May Favorites

A day late, but I'm joining Loree at The Danger Garden for the End of the Month Favorites. A bad headache kept me from finishing taking photos for this post yesterday, so I went out today to capture the rest of the images I wanted. Unfortunately, I waited until the sun was glaring down balefully over the garden. Can you tell I'm not a fan of heat and intense sunshine? Even when my head doesn't hurt, my eyes are more sensitive than most. But enough about me. This post is supposed to be about the plants!

This favorites post is almost long enough to be one of my Bloom Day/Foliage Follow-up combo posts. Since I skipped both this month, I guess it kind of is. It's a bit heavy on the blooms (it is May, after all) but many of of the flowering plants also have nice foliage. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that many of the foliage plants also have nice flowers, since that's how I prioritize my plant selections...most of the time.

May is peak blooming season for Rhododendrons, including the deciduous azaleas. Below is 'Fireball', a deciduous azalea with (obviously) red blooms, as well as attractive reddish new leaves. 

I think this one is 'Mandarin Lights', but it could be 'Golden Lights'. Whichever one this isn't has no blooms this year. Another deciduous azalea, 'Mary Poppins', isn't blooming this year, either. They're all young plants that are still getting established, so that's no surprise. I love getting what blooms they can give me. They'll be full of flowers once they get more established.

'Mount Saint Helens' was the first deciduous azalea we planted, so it has a few more blooms. It's still a fairly young plant, and has been set back because it's growing in a burnt-out stump that proved a bit more challenging an environment than anticipated. I should probably add some more soil to the stump soon, actually.

After improving the soil (and adding more of it) to the stump, the azalea is looking its best yet.

A wide shot of Stump St. Helens, with the azalea erupting from the crater. The white flowers in the lower right belong to Hutchinsia alpina, reaching the end of its bloom cycle and looking a bit ratty viewed up close. The pink and purple flowers in front of the stump belong to three native penstemons. I was going to include native plants in this post, but had so many favorites in that category that I'm giving them their own post.

Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' delights with vanilla-scented flowers (mind the clouds of pollen it releases if you bump it, though) and chartreuse new growth.

Speaking of chartreuse, the lime thyme is taking over again. In the photograph below, it's attempting to devour a Helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant', among other things. Glaring in the full light of day, the combination glows rather nicely in the early and late hours.

Orange and chartreuse seem to be a combination I enjoy, even if I didn't realize it consciously. Here it is again with Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' and Rhododendron 'Medusa'.

Medusa is fading in the heat, but here she is at her peak.

I just love this rhododendron.

My first peony blossom, ever. This is a family heirloom, though I keep forgetting if it came from my great grandparents or great great grandparents. It's been around awhile. An aunt gave me a division last year and I nursed the resulting tiny plant along until I thought it was safe to put it in the ground. I was not at all expecting flowers yet, but it surprised me earlier this spring with a bud atop its single stem. I've been anxiously watching it, assuming something like a slug, rabbit, wind, or hail, would damage the single flower bud before it opened. It made it through and now here it is!

The abundance of flowers this month has me distracted and almost overwhelmed. I find myself purposefully focusing (or trying to focus) on the calmer foliage vignettes in the garden, like this lush Carex comans which grew back beautifully after I cut it back hard. It was looking a bit ratty after this winter. It's come back much better than the Carex testacea I trimmed back. Actually, it does better than Carex testacea in general, in my garden. I may take out the testacea and replace them with bronze comans.

Lush Hosta 'The Shining' looks dramatic with the bright sun picking out its veins in detail. Cyrtomium fortunei, Iris japonica [small form] from Far Reaches, Prunella vulgaris, and Fragaria chiloensis create a lush green tableau around it.

A friend at Cistus Nursery gave me this Carex grayi last year. These flowers are amazing! Soon they'll be golden brown little 1-inch mace-like seedheads.

Siberian irises blooming on either side of the dry creek bed, a perennial favorite.

The lemon daylilies are just starting to bloom. Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus has an intoxicating fragrance like lemon blossoms, thus the common name.

I have several Podocarpus 'County Park Fire' that are taking off this year. They didn't do much last year, being rescue plants that needed some tlc, but this year they have lots of that fiery new growth for which they were named. I love it paired here with Juncus patens in the front and backed by Mimulus cardinalis.

My favorite of the handful of bearded irises in the garden. These were given to me by a friend and have a scent similar to orchids, a bit like vanilla with other, less-identifiable exotic scents mixed in.

I also just love the colors.

If I were judging by scent alone, the grape-scented flowers of Iris pallida 'Variegata' would definitely be my favorite.

And even when the flowers fade, there's still the wonderful foliage. Hmm, maybe this is my favorite bearded iris...

The Pacific Coast Hybrid irises are in various stages of bloom. Some have finished. Others are just starting. Currently I'm in love with the reddish-orange types, but apparently I had a thing for more yellow/tan-colored flowers with patterned falls, as that seems to be what I have the most of:

'Pacific Moon'


Iris douglasiana 'Burnt Sugar'

Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta' is all bloomed out now, but for the first half of the month it was glorious.

The California poppies are starting to bloom. I sowed seed of the Mikado Red strain last year and had a range of colors, mostly similar to this one:

But in just one generation, you can see throwbacks to the typical light orange color start to appear. I could weed out the lighter orange ones to help maintain the darker flowers, but who has time for that? I'll just enjoy whatever comes up.

I'm not sure what this rose is. I think its feral, an escapee from cultivation, rather than a native species. But there are several around the property. The largest one climbs over 30 feet into a tree along the fence line.

The individual flowers don't last long, but this plant in particular is loaded with buds that should keep it flush with fragrant blooms for some time. The blooms turn into large red hips that last well into winter.

One of the Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling' in the Acer griseum bed surprised me with a few dainty white flowers. I rather like them. I bought this plant for the foliage, but these blooms are a fun little surprise.

I'll finish off with three rhododendrons with amazing new growth.

First up with Rhododendron faithiae. I'm amazed at the new growth this year. It clearly had no trouble getting established in its new location over the winter, and is definitely appreciating the increased moisture over the dry location it was in.

A bit later, with dew-covered leaves sparkling in the morning sun.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum is also appreciating being moved out of the dry shade it was in. The new leaves have a much better blue now compared to last year.

I save the best for last. Rhododendron pachysanthum is the temperate climate answer to Kalanchoe orgyalis.

I am so glad I found one of these when I was looking for something for a spot in the Acer griseum bed. It's perfect.

And that is my lengthy list of May favorites. Next week I'm going to try to get to that special edition of favorite natives. 


  1. I am not a fan of heat and intense sunshine either. I can commiserate on the headaches. I want moderate temps (50s and 60s) and overcast skies for planting. The rain and unseasonal cold went on a bit too long, but I just want it a little drier and a little warmer, not SUMMER already! Love the PCIs, those are my favorites right now too.

    1. I like those temperatures, too, though I did want some heat to get things growing. Just not this much! I'd love to have some time in the high 60s to low 70s, a balance between comfort and plant growth. I still have planting to do, too. Like you, I want the clouds back for that.

  2. The rain in the PNW may have been a pain but it sure seems to have benefited the garden. My own California poppies and Pacific Iris are long over and done with for the season. And of course, we can't grow most Rhododendron. I've even given up on azaleas due to their water demands, as well as the challenges posed by our summer heat and the seemingly constant winds we experience here. I need to look into that Hebe, though.

    1. All that rain does nothing to help the things I've planted this month. I started watering in earnest today. Even things I planted earlier this spring may not have gotten far from their nursery root balls to take advantage of the still-moist soil beyond. That hebe is such a great plant for texture and foliage color.

  3. Everything is beautiful. I love your rhododendrons. I am not a fan of the heat and sun either.

    1. Thanks. The weather is cooling down for the rest of the week! I'm so excited!

  4. Watering, it is the downside of this sunny warmth (just reading your reply to Kris, above). Newly planted things are screaming out for shade and water... I'm trying not to ignore them.

    Love your photo of the little flowers on Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling' - I have a feeling I wouldn't appreciate them so much "in real life"...but you make them look lovely.

    1. At least things are finally growing in earnest. That's the upside of the hot sun, even if some of that new growth is getting a bit crispy where it touches hot mulch. I'm still adding new plants. What is wrong with me? I wanted to be done a month ago so I didn't have to panic about watering.

      Thanks so much! I think those hebe flowers actually are quite lovely. Much better than all those silver-leaved plants with yellow flowers.

  5. Are your deciduous Azaleas fragrant? I was surprised by the heady scent of an Azalea on a garden tour and have been on the lookout ever since. Your parade of pretty posies made my day.

    1. 'Golden Lights' is very fragrant (I went out later to check the tag and happened to sniff it. I think it's the only one I have that is. At our last house, we had a huge yellow deciduous azalea that had the most wonderful fragrance. Never knew what its name was.

  6. Rhododendron pachysanthum is the temperate climate answer to Kalanchoe orgyalis.

    Ha! It sure is! I was going to comment that, but you beat me to it.

    You have so many choice plants. The Podocarpus, all the Iris, the heirloom Peony, and of course the Rhododendrons. Enjoyed all your beautiful photos, too. I have the opposite experience with Carex--here the C. comans barely survives a year, while testacea thrives.

    1. Of course, I have Kalanchoe orgyalis in a pot, too, but most succulents grow so slowly for me. Interesting to know about C. comans in your climate. I think others in the PNW have more success with testacea, but it's been kind of finicky in my garden, at least where I've planted it so far.

  7. So much beauty this time of year, it is dizzying. My three Hebe 'James Stirling' have more bloom then ever this year; could it be the prolonged winter? Good luck trying to pick just one Bearded Iris as a favorite: for me its' always the one in front of me at that moment... the blue/purple and white is a stunner, but it's possible that Iris pallida 'Variegata' tops them all: It's strong scent reminds me of bazooka bubble gum.
    Finally, I narrowed my favorite pictures to two: Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta' and Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold'. I think it's how you captured the profusion of bloom up-close and perfectly that took my breath away.

    1. I only planted my 'James Stirling' last year, so I couldn't say if the winter had any effect on bloom. I do love the scent of Iris pallida 'Variegata'. Thanks so much, Chav. Those are two fantastic plants, on top of making pretty pictures.


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