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Head Gardeners Blog - May 2022

Gardener's Blog
Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Welcome back to our May Garden Blog from the Victorian Walled Garden here in Kylemore Abbey.

End of May is already here and the seasons are kicking over from late spring to early summer.

I have to say, we had a brilliant spring, the growth is immense and the blossoms on most early flowering shrubs and trees are unlike any other year I remember. Also the scent of flowering shrubs like Azaleas or Euphorbias are a lot more intense this year. It must be a combination of last years dry summer and the following mild winter. A phaenomen I should look at more closely. The first flush of early flowering Rhododendren like Rhododendron hodgsonii, a heritage species dating back to the mid 19th century,  is over and later flowering specieses and varieties are taking over. 

Beside the very decorative flowers, Rhododendron hodgsonii has a beautiful papery bark and very big leaves, which were used to wrap butter or lining bamboo baskets in Sikkim in eastern Himalaya. 

Pic1 Rhododendron hodgsonii


Pic2 Azalea ‘Norma’, a species dating back to 1888, with the Head Gardeners House to the back 

Conus controversa, or commonly knows as the ‘Wedding Cake Tree’ or ‘Giant Dogwood’, is another showstopper, which is flowering at the moment. The horizontal branches are layered which makes the small tree looking like a wedding cake, especially when in full bloom like here in the Walled Garden at the moment. This species is also dating back to the 1880th and originates in Japan, Korea and China. Reaching a total height of 15m makes it an ideal small ornamental deciduous tree, working in nearly every garden setting.

These plants were all introduced mainly between the middle and the end of the 19th century by Victorian plant hunters like Hooker. Many survived the changes in garden movements over the last 150 years and are still available in garden centres and nurseries nowadays. 


Pic3 The wedding cake tree, Cornus controversa, in front of the red brick wall inside the Walled Garden, planted by Frank for his retirement ceremony end November 2015.

The last of the spring flowers are still in bloom but will be taken out this week to be replaced with the annual summer bedding. Myosotis ‘Victoria Rose’ gave a great show with its delicate rose-coloured tiny blossoms, which are so typical for old fashioned Forget-me-nots. 

Pic4 Forget-me-nots in our formal flower garden 


Pic5 One of our garden students is topdressing the cleared beds with our own compost and reshaping them for the summer bedding planting


We finally got around to train and tie the new growth of our heritage varieties of grapes in the restored Vinery. The new shoots need to be gently tied down to the horizontal wires. We are using natural raffia, it wont cut into the tender shoots and will naturally break and rot after few seasons. Augustin, our French student, upskilled his knowledge on growing vines, something which might come in handy for him when back in France! 


Pic6 Tieing in vines in our restored vinery


The quite impressive trailing Pelargonium ‘Madame Crousse’ is covering the other side of the vinery, opposite the vines, along the wall. The plant is in bloom since nearly two month and there is no end in site. It just seems to be the perfect spot for it, the heat and sunshine is doing the trick, a bit of feeding and dead heading is all we do from our side. Soon we will start to take cuttings of non flowering shoots, if we find any!

Pic7 Pelargonium 'Madame Cross' in the vinery


Other areas are coming into bloom slowly, too. Our Rockery has a lovely natural display at the moment. The Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, is a lovely flowering and groundcovering perennial which likes dryer conditions like in our Rockery. It attracts insects and looks great in contrast with natural stone.


Pic8 The Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus


The fernery has also something to show. Our candelabra primulas are in full bloom and in nice contrast with the rich dark greens of the fern fronds.


Pic9 Candelabra Primulas in our fernery


The vegetable garden is nearly fully planted by now. Dwarf beans, beetroots, chicories and endives are next for planting. I got few new unusual heritage varieties of vegetable seeds for this season. One of them is radish ‘Black Spanish Round’. It seems to withstand the attacks from slugs much better, grows bigger without getting too woody and is covering the ground better with its big leaves which means less weeds in between. We have also sown and planted ‘podding radish’, where you eat the seed heads rather then the radish. They are also called rat-tail radish which is indicating the shape of the seed pods. 

Its always interesting to try out new things which makes the job on one side more challenging but also more rewarding if these new varieties are working out. 

Gardening is all about adaptations, trials and errors and learning from these experiences. 


 Pic10 Fully planted Brassica plot with mulched paths in between


Pic11 Newly planted runner beans and French beans


I will be back with more news from the Walled Garden here in Kylemore Abbey end of June.


Your Head Gardener

Anja Gohlke