Nearing the peak: 18th May

Our back garden has a very well developed Rhododendron and azalea them. The structure was put in by the previous owners but since then we’ve added quite a few ourselves. That means that May is a month where the back part of the garden reaches peak loveliness.*

So today a guide to the currently flowering Rhodies.

Let’s start with a couple of my favourites, and they’re favourites because of their scent as well as colour.

This luteum is now out in full. And has a lily like fragrance

Orange Rhododendron luteum variety

The bright orange contrasts beautifully with the “Astrid” variety next to it, which isn’t scented but has a gorgeous lush colour.

Astrid is the dark red colour next to the orange – I’m not sure what this variety is called
This blue variety, ramopo, also has blue tinted leaves, the flowers aren’t scented but the leaves and wood have an astringent herbal scent when rubbed. It’s very refreshing and wonde if it would repel insects.

Then we have the favourite I’ve mentioned before. Our wonderful polar bear Rhododendron – the fragrance is wonderful, but look as the silky billowing white flowers that open from pink buds. It’s a good 3m high and laden this year. Fantastic..

Rhododendron polar bear.

It’s neighbour, also a luteum has only one flower this year and I fear it will need to be replaced, but again a beautiful lily scent and I love the delicate petals.

A smaller orange luteum flower over beautiful bright green leaves

We have many Cunningham’s white in the garden. They are sometimes dismissed as EasyDendrons and you can (and should!) trim them like a hedge, they always spring back and are super reliable. I sometimes think they’re a little boring, but look at those delicate markings on the flower! And the dark green foliage really shows the contrast well. There’s a reason they’re popular.

A streak of Cunningham’s white flowers across a well pruned shrub.

Also white flowered and unscented is this wild form Rhododendron which has very attractive pink buds that open to white cup shaped flowers. The leaves are furry on the underside too. Also a favourite and not very commonly seen.

Furry leaf, pink buds, white cups shaped flowers. Check.

Helen Moser is another pretty common variety that is also at its peak now. As the flowers age they get very attractive markings inside developing. I assume some kind of landing strip for bees?

Helen Moser

We have several other pink azaleas but I don’t know what varieties they are. This one has very small leaves and builds a low shrub (1.5m high max) with an attractive structure too. No no

These are a deciduous azalea, we have a couple of them, just starting to open

The small leaves on this königstein are also very attractive and now it’s covered in beautiful star shaped purple pink flowers.

Königstein azalea.
I also love the star shaped purple flowers on this one. It’s another standard variety that is pretty commonly seen. I think it’s the Rhododendron catawbiense species and is very tough.
This is a low growing variety in a darker corner which looks luminous at this time of year, I think it is called Connie

We have a number of very low – less than half a metre high Rhodies that are not really my favourites- I think they’re too low and don’t really add structure, but they’re smothered in flowers at this time of year:

I like this coral pink colour

The reds rather clash with the rest of the cool pinks and purples but they’re undeniably bold

Low growing red Azalea

This cool yellow was an enormous mound and got cut back hard a few years ago. It’s recovered very well (unlike some of our others), but the flowers are now starting to fade. This is an earlier flowering azalea.

The yellow flowers work well with both the red and the pink nearby.

There are several more coming into flower soon, and several that have ended. May is a fantastic month, but there’s so much to see and appreciate it can be a bit overwhelming.

Tomorrow I will cover the lilacs, also getting close to their peak!

*kinda. I think there’s always something beautiful to look at here and that’s sort of the point of this year’s attempt to write a diary.


Springing Forward



As the Spring has come back (and I realise I’ve hardly posted on here this year), our garden has once more blossomed once more into a lush gorgeous Eden, which I’m determined to enjoy as much as possible.


At the same time, work is even more hectic than it used to be, we’re short-staffed and over-committed. It’s too easy to try and race to catch up with myself all the time and I find that my time in the garden is increasingly limited. It’s frustrating that although I love gardening and find it relaxing, I am actually sometimese too anxious about work to put the time in to get on with it and it starts to become a source of yet more stress.

I have therefore decided to set myself a new challenge – a vase of flowers for my office every week for a year, but only cut from our own garden. It’s a way to bring something of the peace and tranquility into what is often a hectic environment and to observe and think about the seasons.

You might have noticed that I have often posted pictures of vases of flowers and talk about what goes into them in this blog. I love having flowers around the house but I’m usually unwilling to buy them. Partly because of cost but mainly because of the staggering environmental and social cost of producing and transporting cut flowers, most of them from lands a very long way away.

See for example this excerpt:

Excerpt from this report on cut flowers

Given our lovely garden it shouldn’t be necessary to buy them in anyway, though winter might prove more of a challenge.

At this time of year though, I’m basically spoilt for choice in terms of cutting flowers but hopefully the requirement to get out and look around at least once a week will both inspire me to see the garden with new eyes each week and to educate – especially as I start to work out what different shrubs and flowers actually are and which will keep as cut flowers and which will not and also of course how to mix and arrange different blooms. It will hopefully also force me to keep posting – somethign I often struggle to fit in, even thoguh I like the contemplation that writing forces me to do.

I will post the pictures here and on instagram for your delight and inspiration as a moment of joy.

Starting this week with an easy classic, Convallaria majalis, the lily of the valley. It’s actually a native species too, and in the same family as asparagus.

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I’ve always loved the scent, it’s amazing to me that such unobtrusive flowers can fill a room, or a whole house with such a beautiful perfume. They look delicate but are really as tough as old boots, spreading with some vigour in conditions (dry shade under trees) that other plants find tough to thrive in.

*A word of warning though, all parts of the plant are poisonous. The leaves do have some superficial resemblance to edible wild garlic (ransoms) though they are generally darker + tougher and don’t have the same pungent garlic smell when crushed.*

The small flowers are often difficult to see in the garden so I feel I get much more joy from cutting a few and holding them up close to look at them carefully, while admiring that glorious perfume.

This little vase is now on my desk at work and filling the office with a heavy and heavenly scent.

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Other bigger and more exuberant flowers, I’d rather keep in the garden to admire from afar. The little white bells contrast so beautifully with the large deep green leaves too and I find them surprisingly long lasting in a vase.

So, perfume, beauty and long-lasting flowers, more or less the ideal first entry for my cut flower challenge.

See you next week…