its neat, greyish leaves (the Latin word cinereum means 'ash-coloured') have given rise to its common name of Ashy Cranesbill, but its flowers are the main attraction.
Geranium cinereum occupies a sink garden to the rear of our house.
15 May, 2017
It is an unfussy plant and, although I grow it in a gritty compost, it will quite happily grow at the edge of a border. It needs to be in a position where its petals, with their delicate veining, may be appreciated.
The lovely flowers are large for the size of the plant.

Finally I must mention the Bitterwort growing in our front garden. In fact this 'common' name is rarely used; they are better-known as Lewisias, commemorating Captain Meriwether Lewis, senior leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the first to make the coast-to-coast crossing of North America. The genus hails, like the Aquilegia caerulea mentioned earlier, from the Rocky Mountains. There are several species but I have no idea which plant I grow. In fact the species hybridise easily and the true species are reputedly hard to find.
Lewisias come in a range of colours other than this salmon-pink.
15 May, 2017
My plant has flowers of a salmon-pink, fading to a more delicate shell-pink. Early books suggested that they were hard to grow, and maybe the true species are, but modern hybrids give few problems providing one avoids wet conditions or clay soils. I intend to seek out more of these portulacaceous (lovely word but too long for Scrabble) plants if I can be convinced that they attract insect visitors.

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