The Darling Buds of May


There cannot be a more jubilant month in the gardener’s calendar than May. The whole garden is full of unstoppable energy. The garden changes daily – almost hourly – with growth and more intense colour from alliums, tulips and the first bearded irises. You can see new flowers opening every time you step outdoors.

For me, nothing celebrates the glorious month of May more than the wonderful froth of cow parsley. It is, I suppose technically a weed but it is a most beautiful one and at Columbine we love it. We have it growing in our orchards, moat banks and under pleached lime trees planted with white tulips. Cow parsley are umbellifers and are a good thing to have, as they attract a range of beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds into the garden.

There is a cultivated variety Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, with purple leaves and brown stems beneath the white, lacy flowers. It cross-pollinates with the wild cow parsley, which means that the offspring quickly loses the intensity of purple leaves, so if its purpleness is the main attraction for you then keep it well away from its wild cousin. I confess I do not mind as I am besotted by cow parsley in all its variations.

For obvious reasons we grow and adore Aquilegias, as their common name other than granny’s bonnet is columbine. They don’t just look pretty but are terribly easy to grow, unfussy about soil, seeding themselves everywhere and being herbaceous perennials, come back year after year without any attention or hardly any horticultural care needed.

They are happiest in semi-shade as strong sunlight and heat stunt their growth and singe the delicate leaves. The delicate glaucous broad leaves have the habit of holding drops of rain after most plants have slid the water away and the combination of the blue-green leaves tinged with violet and the clear crystals of water is enchanting.

When they have finished flowering – around the end of June – I cut the stalks off and let the leaves do their stuff without the distraction of drying spikes of stem. (Photo is of Aquilegia vulgaris).

For a few weeks the gardens here at Columbine are elevated by morning dew and cow parsley, apple and hawthorn blossom, bluebells fully on song and the dawn chorus. It is important to take time to enjoy spring as it unfurls in the garden – I am relishing every hour of it.