This Month in the Garden, May 2013, with Derek Cox

During April as we were on our way home from Loughborough, we decided to call into the café at Goscote Nurseries for a cup of tea. As we walked across the terrace towards the café, Tony, who is one of the nurserymen, came towards me with a newly introduced shrub and hiding the label said, “I bet you don’t know what this is?”. At first glance, it looked like some form of palm, but the base of each shoot resembled that of a Mahonia. Tony then showed me the label, which said Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’. In the past all of the Mahonia’s that I have seen have deep green pinnate, spine edged leaves, but ‘Soft Caress’ has narrow, deep green, spine free leaves, so as you brush against the foliage you have a soft caress. This unusual Mahonia species is native to West China, which produces upright, candle-like spires of yellow flowers during the autumn and early winter. As I do not know how hardy it is, I shall pot it into a container and stand it on my patio, being pot grown, it will then enable me to over winter it in my cold greenhouse.

The edges on two sides of my lawn seem to be a haven for ants, which burrow into the soil and not only cause dead patches on the edge of my lawn, but also cause small heaps of fine soil to drop onto the gravel that forms a dry stream on one side of the lawn. To help prevent this I have cut two inches off the lawn edges and then put green plastic lawn edging all of the way around the lawn, this might stop the ants from burrowing into the lawn edge, but there is no doubt that I shall be having more anthills in the lawn. The dry stream that I have mentioned is themed on a Japanese idea, where instead of water; they use gravel to form a narrow stream and into this is set a flat piece of stone to represent a ship of life, also standing stones to represent islands. As my dry stream was over twelve years old and through the work of ants and birds looked dirty, I had my old pal Roger visit us, dig a narrow trench at the bottom of the lawn, and fill this with all of the dirty gravel off of the dry stream. He then laid phormisol ground cover material over the soil where the gravel came from, this will not only suppress weed growth, but will also prevent the worms from pushing worm casts into the new gravel. I purchased fifteen bags of small, rounded pebbles, which had the name Flamingo printed on the bag; the pebbles are white with a faint pink cast on one side. Now the pebbles are down they seem to have brought new life into that side of the lawn and now Vi is saying it would look better if we were to put new gravel on the scree, which is on the opposite side of the lawn.

I grow a number of low growing Hebe’s and all have come through last winter with no frost damage. In my front garden, there is a superb specimen of Hebe ‘Silver Dollar’, which forms a dome almost two and a half feet, 75cm in diameter. ‘Silver Dollar’ has grey foliage, but in the spring, it produces a flush of reddish-bronze foliage and during May and June, this forms a great contrast to its spires of small lilac-blue flowers, the foliage fades to grey by mid summer. Watching my numerous daffodils opening during April and May takes me back 75 years to my junior school days when we would now be reading the poem, I wandered lonely as a cloud a host of golden daffodils, which I believe Wordsworth wrote.