POTS & PLANTS

Hummingbirds may visit all summer when they discover you have the cigar flower plant on your balcony or patio.

The Lusty Month of May!

by Peter Gribble
In the musical Camelot, when Julie Andrews sang, “It’s May! It’s May, the lusty month of May! That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray …” no verse mentions May gardening. Queen Guinevere never picked up a trowel in her life.

Garden centres have been stocking up their inventories since the end of April in anticipation of May’s spring buying frenzy. With rising temperatures more dependable than April’s, the floodgates open. Despite the larger garden centres having grower trucks come in nearly every morning – and smaller stores at least once or twice a week – items will run out and favourite product can be shorted. The growers try to keep up but when garden spokespersons promote specific plants the item can abruptly sell out everywhere, never to be restocked until the following year.

Hence the tired adage, "the early bird gets the flat of cherished 4” annuals as soon as it shows on the retail horizon."

As a garden writer, there’s little risk in revealing one of my favourites as it has become popular and more widely available over the years. The sunny sections of my garden are dedicated to hummingbirds and pollinators and the best hummingbird plant is the annual Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ also commonly known as the cigar flower plant. There are other varieties but they are no match to this one. It grows happily in pots in the sunny sections of a balcony but I’m uncertain how high a hummingbird will fly to reach it. Astonishingly, I heard of a male Anna’s hummingbird occasionally showing up to a feeder on a 20th floor patio balcony. Hummingbirds will visit all summer when they discover you have the cigar flower plant. Upon planting it, a light trim will help bush it out and create more blooms. Flowering continues right up to the frost. All my attempts to overwinter it consistently fail.

Year after year, you go to your favourite garden store to buy one or two plants and come away with product enough to fill forty acres. Not immune, I am fully aware of my botanical gambling habit and tell myself I can quit any time I want.

They say "know your limit, play within it." However, in the throes of predictable relapse, I succumb to the urgent excuse of cool-weather gardening, which insists: do it now!

The Lower Mainland 2018’s summer will be hot; so warns the Farmer’s Almanac. Hence this year’s crop of wary gardeners will do as much as they can, as soon as they can. The great killer of gardening on balcony, patio, yard or acreage and in garden centres, too, is the first blast of summer temperatures. Spring’s busy season comes to an abrupt end and as the best botanical intentions wither in the heat, the procrastinators flee for the shade and the tray of iced drinks.

The massive range of available planting material will flummox the best intentions. One of the machetes to cut through the jungle of choice is the mantra: “Thriller, filler, spiller.” It is a popular, three tiered planting guide for a pot-based garden. All in a single pot, your ‘thriller’ is the central, vertical element planted first (such as a dracena, an upright perennial, grass or evergreen shrub) followed by the ‘filler’ element planted to surround and balance the ‘thriller’ component (annuals make for a long, lasting floral foundation.) Last is the ‘spiller’ (ivy, wire vine, potato vine), planted closest to the pot’s rim, which by trailing over the edge softens it.

Repeating the formula too often can weary the eye. Punctuate your thriller-filler-spiller collection with one or three smaller pots (think in odd numbers: 1s, 3s and 5s) with a single plant perhaps a ground cover plant to act as filler and spiller. The fun part of a pot-based landscape, no matter how small, is pots can be danced about and easily replanted as your gardening experience and preferences evolve.

Even so, set plans, best intentions and mantras will fly out the window when faced with May’s invasive, riotous extravaganza.

Of course, Julie may have had a point. When you think of the glorious abundance of spring flowers thrilling, filling, spilling and otherwise disporting themselves with abandon … it’s nothing more than an orgiastic display of pistils and stamens! Sexual organs! In every size, shape and colour! Everywhere! All of our gardening pleasure is but an indulgent voyeur’s pandering to sex, sex, sex!

The lusty month of May! Blissfully astray! Indeed, if Guinevere had taken up gardening, Camelot might’ve been a very different musical.