Lenten hellebores and daffodils are among the first flowers to bloom at Hollister House. Contrary to what I was told when I first started to garden, I have found that daffodils love moist soil, even if it gets a bit soggy in the winter. It’s amazing what the hybridizers have done with Helleborus X orientalis, the Lenten rose. There are now wonderful splashy doubles and exciting new colors. I’m especially fond of the pale yellows and near blacks. The pity is that hellebores are very difficult to propagate by division, which means that unless you are willing to pay through the nose, the plants you buy will be a color strain grown from seed, instead of a true cultivar. Once or twice I have shelled out the big bucks for a particularly tempting variety but it turns out that my favorite plants are from seed strains, purchased quite reasonably.
In May self seeded forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) are the leitmotif of the garden, popping up in almost every free spot. In early June I leave enough to set seed but yank most of them out before they can stunt the growth of annuals just sprouting out of the ground or newly emerging perennials. Tulips are also very important in defining the spring garden. I have found that the lily-flowered varieties tend to be more perennial than most – provided the voles or chipmunks don’t eat the bulbs
In June the garden reaches a peak of beauty and abundance So many good things are in bloom, among them roses and peonies, and everything is still fresh and unblemished by insect attack or fungus. It all seems relatively effortless; you need only to stroll about the garden every day and watch the plants burst into glorious bloom. I have always said that if your garden doesn’t look lovely in June, then you might as well stop wasting your time and take up bridge or tennis instead. The real work is to keep the garden going through the next months and into fall.
July is the month for daylilies since many of the best varieties bloom now. One of my favorite reds is ‘Wayside Red Ensign’, a generous bloomer with large blossoms of pure scarlet without any bluish tones in the red. Ten-foot-tall Macleaya cordata, the so-called plume poppy, looks nothing like a poppy but makes large blue-green leaves topped at this time with cream or coral plumes. The old farmyard variety I received from a friend twenty-five years ago is better than the commercially promoted ‘Coral Plume’; it has bluer leaves and doesn’t flop. I have often given pieces away since it isn’t sold in the trade. Both varieties spread rapidly through underground stolons and can be difficult to control.
August is often the least pleasant month of summer but it is a time of wonderful fullness and abundance in the garden. The stars are definitely the lilies (lilium) although there are also good daylilies (hemerocallis) still in bloom. Great clumps of perennials like Phlox paniculata and Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) give the garden a comfortable feeling of solid prosperity.
By September most of the major players in the garden have come and gone, but the dahlias are at their peak. The garden feels ripe and full and the cooler weather is welcome. I am especially fond of September and am always trying to discover better flowers for this lovely month. Last year I ordered over twenty of the newest late-late-flowering daylily hybrids, out of which I’m hoping for some real stars.