Now and Then: May

When Margaret Nettlefold planned the garden at Winterbourne, daughter Valerie revealed that her mother ‘lived with gardening books for a year or so’. Here, the influence of Gertrude Jekyll is inescapable. Winterbourne is filled with Jekyllian detail inspired by her 1899 classic Wood and Garden. Each month, we follow in Margaret’s footsteps to see how the garden compares now and then…

“I always think that it is advisable to group together flowers that bloom at the same time. It is impossible, and even undesirable, to have a garden in blossom all over, and groups of flower beauty are all the more enjoyable for being more or less isolated by stretches of intervening greenery.” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899

Planting bulbs is one of the easiest ways to create new and exciting flowering combinations in your garden year after year. Tulips have long been considered nothing but squirrel fodder at Winterbourne where they last barely a season, but in autumn 2017, for the first time in many years, the Garden Team began planting tulips in the herbaceous borders.

Tulipa 'Pretty Woman' and Alyssum in the Red and Yellow Border, photograph by Leighanne Gee, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Tulipa ‘Pretty Woman’ and Alyssum in the Red and Yellow Border, photograph by Leighanne Gee

This year the tulips were planted beneath chicken wire to help keep hungry squirrels at bay, and a thick layer of sand to help identify the bulbs when digging borders and planting other bulbs or perennials. Thankfully, the bulbs survived the winter untouched and have flowered brilliantly this spring.

We chose to plant T. ’Pretty Woman’ in the Red and Yellow Border where its scarlet-fluted flowers contrast brilliantly with the yellow flowered Alyssum cascading down the wall behind. In the Pink and Blue Border, the pastel pink flowers of T. ‘Innuendo’ compliment rather than contrast with the surrounding planting; also nearby in May are the magenta flowers of Bergenia ‘Ballawley’ and the forever flowering Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’.

Tulipa 'Innuendo', Bergenia 'Ballawley', and Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' in the Pink and Blue Border, photograph by Leighanne Gee, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Tulipa ‘Innuendo’, Bergenia ‘Ballawley’ and Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ in the Pink and Blue Border, photograph by Leighanne Gee

Overplanting pockets of spring bulbs with summer flowering plants will eliminate the problem of bare patches once the bulbs have died down and creates yet another opportunity for imaginative plant combinations. We over-planted our red tulips with a dark purple-leaved Heuchera whilst in the Pink and Blue Border, we divided a dominant Geranium ‘Wargrave Pink’, planted the tulips beneath, and over-planted with smaller clumps of the vigorous perennial.

 “Azaleas should never be planted among or even within sight of Rhododendrons. Though both enjoy a moist peat soil, and have a near botanical relationship, they are incongruous in appearance, and impossible to group together for colour.” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899

Azaleas and rhododendrons have long been grown together (despite Jekyll’s advice) and indeed share many of the same characteristics. Historically, azaleas were considered a subset of the genus Rhododendron but some have now been placed in a genus of their own which continues to be called Azalea. The botanical distinction is clear; Rhododendron usually have 10 stamen whilst Azalea usually only have 5.

Rhododendron 'Louis Pasteur' at the end of the Terrace, photograph by Tony Bucknall, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Rhododendron ‘Louis Pasteur’ at the end of the Terrace, photograph by Tony Bucknall, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Yet, horticulturally there are many more distinctions of significance. Azaleas are usually, but not exclusively, smaller than rhododendrons, with miniature leaves and often a low-growing habit. Rhododendrons are evergreens but azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous. The deciduous species are often sun-lovers making them a useful option for sunnier areas where the evergreens won’t thrive.

Azaleas in the Sandstone Rock Garden, photograph by Tony Bucknall, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Azaleas in the Sandstone Rock Garden, photograph by Tony Bucknall

Most of our azaleas are planted in the Sandstone Rock Garden where the colourful spring foliage of neighbouring Japanese maples makes just as good a combination as even the most spectacular flowering display. Others are planted either side of the Broad Walk beneath a deciduous larch and alongside ferns, cyclamen, and daffodils, where they are coaxed through hot and dry summers with a heavy mulch.

“I have a north wall eleven feet high, with a Guelder Rose on each side of a doorway, and a Clematis montana that is trained on the top of the whole. The two flower at the same time, their growths mingling in friendly fashion, while their unlikeliness of habit makes the companionship all the more interesting.” Gertrude Jekyll, Wood and Garden, 1899

Clematis montana is extremely vigorous. It’s great for scrambling through old trees or over buildings that benefit from screening, but for many people it can simply grow too large. Instead, we have chosen to grow two Clematis on the Pergola that are better suited to a restricted area. C. viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ is a deep velvety, purple flowering variety, and C. ‘Forever Friends’ has large paper-white blooms.

Wisteria sinensis 'Prolific' on the Pergola, photograph by Tony Bucknall, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’ on the Pergola, photograph by Tony Bucknall

Both produce flowers on new growth and so are easy to prune and keep under control. They should be reduced to about 1ft in spring making sure to prune just above a pair of healthy buds. Annual pruning in this way ensures that the plants stay bushy and produce flowers where they can best be seen at eye level.

In May, the Pergola is dominated by Wisteria where six plants of three different species are still establishing following planting in 2015. So far, plants of W. sinensis ‘Prolific’ are flowering at a much earlier stage than the enormous W. floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’ or the white flowered W. brachybotrys ‘Shiro-kapitan’. All are pruned twice a year to help establish a good structural framework and flowering spurs to develop.

Wisteria floribunda 'Macrobotrys' on the Top Border wall, photograph by Tony Bucknall, Now and Then May, Winterbourne House and Garden, Digging for Dirt

Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’ on the Top Border wall, photograph by Tony Bucknall

Once established, the wisteria will flower not only in combination with each other but with the lilac flowered catmint (Nepeta x faasenii) planted beneath it and a hedge of blue lavender in nearby ‘Ovid’s Garden’. Other, less vigorous climbers have been planted on the same pillars, such as the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which will continue flowering throughout the summer long after thoughts of May have disappeared.

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