May in the garden

An Instagram retrospective of May 2017

May brought us sunshine and rain, burgeoning borders, a late frost and, of course, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It’s the month of the gardening calendar when everything goes a bit bonkers – in a wonderful, exuberant way. Always quite nice to reach the end with your sanity intact, and your body parts functioning, though by the final week I was being reminded of the need of a good stretch, and that its about time I really ought to be getting some serious yoga practice in.

The month began damp and dull overhead, though this provided ideal lighting conditions for the bluebells that have found their way into the garden to shine out from the darker corners. No native ones here, sadly, so action will have to be taken.

Under a glowering sky, the gardens at local Penshurst Place were looking fabulous, in spite of my timing.

There’s a more detailed blog post about the visit here.

I had a New Glove Day, always something to celebrate. I get through gloves at quite a rate, even these wonderful ones from Gold Leaf Gloves, though I did notice that my last pair survived particularly well over the dry winter.

A bittersweet visit to Wisely, to say au revoir to the very excellent Sarah Cathcart, Head of Education and Learning at the RHS until the end of the month, and now departed to be Vice Principal of Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, a huge loss for us and a massive gain for our American friends, though the two organisations will continue to work together I’m sure. Tea with pasteis de nata, farewells and then a wander through the gardens to admire emerging umbellifers and stripy planting schemes.

The dahlias have been bulking up nicely, although to avoid getting whacked by a late frost I held off planting them out until the end of the month. That didn’t mean I couldn’t give them a little attention though, and indulged in a spot of pinching out.

There’s a wonderful, deep red rose on my garden shed, and I watched the buds grow and swell with eager anticipation throughout the early part of the month, until rewarded with the most enormous blooms.

Any day now. #rose #mystoryoflight #peninpractice #olympusuk #tostandandstare

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Back in the house, though, Em’s keen to green things up a bit. Sadly, I’m the grim reaper when it comes to house plants. I’ve even killed a spider plant through neglect, which is basically advanced houseplant homicide. So I’m not really allowed near her growing collection and, as a result, it continues to grow.

The weeds also continue to grow throughout May. It’s something I’ve written about here, though admittedly it’s not a look everyone can get behind. I love it – in the right place, of course.

So enthused by the weeds and wildflowers looking at their best, I took it upon myself to style a selection for a mini Instagram shoot, and learned that, once cut, they don’t half wilt quickly. 

It’s good to see some of the strong blues in this selection from the Pentaglottis and the forget-me-nots. For a softer, greyer blue, I’ve been pleased to encounter Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia, both at Wisley and also a few weeks later at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

I was privileged to be part of Team Fibrex at Chelsea again this year – I just get to come along and bungle about in good company and in the presence of wonderful plants, but they’ve done all the hard work of propagating and tending these fantastic specimens, transporting them around the country to a punishing schedule of plant shows (a very small gap between Malvern and Chelsea, for example), and running a flourishing mail order business. Hats off to Richard and Heather and their team, as well as sister and Chief Pellie Fluffer Fran, down from Scottish parts for the duration. (photos)

The highlight of the display was the rare and long awaited yellow pellie, Pelargonium zonartic ‘Rushmoor Amazon’.

I even wrote a piece about how it came to be in the Chelsea special edition of Rakes Progress magazine.

There was – to me at least – surprising controversy and strength of feeling among the general public (emotions always run high within the show community) over the garden awarded ‘Best in Show’. While I admired it, it wasn’t my favourite, though I found myself defending it to all and sundry on social media.

And right at the end of the show, the terrorist atrocity at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester caused us all to pause, take stock, and flounder for a while for an appropriate response. Do you post pictures of flowers online and blog about gardens at such times? Do you interrupt normal service and aim for something sombre and respectful, that can only at best seem trite and platitudinous? The words came to mind from a friend who has worked with material dealing with the very darkest corners of human experience – “keep sharing the beauty” – and I realised that not only was it okay for us gardeners to carry on doing what we do, but somehow, it was our duty.

Of course people go to the RHS shows for the show gardens and the plants in the pavilion, but the standard of planting on the trade stands has been improving year upon year.


There was a definite orange and purple colour theme throughout the show, and I loved it.

But for me, the gardening month ended as it had begun, with black and gold, and with my hands in supreme comfort. Deservedly so, I think, given the battering they take every day. Well, that’s my excuse.

How was April in your garden? Let me know on twitter, or in the comments below.