Monday, 21 May 2012


                                     March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.

May is one of my favourite times in the garden.  After all the buffeting, blustering, toil and tears of winter it finally feels as if summer's arrived and one can begin to relax.  Perhaps this is why I also have a particular fondness for May flowers: Late tulips, Iris, Alliums, Aquilegias and Auriculas.  Or it might be because I'm a May baby and a Taurean - Taurus being the birth-sign of Florists.

Tall bearded Iris germanica, Alliums, bronze Fennel and Euphorbia characias in my sunny front garden.

I love the colours too of many May flowering plants.  Irridescent blues, mauves and pinks set against glaucous greens. 

Allium Purple Sensation in the Lavender Border at Restoration House in Rochester (the 'other' garden)

Dwarf Bearded Iris, 'Langport Wren' with lime green Helleborus foetidus and white alliums in my back garden.

The trouble is though, that if you go overboard with all these moody mauves and purples your garden can begin to look a bit bruised and melancholy. Rather than a celebration of the merry month of May it can begin to resemble a wet weekend in Grimsby!  So, it's best to lift the mood with a few zingy spots of sunshine gold, pale cream or lime green.

Self sown Aquilegias (grannies bonnets) in purple, yellow and cream with acid yellow Euphorbia polychroma and the young foliage of Spirea Goldflame.

Nature does it naturally as in these border Auriculas with soft buttery centres set against their own apple green leaves. The crushed velvet foliage plant, Heuchera Palace Purple, provides a dramatic backdrop.

'You can never have enough Aquilegias' is my motto. Thankfully these cottage garden favourites are delightfully promiscuous plants and will cross-fertilise with abandonment - their progeny pop up everywhere and do well in sun or shade. 

This early flowering Clematis arches over an old wash tub full of yellow flag Iris Pseudocorus (not yet in flower).  The honey coloured falls of the tall bearded iris in the foreground give it it's name 'Honey Bee'.

'But what about the basketry?' you might be thinking.  Well, for me, May is the month to complete any plant staking while the soil is still soft enough to push in canes without too much effort.  Not a task I particularly relish - any excuse to put it off will do. But by June the heavy London clay in the back garden will have set like concrete and staking becomes impossible.

In 2010 I got it done in early April so that I could take pictures of these spiral plait cane toppers for 'Practical Basketrty Techniques' (see the plaiting chapter for how to make them). Here they're seen with chartreuse Helleborus Corsicus and the perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'.  They're simple and quick to make with only 5 willow rods or any pliable woody winter prunings. They'll not only prevent you poking your eyes out on the bamboo canes but will make a great sculptural feature when arranged en-masse.  Staking thus becomes a creative opportunity rather than a grudging chore.

In the book you can see them used to make festive winter bird feeders but they'll look great in your garden with or without windfall fruits all year round.

                                      The flower of the common yellow flag, Iris Pseudocorus. 

And, when the summer flowers have faded and all the iris leaves are brown and dried you could set yourself a winter project to make a plaited workbag to carry all your gardening bits and bobs or basketry tools.

Work-bag by Tricia Lilley made from several different kinds of Iris leaves.  Illustrated in 'Practical Basketry Techniques'. Photo: Ashley Wallace.

Workbags similar to this date back to the 12th century and were known as 'flags' probably because that's what they were made from.  They're known to have been used by workers building the great cathedrals of Europe.

But winter projects are still a long way off.  I'm off to find a sunny spot for a tea break before the heavens open.  'Cast not a clout 'til May is out' - I shouldn't have mentioned that wet weekend in Grimsby - sorry Grimsby!

Almost forgot!  May is the time for Chelsea Flower Show.  Wish I could make it this year to see Chris Beardshaw's Gold Medal winning woodland garden for Furzey Gardens Charitable Trust.  Debbie Gibbs and her students from Minstead Training Project, Furzey's sister organisation for young people with learning disabilities, grew many of the plants.  Deb also made the glass art that Chris incorporated into his design.

Red and green dogwood and different coloured willows cut from Furzey Gardens by students at the Minstead Training project - as illustrated in 'Practical Basketry Techniques'.

I'm especially grateful to Deb and her team for providing a fabulous array of materials for use on projects in 'Practical Basketry Techniques' and for inviting me to run a workshop down there in the New Forest on the spiral plait cane toppers.  Hope they came in useful for those Chelsea Gold winning plants!  Congratulations to you all!!!!!!!!