Head Gardeners blog: May

10 May 2023

Spring has continued to be on the cooler side and has thrown all types of weather at our gardens.  From bathing in bright sunshine to being pelted by huge hailstones, our plants have had to cope with very changeable weather.

Many species have been slightly later coming into leaf and flower this year, due to the cooler conditions.  I’m sure that you have enjoyed the magical displays of bluebells in our woodlands.  The violet-blue glow of a bluebell wood is one of my favourite wildflower spectacles.  The English bluebell is sweet-smelling, with flowers which droop to one side of the flowering stem.  A fun fact about bluebells, is that bees often steal the nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the flower, reaching the nectar without pollinating the flower.  If you would like to grow bluebells in your garden, be sure to purchase seeds, bulbs or plants from a reputable supplier.  Plant them in partial shade with moist but well-drained soil.  Add leaf-mould, manure or garden compost to the soil to ensure they have plenty of nutrients.



Our garden team and volunteers were joined by the people with learning disabilities that we support, to create a stunning garden for the ‘Beautiful Borders’ competition at the BBC Gardeners’ World Fair at Beaulieu over the bank holiday weekend.  I am very proud to say that we won both ‘Best Beautiful Border 2023’ and the highest accolade of ‘Platinum’ for our entry!  The whole garden was created from plants that we grew ourselves at Furzey Gardens.  We included a silver birch tree, Rhododendron montroseanum, shuttlecock ferns, hostas and candelabra primulas.  Nestled into this woodland planting scheme, a thatched ‘Sanctuary Seat’.  This seat was carved from an old Elm tree, and we learnt how to thatch the canopy ourselves.  Visitors to the fair really enjoyed our garden and it was wonderful to meet so many lovely people and share our love of gardening.  This experience was particularly special to me, as I will be retiring at the end of June.  It was so rewarding to be part of this successful project, working alongside our Estates Manager, Andrew Bentley, who will be taking over the responsibilities of Head Gardener this summer.


Perhaps you could create your own beautiful border?  The first consideration will be looking at the space you have available.  Whether you have a tiny window box or a generous garden border, you can create something beautiful.  Once you have chosen a space, consider the aspect.  Do you have full sun or is it a shady plot?  What type of soil do you have? By selecting plants which thrive in the conditions your garden provides, you will have the best chance of success.  For instance, if you have a shady border, you might consider including ferns, hostas, hydrangeas, or Japanese anemones.  Now, you can think of the theme of your beautiful border and include landscape elements such as lighting, sculpture, garden art, stones, pergolas, or water features.  Let your imagination go wild.  Don’t forget to look at the reuse shop at your local recycling centre.  It’s a wonderful place to find pots, ornaments and other items which you can incorporate into your beautiful border.  This saves both money and the environment.

Many of you will have spent last weekend celebrating His Majesty King Charles III’s coronation.  At Furzey Gardens, a new character appeared in the cottage garden.  Our hardworking volunteers created an impressive life-size scarecrow of King Charles III sitting on a golden throne, surrounded by rhubarb.  As a keen gardener, I think he would approve.  If you wish to commemorate this special occasion in your own garden, I recommend Rose ‘King Charles Coronation’.  A floribunda rose, with wave upon wave of striking clusters of medium-sized, double, baby-pink blooms which have perfectly ruffled edges.  This rose is lightly fragranced, generally hardy, more robust and more disease resistant than other types.  It is also perfect to grow in a container.

If you are taking part in No Mow May, you will have noticed that your grass is looking very lush by now.  You can expect to see species such as Daisies, Dandelions, Yellow Rattle, White Cover and Creeping Buttercups growing among the long grass.  A healthy lawn with some long grass and wildflowers benefits wildlife, tackles pollution and looks wonderful.  I would recommend leaving an area of long grass in your garden all year round.  We have lost nearly 97% of flower rich meadows in the UK since the 1970s which means that pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths have lost their food source.  If you can liberate even a small area of green space for nature, you can help to reverse this loss.  Wilder lawns buzz with bees and butterflies and look beautiful.


The wonderful wisteria will begin flowering this month.  There are many species of wisteria, but the two most commonly grown in the UK are Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda.  With long clusters of purple, fragrant flowers hanging down like jewelled tassels, they are perfect to grow on the front of a house, draping over a pergola, or scrambling along a sunny wall.  I recommend feeding with Growmore or Fish, Blood & Bone this month to keep the plant happy.  You could also add sulphate of potash to boost potassium levels.  Tie in new shoots as they grow, and your wisteria will reward you with wonderful blooms.

Another lovely shrub flowering this month is Enkianthus campanulatus.  This hardy shrub has masses of delicate, bell-shaped flowers hanging in clusters from the branches.  From a distance, you would be forgiven for mistaking them for berries.  But get up close and the tiny flowers are amazing.  They are cream, with red veins and red tips to the petals.  They remind me of fairy hats and the bees love them.  Speaking of fairies, from 27th May, wonderful four-foot fairy doors – which have been designed and painted by local artists – will appear at Furzey Gardens and across the New Forest.  I couldn’t pick a favourite, as they are all incredible, but I was very drawn to the door which celebrates our wonderful volunteers.  Volunteers provide an integral role in keeping our Gardens open to the public and we would be lost without them.  Perhaps you could get involved with supporting a garden project in your area?

With the lovely longer days, we have more daylight in which to be out in the garden.  Unfortunately, weeds also enjoy this extra light and warmth!  Remove weeds such as sticky weed (cleavers) when the plants are small.  Although it is much loved by wildlife, it is a real nuisance as it spreads so rapidly and quickly covers other plants with its rampant growth.  If you pick out a weed every time you see one, you’ll make a big difference to your garden.  Dig out weeds completely, including the roots.  If you leave a scrap of root behind, the plant may regrow.  A good mulch will deprive weeds of light and slows any regrowth.  You can sow annuals, such as California poppies into the gaps in your borders.  This will give you a lovely pop of colour from August into the autumn.  May is such a busy month in the garden.  Don’t forget to sit back with a cup of tea and enjoy the beauty that you have created and the wildlife that you have attracted.

Furzey Gardens is at its peak this month with rhododendrons and azaleas in flower all across the gardens. You can also pop by the tea rooms for lunch and take advantage of our £5 weekday meal deal, jacket potato and one filling plus a hot drink, which runs until 26 May. I hope many of you will choose to visit us during this colourful display and look forward to welcoming you when you do.

This article originally appeared as the monthly In The Garden column in the Lymington Times, buy the paper on the second Friday of every month to read the next column first.

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