May musings and other rambling thoughts from the Whistling Gardener

Pitcher Plants are carnivorous and will help control unwanted insects like flies and mosquitos
A small bog garden can be a real conversation piece. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Delayed Gratification: It should be no surprise to my readers that May is a difficult month for me to accomplish much in my own garden (it is one of the unfortunate consequences of running a garden center).

I can usually steal away a few hours at the end of the day to get the beds cleaned up and the soil prepared and then thankfully the Missus steps in and does most of the planting. She does all the edibles and most of the containers and then in June when things slow down a bit I get to play with what I like to call the "June Stuff". 'June Stuff' are the heat lovers like Cannas, Taro, Lantana and Zinnias that you won't find in the garden center in April and May (or if you do they usually look like hell).

During the month of May I have to constantly remind myself that my turn is coming to play in the dirt so if you see me looking down in the dumps this month give me a pat on the back and a few words of encouragement but please don't do what my British mother-in-law does which is to tell me to get a "stiff upper lip". Empathy has never been a part of her vocabulary (but I love her anyway or at least that is what I tell her).

The Truly Weird and Wonderful: This coming Saturday, May 24th, we are giving a class on growing carnivorous bog plants at 10am here at the nursery. I am sure that these bizarre looking plants are living proof that aliens have inhabited this planet. They are surprisingly easy to grow either in the garden with some slight alterations to the soil or in containers where the drainage is controlled so they will stay moist year around.

A small bog garden can be a real conversation piece and as an added bonus these plants are carnivorous and will help control unwanted insects like flies and mosquitos. Don't let yourself get "bogged down" with the intricacies of growing carnivorous plants. Come to the class and find out how simple it really is.

The Big Transition: Late May is when our gardens change from a spring garden to the beginnings of a summer garden and like a teenager they can look awkward for a while. I have lots of bulbs in my garden and as they die it really distracts from the rest of the plantings.

Tulips and daffodils can be cut halfway back to the ground which will make them a lot more tidy-looking and they will bloom just fine the following year. Scillas (aka blue bells) on the other hand are the scourge of the garden (the missus dearly loves them of course) and I rip them out leaves and all just as soon as they finish blooming and before they set any seeds (none of this seems to alter their propensity to pop up the following spring in new and annoying places).

A few strategically located perennials and ornamental grasses also help to camouflage fading spring blooming plants.

Speaking of Perennials: Remember that most perennials have a bloom season of approximately 5-6 weeks unlike annuals that bloom all summer. If you want lots of color with perennials you need to plant a mix of spring, summer and fall bloomers so that something is always coming into bloom as something else is going out of bloom. It can be tricky but a well-planned perennial bed can be a constant source of enjoyment and unlike annuals, perennials will come back every year bigger and stronger.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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