Flowers are not the only colour
The month of May provides an abundance of flower colour. A multitude of shrubs and many perennials are in full flowering pomp convincing us that winter is well and truly over and that the dog days of summer are just ahead of us. It's easy to be swept up by this avalanche of petals and blossoms.But there are more subtle, gentler and often overlooked colours available in the garden this month.
Spring leaf emergence turns the garden and countryside into a patchwork of the lyrical forty shades of green but for some plants its an opportunity to show off other colours. Maples are particularly good at this. Many Japanese maples provide seemingly unseasonal brilliant autumn shades in spring.
Acer palmatum 'Katsura' and Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' both have beautiful bright yellow/orange emerging leaves before hardening off to lime green for summer. Acer p. dissectum 'Emerald Lace' produces lime green/yellow filigree leaves with red margins, these often contrast wonderfully with older darkened foliage during the growing season.The Japanese maples are not the only Acers to exhibit these qualities.
Acer cappadocicum 'Aureum' has yellow/claret spring leaves and A. cappadocicum 'Rubrum' has blood red/claret foliage. Both make medium sized trees. Acer pseudoplatanus 'Brilliantissimum' is a slow growing sycamore that makes a small tree. Its young leaves are a fabulous shrimp pink turning yellow then finally green for summer. Sorbus aria 'Lutescens' is a tree that has new leaves covered with a creamy white tomentum [a covering of fine hair] and Tilia henryana a rare slow growing lime tree is similar with a downy carmine covering on opening leaves. Both green up as summer progresses.
Two favourite evergreen shrubs in Irish gardens are Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin' and Pieris 'Forest Flame' both have brightly coloured new foliage. P. 'Red Robin' has glossy brilliant red growth and Pieris 'Forest Flame' starts red turns pink then cream before indecisively settling on green. Pieris 'Flamimg Silver' is similar to Forest Flame but ultimately has silvery white variegations to its leaves. A plant that may be considered quite dull for most of the year is at the moment displaying a treasury of new silver growth. Elaeagnus x ebbingei is an evergreen shrub and is great as coastal shelter planting.
It also works well as a contrast plant with Sambucus 'Black Lace' and Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus' or with other purple and yellow foliaged plants. The usually austere conifer also has a part to play with most new growth on them presenting welcome relief from their monotone summer colours.
Picea orientalis 'Aurea' is a particularly beautiful example with bright yellow growing tips against a dark green backdrop of its existing foliage. Cedrus deodara 'Aurea' is a softer looking than the Picea with drooping yellow growing tips making a spectacular large tree.