With Gill Storey
May is the time when results really begin to show. The pleasure of being in a well-stocked, colourful and fragrant garden is really apparent, and if the weather is warm enough even swimming may be possible for those of us who are hardy enough, although the water will still be about 20 deg.C.
This is a time when planning for next year may seem superfluous but now the notebook and camera should be out and planning for next year should be important. Visits to good nurseries are rewarded by inspiration and with container plants a lot of spaces can be filled immediately.
Pots and containers should be filled with summer displays using plants you have raised yourself – lobelias, surfinias, nicotianas, petunias, impatiens and silver leaved plants such as senecio and lamb’s ears (which the French call hare’s ears – oreilles de lièvre). Variegated mints, thymes and ivies add interest and scent to a display and are longer lasting. Window boxes can have small bulbs like crocus, muscari (grape hyacinth), miniature daffodils or meadow saffron added. One of my favourite plantings is to fill a pot with tulips in autumn and add hostas for a continued display in the summer. Hostas are safe from slugs in a pot, which is an added bonus.
With containers, there is a constant challenge to achieve originality and variety. A terra-cotta pot is fine but if you go to a vide-grenier (car boot sale) and find unusual containers – old wood baskets, snail pots, old carts and barrows, little cauldrons or enamel basins – you can make your plantings more interesting.
The hard work of creating pot displays and hanging baskets will be rewarded but there are still plenty of things to do.
The main tasks in the garden are:
Harden off plants raised from seed and cuttings and plant them out.
Plant out cannas and dahlias
Finish planting summer bulbs
Sow biennials like wallflowers to plant out in autumn.
Put in supports for tall flowers like delphiniums, lupins and hollyhocks
Dead head and divide crowded clumps of daffodils, hyacinths and tulips
Cut back the lilac and mock orange when they have finished flowering.
Trim to ground level to avoid the umbrella look for lilac.
Put straw under strawberries to keep the fruit clean
Finish mulching fruit trees
Start harvesting asparagus from last year’s bed
Sow French and runner beans direct. You may get better results from climbing French beans than from runner beans, which do not germinate well if nights are hot and so can be disappointing here in PO.
In seedbeds sow cauliflowers, broccoli and leeks
Sow cardons and sweetcorn, plant out artichokes and earth up your potatoes.
Wild life in the garden is more interesting as the lizards and migratory birds appear and the house martens begin building under nearby eaves. Wood pigeons will get into gear and their incessant cooing will seem to take over the trees. Insect life also increases and it may well be worth spraying against ants around patio and poolside, especially if you are sensitive to ant bite. But on the whole ants are helpful beasties, eating aphids (greenfly, blackfly and whitefly) and spraying may also hurt benevolent insects like spiders and ladybirds. If there is an ant nest too near a favourite sitting point, it is better to pour boiling water down and to try not to feel too guilty as they scurry away with their eggs and possessions.
AND FINALLY, gardens are made for pleasure – some like to work, others like to sit, but don’t forget to share the pleasure of your garden with your friends and neighbours.