Who wouldn’t have a persimmon tree after seeing one in May?
May can be a dreary Month. Leaf fall has largely happened and what was golden and toasted has slumped and gathered into rotting wind drifts. The autumn crocus have finished flowering. The windflowers are almost gone. There are a few roses left, but they are sad and bruised with cold, like a face screwed up and grim against a winter wind. Even the hydrangea flowers, which have been bringing joy since January, are beginning to brown off. Bedraggled and exhausted, is how most of the remaining flowers in the garden look in May.
Five things in this garden are not at their wits end: the nerines, a lovely autumn/winter flowering bulb which come in white, red and coral pink; the camilias, some of which are coming out; daphne bholua, which is very hard to spell; some fairy-tale toadstools and, the persimmon tree.
Nerines (see a picture below) are worth having. They are native to South Africa and generally like full sun and to be planted and then let be. They don’t mind being dry. In fact, the bulb shouldn’t be allowed to be too wet, especially when it is dormant, or they will rot. They stand neat and jaunty on robust stalks and the flowers last for weeks. Apparently they are named “nerine” after a sea nymph, because a collection of bulbs washed up from a ship wreck on the isle of Guersey, where they naturalised all around the coast. They haven’t got a scent to speak of, but they are bright splashes of colour in May, garish even, in the case of the pink and the red ones, like lipsticked lips when you’re just getting over the flu. The white ones seem to come out first, in April and then the pink ones are later in May. I’m not sure about the red ones as I don’t happen to have any, though I know that they bloom in late autumn/winter.
I’m not going to talk about camellias. They are not my favourite flower or plant, despite how useful they are for colour in winter and for cups of tea!
I was raking leaves off the drive today. The air was damp because we had record May rains three days ago and it was still overcast. It was still and I was sniffing the air, because that is what you do when you are raking leaves on a still damp day. I could smell beautiful sweet wafts of something. I found the source of the scent in one of the beds beside the circular drive near the house. The daphne bholua bush is starting to come into flower. It is between 2 and 3 metres high in a shady bed beneath some tall hawthorns. This is a bit of garden joy. I hadn’t registered that it began flowering as early as May before. It is possible it is early this year. Some of my violets are flowering at the moment, which also seems oddly early. There are lots of different daphnes. Bholua is a bit harder to get than the later flowering odora, and is not quite as strongly scented, but it is a larger and longer lived shrub. Everyone should have one.
The other thing we discovered while raking was a gathering of red spotted toadstools on the front lawn. They are toxic and not native to Australia. They live symbiotically with some European trees, like cedar, which ours are near.
Then there is the Persimmon tree. Why I can find the pink and red nerines a little garish, whereas the vivid orange lantern shaped persimmons are not, I don’t know. Perhaps because the orange is an autumn colour. A Persimmon tree can be grown in a small garden. Some people have them in their Hobart gardens, sometimes in the front of the house near the gate as a feature tree. They grow to 10 metres high or so. Their fruit hang on when the leaves are gone and glow as if with an inner light. Our two trees are the astringent variety, which are unpleasant to eat when they are firm, but which grow very sweet when they become soft and jelly-like inside (ours are still not quite at this stage yet). They have lovely glossy green leaves in the summer and the fruit are interesting to look at while still green. Persimmons come from China. There is a beautiful poem about them by a poet named Li-Young Lee, which I recommend, but won’t print here for fear of breaching copyright. They are not my favourite fruit to eat, but they are a joy to look at. I am attempting to grow a yew hedge behind ours, as I think the orange will be set off well against the dark green. We can’t hold our breath about this though, as my yew plants are small, and yew is slow growing. One day!