May 10 – ‘Marvellous, Marvellous May’

Herts and Essex Observer – May 2010 Article


Marvellous, Marvellous May


MAY is our favourite month in the garden. Plants are growing so quickly that you can almost see them and hear them. The apple blossom is looking gracious and the tulips are looking majestic. Add to that there is the fresh, sweet ‘May smell’ in the air, a mixture of heady scents from lilacs, wildflowers and grass clippings and you get something truly spectacular.  You just have to get out into the countryside and take it all in, the cow parsley and campions are bursting into flower and now is the perfect time to see the bluebells at their very best.


A bluebell wood in full flower is an unmissable spring treat and here in the UK we are lucky enough to have 70% of the world’s common bluebells. Fortunately, they are a protected species and taking bluebells from the wild is a criminal offence so these wonderful places should be preserved for many years to come.


Meanwhile back in the garden, our cherished garden plants are starting to romp away but unfortunately so are the weeds. Keep your hoe to hand and be ready to hoe them out as soon as they come through. It doesn’t take long this time of year for weeds to get a foothold and smother your garden if not kept in check. You will see lots of cleavers and spring germinators such as knotgrass, fat hen and the dreaded bindweed.  Bindweed is notoriously hard to get rid of. The only answer is to try to dig it all out or to spray it with glyphosate. We don’t normally like spraying chemicals but with bindweed (and ground elder and couch grass) there really is no other alternative unless you have the patience of a saint and all the time in the world to try to dig out all the roots.


Pests are also lurking in the shadows waiting to start munching on your plants so keep vigilant to avoid problems later on. We are hoping that the cold temperatures earlier on in the year have helped to reduce pest populations but time will certainly tell.


Now that the danger of frost has nearly passed we can start thinking about planting out our bedding plants. I must admit we have already chanced our arm and put a few trailing geraniums out in baskets and containers to give an instant blast of colour. In the unlikely event of a frost you’ll have to be prepared to run outside and cover them up with a few layers of fleece to keep them happy and warm. If you have been growing them in the greenhouse or on the window sill up until now, you will need to introduce them outside gradually to harden them off so they don’t get too much of a shock.  There can be a lot of snobbery about bedding plants and some people do turn their noses up at the thought of having them in their garden but personally we love them. They are extremely versatile and can really lift a border and add interest; the range of varieties and colours these days is vast and a block of geraniums or busy lizzies can look spectacular either in pots or dotted amongst your perennials. If you have a sunny spot go for petunias or geraniums and if you have a shadier spot try busy lizzies or bedding begonias.


May is also a great time of year to get down to the garden centre for a bit of plant shopping. Most people have had plant casualties due to last winter’s cold temperatures and we all have gaps to plug, whether it be shrubs or trees, climbers or perennials and all the garden centres are bursting with goodies. Personally, we can never leave a garden centre without bringing something back. Often we impulse buy and see something that we must have but don’t necessarily think about where we can put it.


Towards the end of the month you can also start planting out those tender vegetables such as tomatoes (I know they are technically a fruit but you know what I mean), French beans, runner beans, squashes and sweet corn. We tried a fabulous cucumber last year called ‘Masterpiece’ that performed remarkable well outside in pots and gave us 6 fruits per plant so we are definitely giving them another go this year. There is nothing quite like fresh home-grown cucumber in your Pims.


If you are planning on sowing some runner beans this year, a good performing red flowered variety to note is ‘Enorma’ and a good white flowered variety is ‘Emergo’. You’ll find that a white variety will do better in hot, sunny conditions but a red variety is better on taste. Whichever variety you plump for you must keep them well watered, especially if grown in pots.


Another thing you can do in May is to have a go at taking soft wood cuttings of things like Forsythia, Philadelphus, Spirea and Fuchsias. This isn’t as hard as it might seem. Simply take a cutting of about 10cm (4inch) in length from a healthy non-flowering soft shoot, cutting below a leaf joint. Then remove the bottom leaves from the lower third of the stem and insert into a pot of compost. Place a clear plastic bag over it to keep it warm and to encourage the cutting to root and grow away. Hey presto! New plants for free, that’s got to be good.



Did You Know: There is an ancient area of woodland near Billericay in Essex called Norsey Wood that is believed to have the highest concentration of bluebells anywhere in the world. We went there a few days ago and can honestly say it does have the wow factor.


Saying of the Month: ‘Ne’er cast a clout until May is out’