This Month in the Garden, May 2012 with Derek Cox

Chaenomeles are amongst not only the most attractive, but also the easiest of spring flowering shrubs to grow in the garden. Most people will know these under their common name of Japonica, which originates from the first species introduced from Japan as Cydonia japonica. However, a number of species are also native to China and it is the hybrids between these and the Japanese species, which are often found in gardens. As shrubs, Chaenomeles will vary in height from five to ten feet,1.5 to 3m, and with apple blossom-like flowers in colours, which vary according to variety from white through to deep red. Some thirty years ago, I planted Chaenomeles x superba ‘Hollandia’ against the East-facing wall of my house and as it grew, I trained the branches out espalier fashion onto six feet by six feet, 1.8 x 1.8m trellis. Over the years, it has outgrown the trellis, so that now it spreads almost ten feet, 3m across the wall, where during March and April it produces a brilliant display of red flowers. Looking in the RHS Plantfinder I see ‘Hollandia’ is no longer listed, but the variety ‘Crimson and Gold’ is almost identical. Against a wall, Chaenomeles will require regular pruning to keep the growth close to the wall, I prune my plant four times between the time it has finished flowering, and mid August. As Chaenomeles flower on their previous year’s growth if you prune after mid August you will have a very poor show of flowers.

This March has been the first time I have seen trees of Magnolia Soulangiana with two weeks of beautiful flowers, then a frost on the night of 31st March turned the flowers brown. I do not have room in my garden for larger growing Magnolia’s, but I do grow two medium sized varieties, of these ‘Leonard Messel’ is the first to produce a lovely show of pink, star shaped flowers during March and early April and this escaped the frost. During April and May Magnolia ‘Suzan’ will produce a lovely display of light purple, tulip-shaped flowers. I prune both Magnolias as soon as they have finished flowering, by reducing the previous year’s growth by two thirds of its length.

I am very fond of Daphne’s and at one time had as many as thirty different ones in my garden. Some I found very miffy, they would grow and look well for a couple of years then suddenly die. Now when looking around my garden I find I have only sixteen evergreen varieties, but these are very reliable, some are over forty years old. There are a number of dwarf alpine forms, which I grow in alpine scree beds; others form low to medium sized shrubs. All that I grow, which flower during March, April and May have white, lavender, or pink flowers. One, Daphne laureola is the earliest to flower, but this has lime-green flowers and is the easiest to grow, it does however seed beneath other shrubs and can outgrow low growing shrubs. Most forms of Daphne have green foliage, but I grow three varieties of Daphne odora that have yellow edged foliage, of these ‘Rebecca’ is the most outstanding as during March and April its cluster of pale pink, fragrant flowers sit in the centre of a rosette of variegated leaves.

Lettuce ‘Lettony’, which I sowed during March, and planted into growbags that I keep in my cold greenhouse, which being a loose-headed lettuce, enables me to cut the outer leaves for many weeks. I sowed spring onion ‘Ishikuro’ in two-inch, 2.5cm cell trays, thinning them out to three plants per cell, these should be ready for Vi to eat by mid May. This year I am only growing five varieties of potatoes, all are grown in 25/50 litre black ex tree containers all of which have handles either side to enable me to move the early ones in and out of my cold greenhouse. During mid March, ‘Rocket’ was the first to be planted; ‘Arran Pilot’ followed this in late March. I was earthing up ‘Rocket by the first week in April.