During May a number of people have told me, they have not seen so many birds in their gardens, but I still seem to have just as many as in previous years. I put this down to three things they can find in my garden, food, water and shelter. Let me start with shelter, I do not have bird boxes, but numerous evergreen shrubs and climbers, which I find is necessary for birds, not only to build nests during their breeding time, but also to provide shelter during our cold winter months. Water is necessary for all life that exists on earth, so I have two birdbaths and I keep these free of ice during the winter, also kept topped up with water during the rest of the year. I have five bird feeding stations and two of these have cages fitted over them so only small birds can feed from them. I used to hang netted fat balls onto tree branches using pieces of string, but magpies would sit on the tree branch and pull the string up to get at the fat balls. Three years ago I saw that CJ Birdfoods were offering tree hooks, these are green, powder coated steel sprung hooks which fit over 12cm branches and have a 12 inch, 30cm shank. I thought this was the solution to stop the magpies from eating the fat balls. Looking out of my window during mid May I saw a crow land on a tree branch and with his beak lift the shank of the tree hook and hold this in a claw as he proceeded to take the whole of a fat ball in his beak and fly off. I have moved this tree hook, so now it hangs on the bottom of one of the bird feeder cages.
In recent years, Lilacs do not seem to be as popular as they were in bygone days. Fifty years ago, I grew three varieties, but two died with shot hole disease, which causes small round holes with brown edges to appear in the leaves, then the branches start to die back. The same disease is the cause of the dieback, or death of the double pink cherry ‘Kanzan’. My last remaining lilac is ‘Katherine Hevemeyer’ and this forms a standard tree some 15 feet, 4.5m tall, which during May has large panicles of purple-lavender to lilac pink fragrant flowers. Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ is a superb deciduous shrub with a dense, arching habit. I grow this in fifty percent shade where it never fails to produce an outstanding show of pure white flowers during May. Like all spring flowering shrubs ‘The Bride’ needs pruning as soon as it has finished flowering. I am very fond of Japanese maples and have seven different varieties growing in the garden, the largest, a fifteen foot, 4.5m tall, red leaf Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’, the smallest is a fifty-year-old plant of Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Waterfall’ whose cascading green dissected leaves form a green waterfall some 4 feet, 1.3m tall by 9 feet, 2.9m across. The foliage of Japanese maples, especially those with yellow foliage will scorch in hot sunny and wind swept sites. Consequently, I planted Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, shown in our picture above, in front of a West facing evergreen hedge where it is also sheltered from the South by a large Viburnum tinus. ‘Orange Dream’ may seem a bit of a misnomer, as in the spring its foliage is a bright yellow with a feint orange edge, however, during the autumn the foliage turns a fiery orange.
In the past, I will have mentioned I grow potatoes in fifty litres, black tree containers, which have handles either side to enable me, during April and early May to move then in and out of my greenhouse. This year I have five varieties and ‘Rocket’, which I set in a container in my cold greenhouse during mid March, was ready to lift by the third week in May. ‘Arron Pilot’ should be ready by the first week in June. Runner bean ‘St George’, which I sowed in cell trays during the third week in April and up potted into 9cm, 3½ inch pots three weeks later and now, they have been planted in fifty litre tree containers and flowering. In my garden there are hundreds of Violets, mainly growing in shade, so a month ago I lifted thirty and set them in large cell trays and gave them to Mrs Gamble to plant in the wild garden at St Peter and Paul school in Upper Church Street in Syston. Next year the garden should have a lovely show of purple-blue, fragrant violets.