17 May 2022

May is always a wonderful time to step outside and embrace the beauty and vibrancy of spring; however, this year, the colours of the season are more extraordinary than I can remember.

Here at Furzey Gardens, the unexpected bursts of warm weather have thrown the usual pattern of events. All growth is hugely advanced and you are going to need to wear sunglasses in certain parts of the garden with vibrant colours at every turn.

Throughout May we will see the full crescendo for our rhododendrons and azaleas. Pinks, whites, reds and purples line the paths in the most intense shades. It reminds me of the first time I visited Furzey Gardens back in 1978 with my girlfriend. It was a chance visit: we were stuck in traffic on the A31, cut down a road and stumbled upon the gardens. I was amazed by the incredible range of colours. 10 years later I was working there (and that girlfriend is now my wife!).

There many varieties of azalea and rhododendron, too many to mention, however on your next visit I do encourage you to hunt out our variety of Kyushu azaleas (also known as Kiusianum) whose pink/lilac flowers look particularly special at this time of year. They were named after the Japanese island – Kyushu – where they were first found. The island’s city of Kurume has been cultivating and growing these plants for hundreds of years, but in the 1900s a great plant collector – Ernest Wilson – went out to Japan and brought back 50 plants: these became known as Wilson’s 50. Up until this point, westerners had not been allowed to collect plants in Japan, and Wilson’s 50 soon flourished and today is one of the most popular groups in the azalea family.

Colourful displays of azalea to dazzle you

Outside of our azaleas and rhododendrons, there’s a considerable amount in the garden which has come into flower. Our dove tree – or the Davidia Involucrata – is an unusual and exotic tree that is well worth a visit. It is known as the dove tree because of the large white flowers that look like a flock of doves taking flight. It is also known as the handkerchief tree or the ghost tree; see which name you think best fits the bill.

Other highlights to mention are the foxglove tree, Paulownia, which boasts beautiful blue flowers before the leaves appear. It is also one of the fastest growing trees in the world, with a growth rate that can hit over seven feet per year as a seedling. Also, look out for Enkianthus campanulatus featuring delicate bell shaped flowers in pale cream or pink. I always think they look like little jewels; they would not look out of place on a necklace.

Paulownia tree and brilliant displays from rhododendrons

In terms of the Furzey Gardens team, everyone has been hard at work the past few weeks and this will continue on into May. Our centenary wildflower meadow is now ready to welcome visitors. The centrepiece of this is the Centenary Bridge. It is made from oak that was grown in the New Forest. It was important to us that the bridge was made from entirely local and natural materials. Let us know what you think when you see it. We have also planted many wetland plants along the wildflower meadow stream: from wild watercress to yellow flag iris – I am looking forward to the moment it all springs into life.

If you have always fancied incorporating your own wildflowers into your garden but are worried about it looking untidy, I have a very simple hack: neatly cut around your wildflower patch so that the trimmed edges will look intentional, giving your wildflowers a nice border. I really can’t recommend this enough to support our dwindling insect population.

Elsewhere, we have been giving the recreation of our RHS Chelsea Garden some attention. A good deal of the plants have now become overgrown so it’s been a case of tidying, pruning, rearranging and making sure it looks as beautiful as possible for our centenary year. This is a task I recommend you work on yourself in your own garden, May is a great time to prune back any shrubs that have finished flowering; for example, your forsythia and chaenomeles. It is important to do it now as these shrubs will flower on last year’s growth. Cut them back to make lots of room for new growth so that they can flower next spring.

With the warmer weather be sure that with any plants, you are giving them a good drink every few weeks. You can mulch them after as well. This will keep your growth looking fresher for longer. Really, we are coming towards the end of the garden planting season, and so everything should be in the ground come May. If you still plan to do some planting, commit to regular irrigation. They will not survive the dry ground otherwise.

Centenary wildflower bridge with new bridge and recreation of RHS Chelsea Garden

A potentially surprising tip for May is that you ought to keep an eye open still for late frosts. We had a frost in Furzey Gardens late April, and it caused a bit of damage. Right up until the end of May we still have frost risk, so protect anything that might be susceptible to frost. This could include bringing plants back into your greenhouse (if not planted) or covering plants with anything you can get your hands on when you know frost is coming: think cardboard, fleece or even some curtains. You may be tempted to buy all of your vegetable plants now, but unless you have somewhere protected to keep them it’s worth waiting a few more weeks. The nurseries will look after them and they will still have plenty by the time we reach the end of the frost risk season.

The natural world is thriving at this time of year, and at Furzey we have welcomed a pair of ducks with 11 ducklings on our pond. We also have thousands of tadpoles – so many that we have had to start transferring them into our other ponds to improve their chances of survival. We believe they are toad tadpoles as toads lay spawn in a different way to frogs; they wrap their spawn in long strings around the stems of the pond plants to make them less visible, much deeper in the water. I remember one time around three years ago when thousands of toadlets made their way out of the pond and were hopping around the garden. We had to pick them all up away from the path and place them in buckets. I wonder if the same will happen this year.

It really is a delightful time to visit Furzey Gardens and I look forward to welcoming you to our woodland getaway this month. If you have any questions about gardening in June, please do send them in and I will aim to answer them in next month’s article.

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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