May

It always alarms me how fast the year appears to be careering past as I write this article several weeks before the end of the month, so in the middle of April I’m already talking about May. Unfortunately the same seems to be happening in reality and I feel like I’m constantly playing catch up with the impending seasons. The last of the dormant foliage will now have slipped out from it from its winter state and we can begin to see how all of the herbaceous plants are going to present themselves this year. Some plants have a habit of slowly moving around as the roots spread and send up new shoots the following year and some are just thugs that need some severe treatment to keep them in check. The weather so far though, has lent itself to promoting an abundance of growth and even now the place is starting to look a lot more like the garden that I’ve been longing for the last 4 months.

Starting a new garden can be daunting, with bare patches of soil in between small plants. Then doing battle with the pests that target the young and tender foliage. Unfortunately, unless you have very deep pockets, the only way is to take time and slowly let it all come together, it’s a long game, but one that has a very rewarding end. Hang in there and what seems like a lifetime away with come by almost unnoticeably, so that in just a little while you’ll have monstrous plants that are looming out of the beds at you. Personally I find that the slow process of building a garden to be infinitely more satisfying and rewarding than just popping along to the garden centre, emptying your wallet and decorating your garden as if it were a living room from Ikea. Part of the pleasure that I derive from doing it this way is the fact that you have to propagate to increase the stock of plants that you have at your disposal. Seeds are cheap, for example I had a packet of Amaranthus caudatus “Love Lies Bleeding” that germinated into 1000 seedlings, and many Aquilegia that I was given that are now coming into flower and filling a bed one year later. Some of these sell for £5-10, and they have cost me little more than patience.
Cuttings are another fabulous way of increasing the plants that you have already, and we are getting to a time in the year when it’s good to start looking around for things that you’d like more of. I had a surprise that I think came from a cutting last year, in the form of a beautiful Euphorbia palustris. It’s really one of the prettiest things in the garden at this time of year and is so delicate to feel that you’re hardly aware that you’re touching it at all. Next year I will have many more. Unfortunately with Euphorbias you have to be careful of the sap as it can be an irritant, so make sure that you protect your hands if you’re going to propagate any of them from cuttings.


A while ago I mentioned a venture that I’d embarked upon in my constant war on the slugs that seem to have a vendetta on me and my attempts at growing anything beyond a few inches tall. I’ve found that even once robust perennials are having a hard time getting going this this year due to the unrelenting onslaught. The new weapon was a strong solution of garlic (2-3 cloves crushed into a litre of water and left overnight), that is sprayed on anything that I want left alone. Although this has not been a total deterrent, along with a nightly 5 minute patrol I’ve managed to keep ahead of the game this year, I’d put the current score at slugs 1; Tim 2. Even with my two cats being very disabled, they still seem to keep the frogs from making much of an appearance and doing what I hoped they would, in hoover them up for me. As the slug hunting is an evening exercise, you can be getting on with some of these jobs during the day.

  • Keep an eye out for late frosts, after our very warm April, the night temperatures have plummeted again.
  • Start to water more regularly, early and late to make better use of it.
  • Although the nights can be cold, the days can warm up with the sun, so make sure you vent any greenhouses in the day.
  • Lift and divide any crowded clumps of spring flowering bulbs like Narcissi and Bluebells.
  • The weeds will be growing with vigour so try to keep on top of them while they’re still small.
  • Overseed lawns to give a better chance of lush grass over the summer.
  • Edge any lawns too as the grass will start to wander into the beds.
  • Prune overcrowded or diseased early clematis such as Montana once it’s done flowering. Look up the 3 clematis groups, this one is in group 1 and can take quite a beating.
  • Take softwood cuttings of deciduous shrubs like Physocarpus or Fuchsia (or Euphorbia).
  • Pest are also on the rise so you’ll have to start to keep an eye out for aphids caterpillars and worse, please keep it pesticide free though.

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