Cycling through Cheltenham this morning, on my way to collect some groceries, I was surprised by the chill in the air. I don’t know why I was surprised. It's still only May, after all. And May in Gloucestershire retains a touch of winter's chill. The sun feels warm as I stop at traffic lights on my way – it is the chilly breeze that encircles me as I cycle that reminds me it is still May and not quite time to launch myself into my summer wardrobe.
It's always about the weather...
My garden - before the lawn was cut
We have been blessed with amazing weather over the last few weeks. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who is feeling grateful for this. My social calendar has emptied, my world has shrunk and now I spend almost one hundred percent of my time at home – like most of the UK during this Covid-19 crisis. There are the odd trips out to the supermarket, bike rides through town or runs and walks around the park. I have some garden maintenance clients who I am still able to work for. It is easy to observe social distancing when you are working outdoors in someone else's garden. I just can't accept the usual cups of coffee.
The sunny weather has meant that our Spring gardens have burst into life. My garden looks best this time of year and, as a result of the warm weather, more flowers are in bloom at the moment than would usually be. My garden boasts tall Allium flowers and spikes of chives, along with Aquilegia and Irises held up on slender stems. The Geraniums have started to trail and work hard to fill in some of the gaps while bright purple bursts of Centaurea montana pop through some of the lower foliage. The lawn (I do not keep the perfect lawn) is scattered with daisies and even the odd dandelion. My apple tree is still in blossom, although the flowers are starting to fade, slowly forming the beginnings of tiny apples.
I am already beginning to run out of space in my vegetable patch, although I think that the garlic will be ready early this year. I was a little over zealous with sowing garlic bulbs in October and almost a third of the space is taken up with the upright foliage of garlic plants. It is one of my favourite vegetables to grow. Easy to sow, low maintenance and garlic bulbs store well meaning that you can plant a lot and have a steady supply for months afterwards. Home grown garlic has a much stronger flavour than imported, supermarket bought garlic which is usually grown in China or Spain.
As well as garlic I have rows of fresh spinach and salad leaves along with pea shoots ready to pick. All of these are currently enjoyed daily in salads. I have sorrel too which is a useful perennial salad leaf. It has started to run to seed with the warm sunny weather. My potatoes, planted at the start of April, are just poking through the soil, along with some tiny radish seedlings. My greenhouse is bursting with tomato plants, squash, cucumber and courgette. I will have to give some away. I either need to get more creative or tone things down a notch or two. I prefer the idea of getting creative.
I have spent more time this year than ever before in my garden. Not only gardening, but actually sitting and enjoying the space. I am grateful to have it and pleased that I have nurtured it as I have over the last ten years or so. It is a garden that thrives. With an emphasis on plants rather than hard landscaping. Wild around the edges but colourful, textured, relaxed and abundant. Brimming with all sorts of wildlife and full of edible and medicinal herbs and vegetables. When the streets around are quiet I can hear the buzz and hum of a myriad of insects. Slow worms nestle under log piles and compost heaps, silently snaking their way across the lawn on a sunny day, birds (especially sparrows) twitter and fuss. Surprising me with their boldness and noise. And the whole world seems to slow.
Like a lot of people I am apprehensive about where we all are right now. I am not sure what the coming months will bring. But I am also thankful to have what I currently have and to live in a good community with people who care.
So what are the main gardening tasks for the month of may? I'm listing a few more than ten this month as there is so much to be getting on with and, for once, a little bit of extra time. Don't get bogged down, however, and don't forget, to take time out from the tasks to enjoy the work you've put in. It doesn't need to all get done all at once. Our green spaces are patient and forgiving. They are already in tune to a slower, more resilient pace. We can learn a lot from simply observing and being.
May Gardening Tasks:
Keep weeding. But don't forget to think about what plants you are classifying as weeds. Some plants that are commonly classified as weeds are incredibly useful and often quite pretty and isn't it better to have something in that empty border than nothing at all?
Prune Spring flowering shrubs such as Forsythia, Weigela and rosemary after they have finished flowering.
Sow seeds for annual flowers to fill any gaps you may have in your borders this year. Choose your seeds based on their potential use to you and their benefit to pollinating insects and other garden wildlife. Both borage and English marigold are easy to grow and have a number of uses.
Make sure to tie in the emerging shoots of any climbers and add extra support where necessary.
Take cuttings of woody herbs such as lavender, rosemary and thyme.
Plant Dahlia tubers, Gladioli and Crocosmia corms directly where they are to grow. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of daffodils and other Spring flowering bulbs.
Keep any topiary well trimmed.
Sow extra grass seed to repair damaged patches on your lawn and mow your lawn regularly (unless you want to allow the grass to grow a little longer for that wilder, more naturalistic look).
Keep your bird feeders and bird baths full.
Create a wildlife habitat. The RSPB has some excellent advice on wildlife friendly gardening which can be found here.
And for the vegetable garden:
Sow the following seeds outdoors at the start of the month - beans, beetroot, sprouting broccoli, calabrese, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, spring onions, peas, radish, rocket, spinach, swiss charge and turnips; and at the end of the month – cucumber, pumpkin, squash and sweetcorn.
Protect new seedlings from birds, slugs and snails (I cover young seedlings with fleece which keeps all three at bay).
Ensure peas are properly supported as they grow and remove side shoots from young tomato plants as they emerge.
Earth up potatoes as they grow.
Plant out strong seedlings or plugs of beans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, celery, leek, lettuce and maincrop potatoes.
If you are new to growing your own vegetables and aren't quite sure what to do then take some inspiration from some of our expert growers who are very generous with their online advice like Charles Dowding, Stephanie Hafferty or Huw Richards.
And of course for help or advice on any aspect of gardening get in touch with Emma Reuvers at Wild Edge Garden Design today. I'm always happy to help.
For regular advice on gardening tasks, planting and garden design sign up to my blog posts via the link on my website below.