I’ve made a considerable effort in recent years to add to the garden so that there is something flowering at all times, and even through this dreadful winter that has thankfully finally ended there were mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, below) or witch hazels in bloom every day through January and February. In fact, this is not very much of an accomplishment, and certainly no testimony to a gardener’s skill, but only a matter of having the space and budget to allow the planting of a few shrubs and trees that any idiot can grow.
Summer storms have done in some of the best of the summer bloomers, and now this roller coaster winter of alternating mild temperatures and freezes has devastated paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, below) that are favored for their splendid late winter flowers. Fortunately, the shrubs have sprouted a few leaves from the base, so not all is lost, though the paperbushes’ ten foot width has now been reduced to three. I’m hoping and expecting that these will grow sufficiently to cover the now bare stems, and to flower next February.
In any case, no matter that I am very satisfied in creating this garden with flowers of some sort every day, there is no time when the garden is as splendid as in May. If it takes no particular skill to develop a garden that flowers in every month, it is even simpler to create a paradise in mid spring. While a bit of research is required to find flowers to fill the off spring months, everything else flowers in May, and despite a bias to claim that any other month might be its equal, there is no doubt that the garden is now at its most delightful.
The blooms of evergreen azaleas (‘Delaware Valley White’, above), or at least most of them are missing this year, victims of the freezes that defoliated most and injured the buds. It has been a number of years since this has occurred, and though I am not a huge fan of azaleas, the absent flowers of perhaps three dozen shrubs is noted with some sadness. Only two azaleas have perished, and others are growing vigorously, but of course the flower buds will not form again for months.
The deciduous azaleas are within days of their May glory, and in fact I prefer these fragrant and striking blooms rather than the less extravagant and scentless (or barely scented) flowers of the evergreen azaleas. These grow to be large shrubs that are ideal for underplanting in a wooded area with just enough sunlight to keep things blooming, and if the spot grows too shaded flowers and the shrub will fade within a few years.
Also, at forest’s edge is the wondrous Fothergilla (Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’, above), which is not rare at all, but also is not commonly found in gardens despite its spring beauty and pleasant foliage. This shrub also grows large and without the compact form that is preferred by many gardeners, so that it is best suited for a wooded border with a half day of sunlight. Fothergilla survives with less sun, but flowers are less abundant, just as with the deciduous azaleas.
I think that the list of plants that prefer a similar position includes dogwoods and redbuds, and other spring flowering trees and shrubs that benefit from the bareness of the forest canopy through winter. The red flowered Buckeye (Aesculus pavia, above) grows with a more open habit in the deeper shade of overhanging tulip poplars and a low branched blackgum, but sunlight filters through bare branches in winter so that flowering is not inhibited.
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus, above) enjoys a similar position nearby, and this open branched shrub also flowers without the need for more sunlight. The red-brown blooms are unusual,and certainly ill suited to the garden where marigolds and pansies are most appreciated. The flowers are nearly as fragrant as the best of the deciduous azaleas, and on a stroll on stone paths along the forest’s edge there is no better place, or time to be in the garden.