May, green no more, has color galore
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
May has been kind. No terrible weather, only a torrential rain or two. There have been many bright days and cool nights, and, despite the much heralded Egoreable warming, temperatures have hovered, for the most part, below normal. Even blackberry winter was subdued.
For years, I have worked at keeping some color through May, after the blast of April azaleas, redbuds and dogwoods has faded. I’m not a bearded iris and peony fan, and those two do indeed hold forth in May, or at least a short part of it. But then what?
Some biennials, i.e. sweet william and larkspur, help. Oh, and roses.
That’s a short list to fill a whole month, and they can’t do it alone.
You read, I hope, here last week of beautybush. This shrub will, in a cool May, fill almost the whole month with its frothy cumulus of pale pink. An estimable shrub indeed.
Viburnums aplenty adorn May. I keep adding to our collection. The earliest of them are April (or even winter) bloomers, but the bulk of viburnum varieties are for May and June.
Hydrangeas are only tentative in May, but by this last week some are showing a bit of color. June will really get them going, with the woody kinds keeping on through summer and fall.
Kousa dogwoods crank up about mid-May and hang on well into June. Despite warmer weather at that time, they stay in bloom longer than the American types.
A few azaleas bloom in May. The Satsuki varieties (Satsuki: Fifth month in Japanese lingo) carry on then, along with a few others. Then, the Macrantha varieties take over and go well into June.
Annuals, for the most part, don’t get boiling until hotter weather sets in. Pansies are one exception. Fall-planted pansies generally make better spring plants than those set in March. They have had months to get roots established and, in fact, give some value all winter in mild years.
This has been a pansy spring. The cool nights and abundant rain are just what they like. Thanks to late season sales last fall, I set more pansies than ever before. The reward has been a big payoff in color. They are fading now, but seven months of bloom is more than you can ask from any annual. Ours have punched up our May borders, a formal parterre garden and pots here and there around the garden.
Our most abundant native phlox is Phlox divaricata. It is found in woodlands in this area, but more abundantly to our east, in Stewart and Benton counties. It is a short-lived perennial, the parent plant holding forth for two or three years, but meanwhile providing seedlings to carry on.
Also called wild sweet william, this phlox starts in late March and hangs on until late about mid-May. Following on its heels, however, and a real May performer, is prairie phlox, Phlox pilosa. It also is found here in the wild, usually along dry road verges. Its bloom is closer to true pink than that of wild sweet william, which is mauve. Both of these phloxes are easily domesticated.
There are a few “summer” perennials that begin before May is out. There are several veronicas, from which I get better value than from the spiky salvias, in our pastel border, and these have started.
Ranging from white to pink to blue, they will carry on most of the season if promptly deadheaded. There is none any better than the older variety ‘Sunny Border Blue.’
The earliest of the daylilies start in May, but unfortunately they are almost all the shorter ones, which must be placed toward the front of a border, thus preventing disguising of their foliage after bloom by taller plants in front.
By and large, by dint of many years of trial and error, mostly error, I have managed to spike May up enough that it is no letdown after April.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 6.3.08
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path