The Gardening Coach: May

PUBLISHED: 11:47 19 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:47 19 May 2015

Peonies - the essence of an English traditional garden

Peonies - the essence of an English traditional garden


Judy Shardlow is head over heels with an English garden beauty

Few can fail to be impressed by the sumptuous beauty of herbaceous peonies. These full-bodied beauties are the very essence of the traditional English garden and their gorgeous good looks are the height of garden fashion.

Peonies are sometimes criticised for their relatively short flowering period. But this plant has other charms too - big fat flowering buds which form weeks before the big reveal, finely cut foliage which adds lushness and beauty to the border and dramatic structural seed heads after flowering. It really is four good looks in one plant.

May beauties include: Paeonia ‘Buckeye Belle’ with deep red double flowers and gold stamens and stunning Paeonia ‘Claire du Lune’, with large single translucent pale cream flowers and a heart of golden stamens. June-flowering Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’ is also a real showstopper, with pretty mid-pink outer petals and delicate clotted cream centre.

Peonies like rich moisture retaining slightly alkaline soil in full sun or partial shade. When planting, add some bone-meal to the soil and don’t plant too deeply as this can prevent flowering. Container grown plants are already potted at the correct level, so plant to the same depth.

May gardening tips

Protect potatoes from harsh frosts by ‘earthing up’ any green growth as it develops.

Hold back on tender annuals You may be tempted to buy pretty tender bedding plants from the garden centre. If you do, keep them safe indoors or in a greenhouse until the danger of frost has passed (last week in May).

Plant gladioli - these make stunning border and cut flowers. Try planting deep dark gladioli ‘Espresso’.

Stay on top of weeds Perennial nasties like bindweed and ground elder will make an appearance this month. Remove them wherever they pop up and it will weaken the plant over time.

Trim topiary A beautiful addition to any garden, give topiary a light trim this month to help retain its shape, followed with a top dressing of garden or farmyard manure.


Judy Shardlow is an RHS award-winning garden designer and coach

01438 833858

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