Although our native oak and ash are the last of our native trees to come into leaf, the North America Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ only starts to open its large yellow leaves during the last week in May. During late July and August this lovely medium sized tree produces upright panicles of white, splashed with yellow and purple foxglove-like flowers, but it will not thrive in waterlogged soils. Acer pennsylvanicum ‘Erythrocladum’ is another North American tree, which in my garden also comes into leaf during early May at the same time as my neighbour’s native ash tree. Its leaves are also the first to start to turn yellow and fall during late August.
‘Erythrocladum’ although weak and slow to form a tree, has one great interest, this being its young branches, which at leaf fall start to turn red and they remain red until the new leaves start to form during the following year.
The hybrid Acer ‘Phoenix’ has similar red young branches and has a far stronger constitution, but it is usually only available as small single stem plants. In my garden the Pieris are amongst the most attractive of evergreen foliage shrubs, many have bright red, or copper new foliage, if they have one fault it is they produce their new growth during early April and this year all of the new growth was killed by frost. I pruned out all of the damaged foliage and to my surprise, during May most produced a new flush of growth. Pieris japonica ‘Carnival’, shown above, also the two hybrids ‘Flaming Silver’ and ‘Havila’ have the added attraction of leaves that age from red to green variegated with cream. Pieris will not thrive in soils with high lime content, but are quite happily in my soil whose PH6.5 is just on the acid side of neutral. I grow nine hardy orchids five are native to Europe and four North American hybrids. The five are all different species of Dactylorhiza and three of these grow in my small bog garden where they produce spires of small red or lavender-pink flowers with deeper coloured markings. Two of these have plain green leaves, but the other, which is the strongest grower, has purple spotted foliage. The North American hybrids are slipper orchids, Cypripediums, that have large yellow, or pink slipper-like pouches and brownish-red wing petals. I grow these sheltered from strong sunlight and in soil that is moist, but well drained.
A large wooden tub stands on my terrace, which during the winter I plant with either Polyanthus, or winter flowering Violas and as soon as these have finished flowering I take them out, the Polyanthus I always transplant into one of my borders.
This year from seed, I grew Nemesia ‘Red and White, which is a lovely bedding plant, which is covered in small flowers, each flower having red upper petals and white lower ones. This like most Nemesia’s will flower from June until October. I grow around thirty varieties of Clematis in my garden and find there are few hardy climbing plants that can outperform them. During late May, June and early July the large flowered Clematis put on a wonderful display. Last year I planted the red flower Clematis ‘Rebecca’ together with ‘Multiblue’, whose name speaks for itself, against a six-foot (1.8m) trellis where they compliment each other; space would not allow me to add a white flowered variety as a Jubilee trio. ‘Multiblue’ has a large boss of smaller petals in the centre and these remain for weeks after the larger outer petals have fallen. During late May, I received three each of two varieties of the vegetable squash ‘Hunter’ and ‘Squashkin’. I planted two of each into two litre pots and grew these on, then finally planted them into 15 litre black pots. Both have yellow pumpkin-like flowers and are now starting to set fruit. I gave the remaining two to Terry Bailey who helps to instruct the children at Merton School in the art of vegetable production. As a cook, I must admit to having just found out how to mash tea, so if there are any cordon bleu cooks out there who can give me some idea of the best way to cook squashes, pen a few words to Syston Town News, it may also help other readers in the art of using them.