Friday, May 16, 2014

May Days: The Garden in May



In May we are gardening gods. This is the month where the fullness of spring meets the opening of summer, creating a moment in time where the garden in our heads matches reality. May is the month for horticultural hubris. For a few weeks, we are the masters of our plots. Like Midas, all we touch turns to flower.

Of course, May’s glory has nothing to do with us. Even the abandoned lot down the street looks like a field of Arcadia. The florets of the unmown bluegrass hold and toss the morning light like water, and drifts of dandelions emerge from of islands of lilac ground ivy. For a few blessed weeks, the cool nights and warm days grant us the perfect gardening climate. I know what it’s like to live in coastal California or Britain, or one of those places that the glossy garden magazines obsessively feature.

But that’s no matter. My plot is a result of my gardening genius. It has nothing to do with the fact that all of the plants have freshly leafed out, coating even the dowdy foundation shrubs with the glow and firmness of adolescence. Or that all of the perennials have recently emerged low and tight, as if the ancient gardeners of Kyoto had spent decades clipping them. It doesn’t even matter what you planted next to each other. The swelling border makes my impetuous April shopping spree at the nursery look wise and carefully composed. I look over my plot like a champion chess player, confident of my strategy. Gardening mistakes won’t show themselves this month.

May is the month for plants whose glory is short lived. The late spring geophytes—the tulips and the scilla—overlap with the early summer ephemerals like trilliums, bluebells, and trout lilies. These plants emerge from nowhere between the gaps and crannies of plants, bloom for a week or two of glory, then vanish as the heat of summer comes. Why can’t all plants behave this way? They do their thing, and then poof, they’re gone, making room for the other fat hens to swell during June. Gardeners know these are cheap tricks. Stick a few alliums in the ground in the fall, and voila!: nodding purple baseballs declare to your neighbors that you are, indeed, a plant whisperer.

It’s May, and gardeners everywhere should enjoy their mastery. For August is coming and will judge us all.

29 comments:

  1. Wow, your garden is doing a lot better than mine. I'm putting in a rain garden, but so far I've mostly made a lot of mud. :) Seriously, though, your climate must be a bit behind mine (SE VA). Many of the things you mention are already finished here. What will you have flowering in a couple weeks? That's probably about what I have now (mountain laurel, lyreleaf sage, iris, catmint).

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    1. I actually wrote this earlier, so you're right on track with what's blooming here now. The last of my (late) tulips finished about a week ago. It's allium madness now!

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  2. You are so right. Except to add that the garden has a hard job competing with the glorious countryside in May!

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    1. Ooh, I bet. Are you going to Chelsea this year? That should distract from the countryside . . .

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    2. I did! See thinkingardens...... Xx

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  3. Beautiful writing and right on the mark. Thanks for making me smile!

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  4. After such a hard winter (I shouldn't complain down here in North Carolina, right?) it has been such a joy to see the garden leaf out! We all garden for different reasons but May is the month we all rejoice. Very nice post! My daughter lives on U Street and has a small balcony which has, after her 5 years there, become a garden! I rejoice that she is taking an interest in gardening… and look forward to the day when she will have a small plot of ground.

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  5. Oh yeah, you nailed it. Just the other day I came in from the backyard and said to my husband, "I'm sorry, but our garden is just plain awesome." But you're right...by August I'll be like a Shakespearean tragic figure, weeping over my powdery-mildew-stricken phlox. Great essay!

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  6. Yes, this is exactly what I realized the other day. In March, I felt like I had been a total idiot last year because of all the maintenance I failed to do last year (gave up on weeding my invasives). But by now I feel like I was actually a genius because everything I planted last year is starting to pay off! Of course, I know I am neither, just blundering along. Making mistakes and being rewarded by plants regardless.

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  7. Crap, I thought it was all me.

    Seriously, Thomas, your post is hilariously true. I've been looking at my garden with immense satisfaction lately, nudging my indifferent husband to admire it too. I'd chalked it all up to recent refreshing rains and an extended, cool spring unusual for central Texas -- but of COURSE it's my own gardening genius that really has worked its magic.

    Uh-huh. Your Stark-like warning that "August is coming" has brought me back to my senses. Still chuckling....

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  8. LOL Horticultural hubris, indeed. The allium trick works every time. This year, the bearded iris are so beautiful. I'm so glad I dug them up and replanted. Plus the roses are reminding me of why people like roses so much. And the achillea is budding but isn't flopping-- raising false hope that this year will be different. Doubtful. Still it could happen.

    As for summer, we'll always have zinnias, at least those of who planted seeds a few weeks back will have them . . . . the hubris of May knows no bounds. Right on, write on, Thomas.

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  9. It's easy to have a beautiful garden in May! The challenge is to have a garden that looks good the rest of the year, and in a small garden like mine you just can't have plants that are beautiful in the spring but look like crap the rest of the year. This is why I'm so pleased that my garden looks good from mid-summer until well into November!

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  10. Thomas-
    This post gives me a wide grin. It's a good thing the garden's ebullience is so forgiving in May. The busy month flies by and I can barely absorb the luscious assault before summer's heat takes me to task. I moved this winter and I went by my old garden last week-the garden of a plant obsessed renter, so very limited in design and forethought. I left feeling proud and heartsick. How could I have left behind that perfect patch of bletilla elbowing it's way up through the epimedium and adiantum? Nevermind that it wasn't me who planted them in that exact spot--slowly they've moved their roots under the driveway's concrete edge--seeking out the higher pH--like a dogs edging stealthily towards a treat bowl. Yet I swelled with pride as though they were performing an obedience trick for my friends.

    Thanks for the cheerful inspiration. I was so pleased to meet you and moved deeply by the relevant and poetic talk you gave.

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  11. Thanks for sharing wonderful information, it is really nice information.

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  12. My plot is a result of my gardening genius.

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  13. My husband has been hinting strongly that we should get some Globe Master alllium, so I read him your line about how they are a cheap trick and his response was, "see, I knew there was a reason I wanted them." We even have the blue green hostas to plant them among!

    Despite being a full on plant nerd there are very few garden blogs I follow. I often find them boring, but not yours. I'm always excited to read what you've posted next.

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  14. May is the fullness of spring. Thus, May is the best month to show off your garden. Right landscape and right setting are well placed garden ideas to make you home look its best. Great blog for anyone who loves gardening, flowers and stuff.

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  15. A wonderful post, Thomas. It was glorious this May, but as you noted, it's apt to be short-lived. The hubris is starting to leak out as it heats up here in central NC. We'll see how last fall's additions fare.

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  16. may glory brings peace to the mind and happy atmosphere.In the may garden looks really awesome.This blog is very useful to the people,who has gardening as a hobby.keep on updating

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