The first flush of the garden roses is well underway. They can prove irresistible. Last year there was a successful prosecution of a rose thief, arrested in the early hours of the morning climbing over the railings with a bucket of stolen blooms - our gardener, used to clearing up the sad remains of sniffed and discarded blooms, thought this was a great use of police time!
Though not at the top of any wildlife-friendly planting guide, roses do support wildlife. Rose sawfly larvae will soon gnaw their leaves to herring-bone skeletons, aphids will gather in great herds on new soft growth, leaf-cutter bees will cut semi-circular snippets from the leaves to line their brood cells. Single-flowered varieties will be busy with eager pollen-hunters. The double will be busy with noses, as garden visitors stop for a sniff.
Our roses are growing in poor, rubble-rich soil. They are unsprayed and only fed the odd bucket of compost once in a while. Despite the usual complicated advice that is usually given for rose growing, strong varieties really are tough easy shrubs. Of course, the varieties we grow have proven themselves over time and any that couldn't cope and wanted fussing have long since been thrown on the compost heap. Death to the weak!
The Oriental poppy, Papaver orientale 'Coral Reef', grown from Thompson & Morgan seed, is flowering now at the North End, with big beautiful bristly buds opening into great glamorous satin-petalled, soft-pink flowers. Oriental poppies are tough persistent perennials, easily grown from seed they will flower in only a year. Growing through the cooler months to flower in early summer, once established they are pretty much drought-proof, though if the summer is very dry they will go dormant and collapse in a messy heap after flowering, waiting until the first rains of autumn get growing again. In flower for only a few weeks, there are still plenty of buds to open. Enjoy.
Three-cornered Leek, Allium triquetrum, is the only plant growing at the Phoenix that our gardener truly considers a weed. Just coming to the end of it's flowering, the white-with-a-green-stripe pixie-hat flowers have been busy with bees and as pretty as can be, but, he says "don't be lured into planting it". Described by less reputable bulb companies as 'suitable for naturalising', Three-cornered Leek is extremely competitive and a menace. The rapidly multiplying bulbs spread quickly through borders and it seeds incontinently. The leaves first appear in early winter and grow throughout the colder months, to form an impenetrable blanket that smothers neighbours - herbaceous plants rot beneath the dense foliage, the lower branches of shrubs likewise, even rough grass cannot compete. From the strong scent of the bruised foliage, it is often mistaken for wild garlic, but it is easily identified by the triangular cross section of the flower stems and the flabby, linear grey-green leaves. Wild garlic is much smaller with wide dark green shiny leaves and a clean garlic scent - it is altogether better behaved.
Three-cornered Leek. Impossible to get rid of and a dirty killer. You have been warned.
The wisteria has been fantastic this year, with loads of violet trails of flowers waving in the breeze. Flowers soon to fade, it's getting ready to spread great octopus arms over Flitcroft Street, the long rubbery stems of extension growth will need cutting back repeatedly through the summer or it will end up in a great tangled mess.
Rosa chinensis sanguinea, flowers in waves through the year, even in the very dry soil beneath our wild pear tree. All the new growth ends in loose clusters of elegant uptight buds that open their petals in a big red flop. The single flowers are unscented. The foliage is healthy with strong red tints. An old China rose, it has been grown for hundreds of years, and with good reason. It really is a very good shrub, pretty, tough and trouble-free.
From a dumpy bag of dirt, reclaimed from deconstruction work, this tissue-petalled beauty has arisen. We did not sow it. Since the garden was created in 1984 and the first plants here were grown, seeds have been gathering in the soil, to bide their time and wait for the chance to burst into life. Some species, like this Field Poppy, we may not see for years at a time. Only able to grow on disturbed ground, they spring up to mark where we've been working. In a few short weeks it will be dead, but it will have invested in the future by then, for soon the poppy's pepper-pot heads will be scattering seeds by the thousand, to top up the seed bank for the years to come.
Abutilon x suntense always attracts attention, adding early summer glamour beneath the wild pear tree. Eager-snouted visitors will draw the flowers up to sniff them, probably expecting to inhale a rich perfume but despite the flower's promise, there is none - it is none the worse for that. It will produce a succession of voluptuous violet blooms throughout May, June and into July. Fast growing, though short-lived, it easily reaches 3m in only a couple of years - hard pruning after flowering keeps it lower.
Below, a Nomada bee visits. Solitary cleptoparasites of Andrena mining bees, the females sneak into the well-stocked burrows of mining bees to lay eggs. Disposing of the mining bee grubs, the Nomada larvae develop, feeding on the stolen supplies. They are only active from late April to early June, so the flowering of the Abutilon suits their schedule perfectly.
Knocked up from a scrap of exterior-grade plywood, stuffed with paper tubes and given a quick lick of paint, our new bee house is up and ready despite the rain. Many of the garden bee species are solitary and would naturally nest in hollow plant stems or old wood-boring beetle holes. Many will happily use artificial nest sites and we've had good success with commercial bee boxes before - we look forward to seeing what species, if any, like this home-made version. It has gone up rather late for the early Red Mason bees to use but, as in most things, it's better late than never. After rolling all the paper tubes by hand, our gardener says "they'd better bloody well use it"
Perched atop our brick pile is this healthy group of Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum, covered in a confetti of small pink flowers, busy with bees and pretty as anything. Rooted into little more than woodlouse poop, it shows just how tough and adaptable this native annual is. Growing in sun, shade, damp or dry, it will spring up wherever it can get a foothold. Ferociously fecund, each plant will produce countless seeds, flinging them far and wide. For some it's a frustrating weed. Here, in the main, it gently jostles for space, moving round the garden as it constantly claims new ground - lots get tugged out and fed to the compost heap. Annual it may be but it is a perennial presence in the garden - just as well we like it so much.
Outside the garden was this very flat rat, almost thin enough to label, stamp and send as a novelty postcard. In the garden, despite our ongoing pogrom, far too many remain in healthy 3D, feasting on visitor leftovers, and scaring the bejeezus out of our gardener, dashing between his wellies. Locally, the rat population is up, while municipal treatments are down - we're unlikely to see the last of these blighters anytime soon.