Now in Bloom: May, 2012

THANKS TO A TOO-WARM WINTER AND SEVERAL SPRING FREEZES, my lilacs were a big disappointment this spring. But that doesn’t mean my garden is lacking  color. I went out with my camera yesterday morning in order to capture the lusty lupines (that’s ‘Russell White’ pictured up top), the pink and red Pyrethrums, and assorted woodland plants which seem only too willing to strut their stuff no matter the weather:

Before we begin our photo-show, let me explain that as I knelt to photograph the Lupinus for the top photo of this post, I suddenly discovered a snapping turtle beside my knee. These massive reptiles with sharp teeth crawl up from the creek each spring, and then lay their eggs all over my property. The babies, which hatch in August, head straight for the swimming pool, only to become trapped in the pool’s skimmer basket.  I rescue them, of course, and carry them back down to the creek.  Unlike adult snapping turtles, the babies are actually cute.

If you want colorful spires in your garden, by all means plant Lupinus ‘Russell Hybrids Mix.’  Mine make a big splash in the sunny Serpentine Garden from mid-May to mid-June, with a little repeat flowering in autumn. They are extremely easy to grow from winter-sown seeds. Need cultural details?  See my Lupine Growing-Guide.

Situated between the Lupines and a Weigela, is a patch of blue iris. The variety, I believe, is  ‘Agua Fresca’. The flowers open a rich navy blue, and quickly fade to denim. I ain’t complaining. If your your own crop of iris isn’t performing well for you, check the rhizomes. These must be buried half-in and half-out of the ground.

One of the wisest decisions I ever made was to plant Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ in the Serpentine Garden. With no care whatsoever, and no matter how bizarre the winter or spring weather might be, this one reliably covers its sturdy branches with trumpets of deep, rosy pink.   To propagate the shrub, simply layer its stems.

Behind the Yoshino cherry tree which shades the bench in the Serpentine Garden, is a patch of twice-blooming Iris ‘Immortality.’  When in bud, the flowers have a lavender cast. But they open pure white, and emit a strong, sweet scent.  Although the flowers don’t last long, this Iridaceae germanica gives an encore performance in autumn. 

After my crop of Iris ‘Immortality’ was attacked by borers one year, I got wise and planted Pyrethrum beside them.  Pyrethrum deters the dreadful pest. Its daisy-like flowers, which come in shades of pink, white and red,  are large, and perfect for cutting.  If you want this breathtakingly beautiful plant in your garden, be sure to winter-sow the seeds. Pyrethrum is not commonly available in garden centers.

Stealing the show in my shady Woodland Garden just now is Brunnera macrophylla  ‘Jack Frost.’ The silver-and-green leaves of this deer-proof plant are as sparkling as flowers.  Of course, if it’s flowers you want…

…why, Brunnera produces an abundance of blue, forget-me-not-like flowers all during May. What a dazzling plant!

I also have real forget-me-nots in my Woodland Garden. What a sight the tiny blue flowers are!  These Myosotis  reseed themselves freely, providing the soil isn’t disturbed in the spring.  You can winter-sow the seeds, too.

Although my peonies have yet to open their fragrant blossoms, residing in the same bed with them is the gorgeous Baptisia. When located in full sun, this “False Blue Indigo” produces tall spires lit with violet-blue blossoms. In part shade, the stems always bend toward the light (as mine, above).  Both the flowers and foliage are pea-like, and no wonder — the plant is a member of the pea family. Stems, whether in flower or in the seed-pod stage, are useful in flower arrangements.

My roses, which frankly looked rather pathetic a few weeks ago, are suddenly coming on strong. I’ll do a detailed feature on them in June. But for now, suffice it to say that Rosa ‘Zephirine Droughin,’ above, is in full-flush. Do you know this thorn-less bourbon which was bred in 1868? I use it to help hide my ugly garden shed. Look carefully at the picture, and you’ll notice that a pair of robins enjoy the rose as much as I do, for they have made a nest in its dense growth. The strong, honey-scented flowers are a clear, deep pink. Learn more about this great rose.

Well. I hope you enjoyed this little picture-show. Let me know what’s blooming for you just now. Just don’t tell me your lilacs were miraculous this year. Because that would make me jealous.

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Related Posts:
An Old-Fashioned Shrub: Deutzia scabra
Now In Bloom: February, 2012
Now in Bloom, March 2012


  1. I’m in southeastern PA, and would you believe our bearded iris and peonies are finishing up already? (Usually, they’re just starting to bloom around now!). But the larkspur are coming on strong, and the poppies will be right behind them…

  2. Ruth – Such a strange year! Some of plants have been early, while others (most of my roses) are quite late. Climate scientists say this is the “new normal.” Oy.

  3. despina says:

    HI Kevin

    I am having a wonderful peony season. It’s like they are on steroids. And so very fragrant

  4. Wonder if the young turtles could be attracted by the lights in your house when they hatch at night. Sea turtles in our area have that problem. Might want to mark turtle hatching season on your calendar and consider turning off or shielding the lights.

    On another note, you asked for ideas about ticks. I listened to a wonderful program on NPR, Science Friday. They had scientists with ideas to consider.

    Enjoy your articles and wish I had your organizational skills and talent.

  5. despina – Glad to hear your peonies are doing well. Mine are about to strut their stuff.

    Carole – Interesting about the lights. Here, the mother turtles lay their eggs near my swimming pool, which is quite a distance away from the house. The pool has a wire-mesh fence around it, so the adult turtles can not get in. The babies, however, have no trouble crawling through the openings, falling into the pool, and ultimately, getting swept into the skimmer basket (which I check daily).

    Off to listen to the NPR link you sent…thank you!

  6. My lilacs, too, were a bust this year. (Champlain Valley in VT) They were just beginning to show evidence of flower buds about to emerge after a prolonged warm spell when we had a hard freeze overnight (I think this was late March?) I couldn’t see any damage and thought they’d gotten through safely, but guess not. Friends in the Boston area had the same freeze, but their lilacs were well ahead of mine, and they had no diminution of bloom.

    Leading me to wonder whether the buds are especially vulnerable as they’re first emerging and they develop some sturdier protective quality as they emerge further.

    Anyway, I had much less bloom on mine, and what there was was mostly small and misshapen. The one lilac up against the south wall of the house did better, but not the wonderful show that justifies having these shrubs.

  7. You lupines are beautiful. I just planted a small Rosa Zepherine Drouhin – I hope it flourishes like yours.

    When I sucker my tomatoes I root the suckers in a jar of water covered with a plastic bag and then plant them – they grow very fast and are soon as big as their parents.

  8. My lupines are just barely opening now, and the irises are halfway done. Every year when they start opening we get a few days of heavy rain and I have to stake a lot of the stalks up so the slugs don’t eat the flowers. I’ve learned to keep a large stock of stakes in assorted sizes stashed around the yard so I can prop things up as I find them. The rhodies, wisteria, and brunnera are winding down. Columbines, calendula, blue eyed grass, and euphorbia are going strong. I have dozens of buds on the poppies and the first one opened up yesterday. The peonies and hydrangeas are also readying for an amazing show this year (one peony I planted 4 years ago has more than a dozen buds, and the Nikko blue hydrangea I planted 8 years ago is now 8′ across), and my other perennials are looking good for flowers in late summer. I let my greens bolt and make seed to scatter around for birds and come up along paths and in beds, so I have red mustard, corn salad, and collards flowering. The mustard stalks are taller than I am! Oh, and my blueberry bushes are still blooming. I have very happy bumblebees and hummingbirds.

  9. pennifer says:

    I’m on the coast, south of San Francisco. It’s often foggy and cool here; 70 is a heat wave. My roses are blooming terrifically, my lavenders are too. Just harvested the final fava beans and swiss chard (planted in November), and we’re enjoying peak sugar snap peas now. The African daisies and Santalina are going nuts in the front yard. I ripped out a bunch of perennials over the winter, so those beds are having a recovery year, but will be teeming with sages and Zeuschneria by the winter rains, I hope. Fingers crosssed for the new raspberry. That’ll be a miracle if it can pull off berries. I’m learning that all my blueberries want to be religiously watered every other day, but didn’t learn it until I missed the berry season. The new Eureka lemon has one ginormous lemon that is a week from fully ripe. Hoping for more productivity in the coming seasons.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I adore 2 old war horses: Dutch iris and day lilies. Thank you for your lovely photos. I so appreciate your use of an old heirloom rose. We grow a fence line full of climbing blaze rose, some rosa rugosa for the hips, and a few other deep red and white roses just for their beauty.

    We gardeners have to stand strong against that fake rose: Knockout. Who really wants a rose that has the same color over and over all around town? All those crazy bushes all look the same, so boring. The joy of roses is their single-minded determination to do their own thing of wowing you or breaking your heart! Nature values diversity, not sameness.

    By the way, I want to make a plug for fennel to create a butterfly garden. A few years ago I put some in my herb garden, which has turned into a wild glorious affair. I live in south Texas where fennel lives as a perennial. It just won’t die in “winter.” Swallowtail butterflies will find it eventually, and the rest will be history. Each spring/summer you will see multiple generations of caterpillars and literally dozens of larva in various stages of growth. They will voraciously eat down the fennel which will recover in between generations and just come back stronger.

    Never spray poisons and you will be rewarded with a dazzling ballet daily, swallowtails galore. I’ve read that they like parsley, but in my yard the babies consider it a poor second. Last year I pruned back some of my fennel and threw it on bare spot in my yard. That hardy little plant is like a weed. Seeds fell, germinated without my knowledge, and this spring are hosting their own caterpillars. It’s a wonderful cycle.

    Also, fennel is so versatile. You can cook with the bulb, the seeds, the pollen, use the leaves for wrapping fish to cook in. Fennel is the unique anise favor in Italian sausage. I only save seeds because my fennel serves as a nursery!

  11. Donna B. says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – your lupines are SPLENDID!!!
    I have some that were wintersown [my sad, sad attempt… we also had no winter, so that may have been a culprit too!] yielded a few small seedlings which were transplanted to their respective areas… but they seem, small. They’ve been in the ground now for about two months, protected, mulched, and watered almost daily, but they’re still.. small.
    Is this normal for their first year…?
    Or is it like, what’s the term… First year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps…

    I cannot wait for your expose on the rose! I’m a failure when it comes to roses, and I want something carefree and mostly easy… which you always seem to make things look easy! Hee hee.

  12. Tammy Z. says:

    Beautiful pictures! Thank you so much for the tips and ideas you provide.

    I live in south-central Kansas, and my peonies, iris, etc finished blooming well over a month ago. I agree that the mild weather is amazing this year! (Oh, and I know you said not to, but I must say our lilacs knocked themselves out this year. The best I’ve seen in years – please don’t be too jealous.)

    You will probably write about this later, but I was wondering if you had any good flowers for the time following the peonies, iris and such. My garden is beautifully green but pretty much flowerless from now until July.

  13. Carol May says:

    You are so gifted. Your flowers/photography is amazing. I’m West of Albany NY in zone 5. The middle of each month I get in my Hoveround and visit each of my 15 gardens photographing the various stages of growth. They definitely aren’t as massive as yours, but I’m in a different stage of my life. I’ve been gardening for the past 57 years. I have my “Lilac Row” which consists of 40 year old double “French” purple and one double “French” white lilacs. I am consistant with having Hubby prune after bloom-time and I deadhead the dried flowers. Usually they are blooming on Hubby’s May 8th birthday, but this year they were earlier, smaller sized and less flowers.

    I have a Bradford Pear tree as well as a Star of David Magnolia and RedBud that were breathtaking. The Honestly (silver dollars), woodrift and white violets were sweet and easy on the nose/eyes as well. Flowering is past, now working on “dollar” production.

    My German bearded Irises and brillant orange poppies were beautiful. Thank God I captured them on camera before yesterday’s horrendous downpour during early evening. They are just a memory. Beautiful color and stature…..over in one storm.


  14. I am so happy to see those beautiful lupines. I have unsuccessfully attempted to grow them several times. Thanks for sharing your garden . It is truly an inspiration. I live in Ohio and realize that the plansts you grow there are not totally suitable for Ohio’s climate. I will continue to plant and replant toward success. Also I appreciated your sharing mulching with newspaper . Thanks Again. Love your site!

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