This Month in The Garden, May 2019 with Derek Cox

During the winter of the early 1950’s I worked as the propagator at Williks Nursery, which although in the parish of Rearsby, stood opposite to the then Queniborough Ordnance Depot. The depot was demolished during 1960 and the village of East Goscote was built on the site. Where Williks Nursery stood is now a housing estate. I have added this little snippet of history for the benefit of our younger readers who would not recognise where the nursery was I am writing about.
However, during the early 1950’s we had a very hard winter that froze the ground at the nursery almost sixinches (22cm) deep. This caused all of the open ground Rhododendrons to drop their leaves and together with many other shrubs they appeared to be dead, so they were thrown in a pile to be burned. I rescued three of the Rhododendrons and three lilacs, which with some loving care and attention sprang back into life. Two of the lilacs lasted over ten years before being blown over during a gale, but the third one named Syringa ‘Mrs Edward Harding’ lasted for 64 years forming a 15 feet (4.5m) tall standard that during every May was massed with lovely reddish-pink, fragrant flowers.
During April of this year my gardening lady Caroline noticed that a large branch had broken off this lilac and that a blackish stain had appeared down the side of the trunk. Caroline had Jay to saw the lilac off at ground level and then it was apparent the centre of the trunk was completely rotten, so it was goodbye to a lovely lilac.
The three 64 year old Rhododendrons still survive and of these ‘Pink Pearl’ forms a nine feet (2.7m) open shrub with large trusses of pale pink flowers. ‘Sappho’ is almost as tall, but is more compact and produces conical trusses of white flowers which have a rich purple blotch at the bass of each petal. ‘Mrs Furnivall’ forms a dense shrub with trusses of light pink flowers which have a conspicuous sienna-crimson blotch. All three like many of the other Rhododendrons growing in my garden are at their best during May. Here I must point out that although my sandy loam is PH6.5 which is just below neutral, they, including three prostrate alpine Rhodo’s have grown and flowered well for many years. During last year’s two dry months I had to water my Rhodo’s, first with the rain water out of my six 50 gallon water butts which was used up within three weeks, so then I got my hose pipe and used the mains water – after all mains water is better than no water at all. Where possible as soon as my Rhode’s have finished flowering I pinch the faded flowers off to prevent them setting seed as the plants cannot produce a mass of strong new growth whilst it is also trying to make seed.
For many years I have grown Jasminum mesnyi, which you will often find listed in garden centres as Jasminum primulinum whose name is more descriptive of its semi double yellow flowers. This is often listed in garden books as being tender, but I have a 10 year old plant in my garden and I also planted one in the Syston station border against the Builderbase wall where its strong, scandent branches are tied out onto wires. This semi-evergreen climber flowers during April and May and can even be grown through a large shrub. Lonicera alseuosmoides also grows on the wires against the Builderbase wall; this is a vigorous evergreen honeysuckle with bronze new growth and masses of small yellow and purple flowers from May until October. Although practically scentless it is always massed with bees.
During the second week of April I sowed my ‘St George’ runner beans and climbing French beans ‘Golden Gate’ in cell trays which I stood in my electric propagator in a temperature of 45 degrees. The Runner beans geminated in seven days and the French beans three days later. As soon as they had formed their first true leaves I potted them into 9cm pots and by mid May they will be in 1 litre pots with two feet (60cm) long canes waiting to be planted into 50 litre tree tubs.