Papaver rupifragum

Blue Siberian irises, orange poppies and Libertia grandiflora, May 2020

This Was May…

Before May of 2020 fades into memory, here are a few memorable images from my garden, along with a thought or two.

As a new gardener, I read a lot of books and articles about garden design that suggested using plants as an artist uses pigments to create stunning colour combinations. In fact, I recall the term “plant palette” being tossed around. After years of striving to do this in reality, I’ve decided it’s not a realistic goal, outside of “great gardens” with staffs and resources. For the small gardener, failure and fits (apoplectic and otherwise) are guaranteed. Plants aren’t pigments. They won’t all bloom at the intended times. A key component of the design will die or rampage through the planting. Something else will creep in and introduce a clashing colour. But delightful conjunctions do happen. My best combinations are happy accidents, not carefully selected groupings. The thing is to see and appreciate them when they happen.

The header image shows a happy combination of Siberian irises (finally blooming well here), with orange poppies (Papaver rupifragum) and the white flowers of Libertia grandiflora in the background. I planted the Libertia a couple of years ago. It didn’t bloom last summer, so I was beginning to think the conditions here didn’t suit it (it’s a New Zealand native), but it’s performing beautifully this year.

Orange poppy, Papaver rupifragum
It would be tempting to use flowers like this as pigments. Papaver rupifragum, otherwise known as Spanish, Moroccan, or Atlas poppy, looks great against the grey foliage of Senecio “Sunshine.”

While “painting” with flower colours is a dubious proposition, it is possible to create effects of contrasting and harmonizing forms and colours with foliage. Leaves, after all, are present throughout the growing season, whereas flowers are fleeting whims.

Foliage: hellebore, hosta, variegated grass, and Chinese witch hazel, May 2020
A happy combination of leaves: Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis) at the top, with hellebore, variegated grass, and hosta below.
Japanese painted fern in Chinese jar, May 2020
And then there’s this fern — Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). It’s a colour combination in itself, with shades of greenish grey, silver, and maroon.
Creamy yellow rose
A rose is perfect on its own. I have no idea what this one’s variety name is. I grew it from a cutting, so it’s on its own roots, not grafted. It’s blooming well this year, wafting fragrance all over the front garden.

The garden and environs are home to a number of wild creatures. Birds are the most numerous. I’ve come to recognize quite a few different ones since I began hanging up feeders in 2015. A couple of days ago, I saw a family of red-breasted nuthatches near the pond, and the following morning there was a family of Bewick’s wrens in the lilac bush. Sadly, I think one of the nuthatches is no more; today I found clusters of small grey feathers that match one of that species’ colours. I have seen Cooper’s hawks here from time to time, and I know they prey on small birds. So do crows, for that matter; I’ve noticed one visiting the bird bath recently.

Buck visiting the garden next door, May 2020
This guy was one of a group of four (a mini-herd!) visiting the garden next to mine. (Photo is blurry because I took it through the potting shed’s window.)
Slime mold on compost pile, May 2020
A rather bizarre “visitor” came after rain in mid-May — a slime mold that showed up on top of the compost pile. This one might be the type known as “dog vomit” slime mold. My first thought when I saw it was “Who puked on the compost?”

May really is this garden’s best month. June also, if there’s enough rain. By July, grass starts to brown off and the spring bloomers get that tired look. Of course, there are the drought-tolerant stalwarts, the “tough plants” I’ve mentioned in quite a few posts. And the gardener (that’s me) racing around frantically with watering cans and hoses, ministering to plants that aren’t so tough.