THERE'S simply no contest.
The grandest, most charming, and most beautiful month of the year has arrived and in these Covid-stricken days, lucky those who have a garden to tend, a patch of ground to cultivate, even a window box or hanging basket to fill.
The sound of occupation in the garden is now so welcome, for there is no joy in cocooning.
The month of May deserves better, so why not consider some of its joys today? Let’s begin.
There’s a gardening period called the ‘May Gap’, a time between the spring bulbs - which have pretty much done their stuff by now - and the arrival of the herbaceous heavies.
My favourite heavies include lupins, delphiniums, alstromeria, and early clematis, along with a Trinity of May delights namely columbine, peony and lily of the valley.
You do not have a May Gap?
Then you are wise indeed and have planned for late cherries, wisteria, the golden rain tree (the American name for Laburnum) and wonderfully scented lilac.
I commend and admire your wisdom and choices, but have you included those devotees of shadowy places: hybrid azaleas and choice rhododendrons?
Perhaps not, so now is the ideal time to plan a change and to indulge in a tremendous gamble.
You may embark with timidity on the purchase of these woodland gems (and watch over them with trepidation until they bloom) but be assured that they will bring rewards in abundance over many, many years.
There is something really obsessive about these exotic shrubs.
So, I would like to tempt you with one or more Ghent azaleas which have fragrant long-tubed, honeysuckle-like flowers.
No variety will be found less than good.
The Knaphill and Exbury hybrids have a heavenly range of colours and the Mollis azaleas bloom early this month before their leaves appear.
I still thrill at the sight of the soft rose-pink colours found on the likes of Berryrose and the whites with just a touch of yellow such as Persil.
Surely you remember me mentioning this last variety on more than one occasion previously.
In the twenty and more years it has stood in the front garden it had never failed to impress either in the perfection of its blooms or intense perfume.
Nearby grow wide, fat, dumpling-shaped specimens of evergreen azalea Vucky’s Scarlet, Blauw’s Pink and Adianthum in sky blue.
They need neither attention nor coddling from year’s start to finish and this includes my regime of absolutely no pruning.
They just don’t need it, all being tidy, compact growers.
Feeding is done with leaf litter in autumn and every sweeping is used as mulch material around and beneath their branch network.
If you want to give special attention to this aspect of their cultivation opt for rotted pine needles or shredded fronds of wild bracken.
Both are free, they acidify the soil, add humus and conserve moisture.