May has been surprisingly cold until this weekend. It was a bit like going back to winter again after the Easter heatwave, and we've had torrential rain (which we needed), gale force winds and hail, finally returning to sunshine this weekend. I adore this time of watching the garden spring to life, patrolling around to see what's coming up, working out which seedlings are worth keeping, and which are weeds. The tulips are going over, but everything else is growing voraciously, bursting with that fresh green intensity that is unique to this time of year. Foliage colour and texture is important now, before the colour of the summer flowers revs up, from the glossy dark green mounds of geraniums to the lime-green zing of the euphorbias. My stalwart May flower is the geum, and I have three varieties: 'Princes Juliana' (classic orange), 'Totally Tangerine' (softer orange with duskier shading) and 'Bell Bank' (small, understated rose-crimson flowers on dark stems). The combination of 'Bell Bank' and tulip 'La Belle Epoque' was one of my accidental successes this year.
I had a plant sale earlier this week for Maggies Oxford, where I'm a trustee, and raised over £200. I'm addicted to making new plants, whether grown from seed, from cuttings, or from seedlings dug up from the garden. Some of my plants are clearly very happy and have seeded themselves everywhere: Stipa tenuissima, Dianthus carthusianorum and Lunaria Corfu Blue are spreading themselves around in beds and in the gravel, so I dug up masses of them about six weeks ago and potted them for the sale. I also sold lots of dahlias (very popular) as I dug most of my existing plants up last year and divided the tubers. Added to that I took cuttings for the first time this year, all of which were successful, and at £1 each these flew off the table. This weekend, the forecast is looking pretty settled for the next few weeks so I decided to plant some of my bigger potted dahlias out, as well as plant runner and French bean seedlings.
I have a new obsession: auriculas. I have never grown them before, always thinking that they were too time consuming and needy, but I was putting an article together about them with beautiful photographs by Annaick Guitteny, and my interest was piqued. This is the trouble with my job, you see, I am constantly seeing or reading about new plants, new gardens and new products, and it's difficult not to fill my head with ideas. I ordered nine auricula plants from Drointon nurseries and they arrived as carefully packaged as crystal glasses, each one carefully wound up in damp tissue paper. I repotted them straight away into old terracotta pots that I'd found on EBay and now eagerly await their flowers. One is flowering already - a burnished gold double called Carmen. They are all arranged in my new auricula theatre - a wall shelf that I had made specially, as I was having difficulty in tracking one down. It's essentially a wall shelf made from preserved outdoor timber, and I'm planning to make more to sell in different sizes and finishes. Watch this space.