My garden in May
That lovely sweet phrase ‘Darling buds of May’ may be a bit optimistic this time around as we’re so far behind this year. Actually it doesn’t only refer to the opening of buds and heralding of the warm summer season ahead but also specifically to the flowering of the May tree , the Common Hawthorne, which flowers at this time of the year. The Hawthorne is important in the mythology of old England and there is symbolism in its standing as an early flowering tree. Sadly, this year we may get the May tree flowering in June instead.
January and February were cold but I don’t think things were set back too much at that stage. It’s been March that has been unbelievably awful and everything has been delayed. Our frogs had a brief attempt at mating in the beginning of March but produced little and soon gave up. The water was frothing a lot so we thought there was the usual massive activity. We found there was only a small amount of frogspawn, which later died, so we thought sadly that we had missed out. You can imagine my delight when halfway through April it was quite obvious that the frogs were having an orgy with masses of spawn resulting. It is interesting because friends with a very warm walled garden were talking about having a lot of frogspawn in March and by mid April were beginning to get tadpoles. Odd how different things can be in gardens only a few hundred yards apart.
In the beginning of the month my greenhouse is full of vegetable seedlings such as tomatoes, courgettes and Aubergine. I’ve managed to pot us some baskets and pots ready to go out once the frosts have finished. But everything is late because March was so cold. I love pottering around in the greenhouse planting everything up. It is so relaxing. Do open the greenhouse vents and door on warm days.
Harden off plants by taking them out of the greenhouse during the day for short periods, gradually lengthening the time their out.
On hot days damp down the floor of the greenhouse to increase the humidity. This benefits plant growth and also will help to reduce the risk of pests.
Continue sowing hardy annuals where you want them to flower outside in drifts.
Sweet Pea plants will be getting quite big by now. Make sure that you have set a wigwam of canes in place for them to climb up.
The weeds will need hoeing now as everything is starting to grow.
Once the frost has finished Cannas and Dahlias can be planted out. I started my Dahlias off in the greenhouse in April to give them a head start.
It’s the time of year to sow spring bedding for next year, Wallflowers, Pansies, Sweet William and Bellis.
Thin out sowings of hardy annuals to give the larger plants a chance. Forget me nots can be lifted once they’ve finished flowering. I love their cheerful blue flowers but be careful, they tend to take over by self-seeding.
Continue to tie in climbing roses remembering to tie them in as horizontal as possible to get more flowers.
Feed aquatic plants with a slow release fertilizer. Water lilies will appreciate this. Divide and replant water lilies once they have shown signs of growth. Small baskets can be set on bricks and slowly lowered to the bottom of the pond as the plants grow.
If you have a bog garden it’s a good time to divide the plants.
Remove blanket weed by twirling it around a stick, always a fun activity. Skim off duckweed with a sieve. Always leave any plants or weeds that you have removed from the pond by the pond for 24 hours to allow creatures to return to the water.
Start to feed fish – little and often.
Pruning & Propagating
As Hostas come into growth they can be divided now. I’d also put grit and eggshells down to try and persuade the slugs and snails to stay away.
Take softwood cuttings of Pelargonium and Fuchsia.
Liquid feed containers and baskets from now throughout the summer every couple of weeks. I also liquid feed my flowerbeds. If it’s possible to recycle water from a down pipe going into a water butt set it up.
Evergreen hedges can be trimmed now as well as spring flowering shrubs such as Ribes,Chamoels, Viburnum tinus and Choisya. Tender shrubs such as Penstemon and Caryopteris should be cut back after frosts have finished.
Spring bulbs can be lifted and divided.
Trim back Aubrietia and Alyssum once it has flowered.
Propagate by layering such as Forsythia, Philadelphus, Hydrangea and Clematis.
Prune early flowering clematis and trim Choisya after flowering to encourage a second flowering. Lavender may need trimming back and tidying up.
Lawns will now need mowing every five to seven days. I still always mow on medium or high so that I don’t scalp the grass. It is a false economy to mow on low thinking that you won’t have to mow so often. The grass will suffer and more weeds will have a chance of getting established.
Continue sowing new lawns from seed and also bare patches.
Repair bumps and dips by peeling back the turf and adding or removing soil and then replacing the turf.
Earth up potatoes. Harvest Rhubarb and Asparagus. Start to harden off outdoor tomatoes, courgettes and pumpkins.
Plant out Leeks and pinch out Broad Beans.
Weed around Garlic and Onions to reduce competition to nutrients and water.
Reduce blossom from newly planted fruit trees to give them a chance to get established. Put netting around soft fruit and check Gooseberries for caterpillars. They will strip gooseberries of all their leaves given half a chance. Cute to look at, but lethal.
Hang Phermmoren traps in plum and apple trees to reduce codling moth.
Plants for colour in May
There are so many plants now flowering. I love all the scented flowers. Try Rosmarinus officinalis with Salvia officinalis Purpurascens and Ophiopogon planiscapus (Black Grass). I use Black grass in many different combinations as it’s such a versatile grass. It goes in my winter window boxes or in edges and borders and I combine it with Heuchera Palace Purple.
Ceanothus will be flowering now. It contrasts well with any species of Cytisus and also Spiraea x Arguta ‘The Bridal Wreath’
Tamerix tetrandra, Cytisus x Praecox and tulips look good together.
I love Lilac trees large and dwarf. When I got married 34 years ago on the 19th May (making him my ‘darling buddy of May’) the Lilac was in full bloom and we cut some from the garden for decoration in the house. Because of global warming Lilac now flowers at the beginning of May and in very warm years in April.
Iris are beautiful plants to have in the garden. Iris sibirica with Hesperis matronalis and Rosa Maigold give spring colour or in the shade Epimedium x Versicolor with Dicentra. Another shade combination is Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) with Asplenium scolopendrium (Harts tongue Fern.)
Don’t forget that annuals give the summer garden added colour. Bizzie Lizzies brighten a shady spot.
Remember Ne’er cast a clout till May is out. Probably meaning you may well still need your winter coat until the end of May or until the May tree has finished flowering.