What’s flowering in May?

This month of May sees many a spectacular display, here at universeofplants it is the Rhododendrons ,Magnolia and native Bluebells, providing the greatest show.

They all thrive in ericaceous, acid soil, that is provided by a natural woodland here. The Magnolia an ancient species dating back over 20 million years, before bees even evolved, and were pollinated by beetles instead. They like a sheltered sunny or semishaded position and will tolerate all types of moist but well drained soil. The stellata originating in Japan has a lovely fragrance.

Rhododendrons only thrive in acid soil, like Camelias and the sub genus Azalea.

  • Plant in spring or early fall.
  • Most large-leaved varieties require dappled shade; avoid deep shade or full sun. A sunny spot that receives a few hours of shade is perfect.
  • Soil should be well-drained, humus-rich, moist, and acidic (pH 4.5–6).
  • Amend planting areas with ericaceous compost, peat moss, or leaf mould, if your soil is too alkaline.
  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons have shallow root systems and need moist soil and mulch to keep them from drying out. They like cool wet summers and a cold snap in winter to harden flower buds. Not a problem here!
  • Dead head after flowering to encourage more blooms.

Nothing delights you more than a walk through a Bluebell wood at this time of year, to smell the sweet heady scent of a carpet of these, takes you to another world leaving behind all worldly concerns.

Unfortunately, our native bluebell is becoming hybridized with cross pollination with the Spanish variety. These have paler flowers, broader leaves and upright stems, the flowers are arranged all around the stem and have blue anthers unlike the creamy white of our natives, they also lack that quintessential scent. Care should be taken to not introduce this variety into naturalized colonies.

Other plants in bloom are; Apples, Egremont russet

Clematis montana

Here it has clambered all over the Holly with it’s roots in deep shade underneath just how it likes it. Best not to train this over a shed or porch as it will soon take over and do damage. This one is 8-9 yrs old.

Fuschias are just coming into bloom in the woodland glade where they grow into small trees! More on these wonders next month.

Welsh poppies are ideally suited to conditions of rocky moisture provided here, they are perennial and easily self seed, with their orange to yellow papery blooms they never fail to please. They have been classified in the genus Meconopsis, the same as the famous Himalayan blue poppy,

Discovered in 1922 on the failed attempt to climb mount Everest by the Mallory team.

Another plant that loves rocky areas is the Aqualegia, it also thrives in woodland and meadows, with its characteristic spurred petals, it is in the same grouping as the Aconites: Wolfbane and Monkshood, they all produce cardiac toxins, but seemingly harmless to many bees and moths they are very intolerant of being transplanted but will set seed readily, we grow many hybrids here at universeofplants.


More in flower.

Walk by a bed of these briefly flowering native Primulas and the air is filled with the sweetest fragrance reminiscent of confectionery. Before over picking there were carpets of these on woodland floors, taking the opportunity of no leaf canopy to flower and pollinate in the warming spring sun. They easily set seed and spread with plantlets. They have a panacea of herbal properties and the leaves and flowers are edible. As with all plants allergies and misidentification can lead to serious ill health. Further interesting facts can be found here. http://wightdruids.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&Itemid=126

The lesser periwinkle, flowers prolifically along our hedgerows now and throughout the year. It’s blue violet flowers last for ages and it can be left to it’s own devices, for more on periwinkle  go to our plant index.

Forsythia, is always first to put on a show in the spring garden

Don’t forget to prune after flowering as it flowers on last year’s growth. Bring in a few branches in a vase to light up the room.

What’s in flower now?

In our UK 100 year old garden there is a surprising number of plants in bloom at this time of year, however very few insects to pollinate them, so sometimes you need to help the plants along, like this early  plum. Use a very soft brush or downy feather, it will improve cropping. I also do it with my peaches in the poly-tunnel, although leaving the doors open this time of year (if temp is not freezing) can help. My favourite flowering tree of all is this magical Umeboshi plum Prunus Ume.

This is actually more related to the apricot, and has a most heavenly scent. The fruit it produces can be preserved and have many health benefits.

It is pickled, salted or dried,

Their health benefits from recent studies include; Inhibition of H. Pylori bacteria which are implicated in gastritis and ulcers, dental disease and prevention of tooth decay and tests with rats show it has a remarkable effect on endurance exercising of skeletal muscle, so could help athletes!

It can be made into syrup just jar equal weight of sugar to plum and leave for 100 days.  Seeping the plums in vodka or rice liquor, produces a smooth fortified plum wine.  It makes a delicious plum sauce, cooked with sugar, vinegar, spices including ginger, great with poultry dishes.

It’s Mystical and cultural significance in Asia is second to none. Being depicted in ancient art and poetry for centuries. It’s flowering even in snow gives it a surreal and heavenly quality, and its fragrance seems to pervade the whole garden on the coldest of days. It has long represented endurance, perseverance and hope.

In Japan it is often referred to in Haiku poetry and a symbol of protection against evil, planted facing north east, the direction from which it comes.

Nothing is more representative of late winter than the Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, which has naturalized itself in our garden thankfully avoiding disturbance over the many years.

The plant produces a chemical Galantamine, which is used in Alzheimer’s disease to slow progression.