19 May 2021

Head Gardener Pete White’s monthly blog.

Welcome to my monthly article where I share some tips for your own garden and answering horticultural questions, as well as keeping you informed on some of the latest goings-on at Furzey.

May offers a truly exceptional opportunity to step outside and embrace the colours, sounds and smells of nature. Here at Furzey Gardens, it is the prime time to visit and soak up our abundance of blooming plants. This month, the list of sights to savour really is endless, but I wanted to share some of my standout Furzey features for the month ahead… the ones you really cannot miss.

It may not come as a surprise that May is when rhododendrons and azaleas are at their peak – the garden is bursting with hundreds of different species and varieties. These range from our huge rhododendron trees – including the ‘Cynthia’ rhododendron, originally discovered in the 1860s and well known for its beautiful purpose blossom – right on through to the japanese evergreen azalea. We tend to clip the japanese azalea very close to create a patchwork blend of pinks, purples and reds; the effect is a sight to behold.

We also have a great deal of deciduous azaleas; these are often nicknamed the honeysuckle azalea due to their incredible scent, which the air will be thick with. In addition, you’ll find a lovely selection of shrubs, including the last of our magnolia sieboldii and the start of our primula; in particular, pay a visit to the primula pulverulenta. The latin name translates to “covered in dust” referring to the mealy silvery white layer covering stems and flower buds. You will also find our Bartley pink primula, which was discovered here in Furzey Gardens as a pink seedling and is named after the nearby village.. As you continue strolling through the gardens, keep an eye out for our cherry and apple blossom, they’re hard to miss!

Rhododendron Cynthia and Honeysuckle Azalea

When we aren’t admiring the new season’s blossom, you’ll find the Furzey team busy at work with many of our annual gardening tasks. Now is the time to continue with  mulching; and lots of it. Throughout the year, we compost our wood chippings so that – come May – we can lay the mulch on the flowerbeds. This is great for keeping moisture in the ground (especially important following a drought situation) and also keeping weeds at bay. We have also started pruning our spring flowering shrubs, such as quince and forsythia. These are the types of plant that show very early spring flowers on the twigs of branches grown from previous years, and so cutting them down as soon as they have finished flowering paves the way for more flowering next year.

You may see us cutting the grass, too. We never cut the grass too short as we want to encourage the foliage from our spring bulbs to thrive. We have a wonderful collection of daffodils and crocus, and it’s important that we give them the space to keep growing and photosynthesising from the leaves so that more bulbs can flourish next year. It’s a method we have adopted for the past twenty years, and while the grass may look a tad overgrown it’s worth it to allow the bulbs to naturalise and spread.

For anyone stepping out into their own garden this month, there are plenty of tasks that you can get stuck into. Although, in the past, it was recommended that you wait until 1 June before planting tender plants, we are now finding ourselves in the midst of considerably fairer weather and minimal chance of a late frost. If the temperature continues at this pace, why not introduce some dahlias into your garden? You could also plant half hardy perennials such as cosmos, sweet peas, cineraria, cobaea, carnations, dianthus and heliotrope. This colourful group of plants should be put out after final frost and will flower far into the late autumn.

Mulching in the gardens and azaleas in glorious colour

I would also recommend looking at how you plan to stake and tie your plants. Your clematis and roses may seem small right now, but they will soon grow (quicker than you might think!). The last thing you want is for them to catch in the wind and for stems to break, so start looking at how you can support them. For those with a pond, you may have noticed that the weeds and algae have tripled in size. This is because the early spring sun is a firm favourite for pond weeds. Whenever I clean out the ponds at Furzey, I pull out all of the algae and weeds and leave them in heaps around the pond for around 24 hours; that way, any creatures tucked away have the chance to crawl back into the pond and find a new home.

One thing that you shouldn’t do yet is cut your hedges. Birds will still be nesting, and cutting them down will disturb them; instead, wait until the late summer or early winter before you approach your hedges.

Speaking of birds, the skies are now full of those that have migrated from afar. In particular, we are seeing a big arrival of African birds, including chiffchaffs and black caps. The black cap has the most beautiful song, but they tend to hide away. I can regularly hear them at Furzey, but I seldom spot one in plain sight. You can also enjoy a surge of migrating butterflies – these will stick around right through to winter.

If you have any gardening questions that you would like me to answer next month, please do write in and I’ll try to cover them in the June edition.

Pete White, Head Gardener

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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