Head Gardener shares what to look out for in your garden in May

Credit Alex Hare
May 20 2023 | Garden

Marvellous May is bursting forth with blooms galore at Hever Castle & Gardens.

Neil Miller, Head Gardener explains what to look out for this month in your garden. 

With His Majesty The King’s coronation in May 2023, lots of gardeners have got into the spirit and planning displays in red white and blue.

A favourite combination for those keen on growing red, white and blue bedding is the red of Pelargonium Mylena, planted with blue Ageratum Aloha and white Begonia semperflorens.

If you want to make a big and lasting statement for His Majesty you could plant a border of Hydrangeas.   ‘Annabelle’ produces masses of white flowers, hydrangea macrophigla ‘Magical Ruby Red’ red is a safe choice providing extra large flower heads, and Hydrangea Pimpernel or ‘Giant Blue Mophead’ provide huge saucers of blue flowers from mid-spring to early autumn.

The rhododendrons and azaleas are tremendous in the garden this month with the big pink blousey varieties catching the attention of visitors as they meander down the Golden Staircase at Hever Castle & Gardens. 

Lots of people stop me in the gardens to ask the difference between a rhododendron and an azalea and I always explain ; they both belong to the rhododendron family, but, azaleas are a sub-set and are recognised for having smaller, more delicate flower heads. There is no one way of distinguishing all azaleas from all rhododendrons but it’s important instead to remember that they have their own qualities and needs and the key is to understand these characteristics if you are to choose the right plant for your garden; soil, positioning, size of available space.  If you enjoy acid-rich soil in your garden and you have a shady spot, then azaleas will enjoy that habitat.  Don’t forget to mulch them every year and ensure they have easy access to rain water!

In May the wisteria is out at Hever on Pergola Walk and along the Pompeiian Wall. If you are a wisteria-grower, you’ll know that no two years are the same; you can wait several seasons before you see substantial blooms. If you have a wisteria in the garden and want to have a good display next year, then make sure you cut back the wispy bits of the plant in July.

As we move towards the end of May the peonies start to unfold in our perennial border at Two Sisters Lawn and also within the Italian Garden too. Peonies have many fans in the gardening world attracted by their bright and bold flower heads. Most peonies prefer a neutral or slightly alkaline soil and don’t like to be water logged so watch the earth around their roots and check for flooding after a downpour. They burn brightly but can be over in a few days if the weather turns wet and windy! 

Mecanopsis aren’t always easy to grow in the south and prefer the Scottish climate but we are hopeful of a lovely display this year on Church Gill. If you’d like to grow mecanopsis, bear in mind that they enjoy humus-rich soil and moist but well-drained areas.

One final thing to see and enjoy in May are the bluebells, and while we wouldn’t plant them ourselves, we love and enjoy the proliferation of blue in the woodland walk area of the garden. The recent rain has perked up their vivid green leaves and there are still more buds to come promising purple flowers aplenty.

Header image credit Alex Hare