Tag Archive: may

Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frosts.

Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frosts.

I’ve been getting to grips with the Ground Elder (once more). The Tulips are nearly over, but the Hostas are opening up. The potatoes are in along with a few other root crops and plenty of flowers….. What are you up to in your garden? In case you need a few pointers, here are my tips for garden jobs in May.

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

1. Just weed away Renee…

Hoe borders to get rid of weeds before they get too big to remove easily – ideally do this on a dry day to kill them off by drying them out (or desiccating). Keep removing moss and weeds from paths, terraces and drives, ideally by hand (you can hoe out fresh weed growth in gravelled or other loose material drives and paths). Alternatively, use a weedkiller with glyphosate on paths if there’s too much to cope with or you have a more persistent problem.

2. Search for the ‘precious’ and keep hold of it

Water is precious! Use kitchen and bath water (as long as it isn’t too dirty, greasy or full of detergent) for watering. Collect rainwater (from downpipes and gutters with pipes into water butts or similar containers) and possibly look at some form of automatic irrigation for specific areas – for example, my friend has a simple micro – pipe, drip feed system to keep his containers moist. If you haven’t already done so, help to conserve moisture around your plants by mulching – especially shrubs and other perennials – any rotted organic material will do the job (including the contents of old grow bags). Make sure your planted pots and containers don’t dry out, especially where they are located near to a  wall or other spots where a ‘rain shadow’ means they don’t get wet when it rains.

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

3. Protection racket

There can be some big variations in temperatures in the garden during May so protect against night time frosts (e.g. using fleece, cloches or other coverings). If you have tender bedding or other plants make sure you keep these inside a greenhouse or cold frame until all risk of frost has passed in your area (generally the end of May here in Norfolk).

4. Feed me

As the soil is warming up and plants are starting to grow, add a general purpose fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to key shrubs, perennials, fruit, vegetable borders and containers before covering with mulch.

Scarlet lily beetle

Scarlet Lily beetle

5. Pest watch

Keep watch for pests in the garden. Ideally, avoid using chemical controls as they may also kill off beneficial insects that prey on the pests you are trying to kill off (as well as being useful pollinators) – e.g. ladybirds and hoverflies. This is the time to get a grip on slugs and snails! They’ll go for tulips, young shoots of Delphiniums, Hostas etc. Use wildlife – friendly slug pellets or ‘beer traps’, drench Hostas with liquid slug killer to kill off slugs below the surface or go for a biological control – nematodes carry a lethal bacterial infection for the slimy things. Keep an eye out for Lily beetles (bright red beetles with black heads- I’ve already squashed a couple) or their yellowish larvae, and also black-spotted, green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly. Squash away! Before birds can get to their new buds, it’s wise, if possible, to net fruit bushes. Netting installed over newly planted brassicas is also a wise precaution and/or some form of bird scarer in the vegetable garden (I’ve found the plastic tape you stretch out between two posts and which vibrates in the breeze is quite effective, and I’ve also got a very lifelike plastic owl!).

Pinching out broad bean tips

Pinching out broad bean tips

6. Grow to eat

If you don’t fancy growing your own vegetables and herbs from seed or perhaps don’t need to grow that much, its possible to buy ‘teenage plantlets’ from garden centres. I’ve found things like celery work well this way, saving you time and giving you strong little plants to plant out. Remember to harden these off gradually before putting them out in the garden. If you do want to seed sow, now’s the time to get many different crops underway – remember to look carefully at the instructions on the packet and sow away – its a good idea to sow a little now and some more later to ensure a continuous supply and so avoid gluts that you can’t use (or soon get bored with!).

You can also plant out brassicas and quick growing crops such as lettuces and radishes between them to make good use of the space you have. Sweet peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and salads can also be planted in the greenhouse. Developing Broad bean plants should have their growing tips pinched out to discourage blackfly, and its sensible to put up a border of canes connected by string around the block of plants to support them as they grow heavy with newly forming bean pods.

As potato stems start to peep above the ground you should ‘earth up’ – just draw over more soil from the surrounding area to cover the new shoots once they are about 15 – 20cms tall. This will help to prevent those near the surface going green and becoming inedible and reducing the risk of blight (it might also increase your crop and make lifting the potatoes easier). This needs to be done every few weeks in the early growth period. Strawberry plants can be planted in the ground, in containers or even hanging baskets (as can some ‘tumbling’ varieties of tomato).

7. Sward play

Mowing the lawn frequently is important – if you leave it too long between cuts, the job becomes harder and the grass gets tougher and rougher (you could opt for a wildflower meadow of course and let some or all of the grass grow longer, or maybe reduce your mowing area). A weekly mow is probably advisable, but keep an eye on the weather and don’t cut if a hot, dry spell is expected, to avoid scorching the grass. Established lawns can be fed if you haven’t already done so and are keen to get a good looking, healthy lawn. You can just about get away with sowing  a new lawn this month as well as finishing off any repairs to an established lawn by sowing bare patches or replacing these with turf.

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

8. Get a grip

Clematis that have been pruned hard (‘if it flowers before June, don’t prune’) are probably now starting to grow quite fast, so regular tying in of their stems will ensure you don’t end up with a tangled mess of a plant with brittle stems that break easily, later in the year! The growing tips of young sweet peas should also be pinched out to encourage bushier side growth and more flowers – and tie these stems in to your supports as they grow, just like the clematis. Alternatively pinch out early side shoots to encourage a single stem (or ‘cordon’) which can be tied onto a cane (see picture above)- this will encourage bigger but fewer flowers.

9. Spring cleaning

Some plants will have finished flowering this month and it’s important not to forget them (I must say this is something I regularly do!). Perennials such as Pulmonaria should have their old foliage cut off, and then large clumps can be lifted and divided and replanted with plenty of water and organic fertiliser. Likewise, young self – seeded Polyanthus can be lifted and moved to a nursery bed for planting out next spring. Narcissi and Tulips should be deadheaded as the flowers die off and if possible the plants sprinkled with bone meal or a liquid foliar feed. Ideally, let the leaves of these bulbs die down naturally, as they will still be soaking up the sunlight and so help to swell the bulbs underground for a good show next year. Spreading and trailing plants such as Alyssum and Aubrieta (Aubretia) can be cut back to encourage fresh growth.

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

10. Trooping the colour

Tubs, pots and other containers as well as hanging baskets can be planted up for extra flowers and colour in the summer, but keep these under cover if frost threatens and gradually harden them off before finally positioning them outside. Go for a limited colour range for impact – purple and gold, red and green or blue and white?

Old School Gardener

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WP_20150524_13_47_31_Pro To Walter Degrasse

29th May 2015

Dear Walter

Looking back to my letter to you at this time last year, I see that various things were further ahead, especially in the ornamental garden and to some extent vegetables. But it’s still a lovely time of year, with fresh green growth everywhere and other emerging colours in flower and foliage.

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I was out weeding today and planting out some Cosmos, tobacco plants and ornamental grasses, just before the rain came to helpfully water them in. I finally got round to weeding (for the first time this year) an area at the front of the garden which was in danger of becoming overgrown with ground elder, nettles and the like- it was a relief to see it cleared and the strong growth of the shrubs and other plants there coming through, hopefully to invade the space that I’ve created. Whilst I was out a group stopped by the gate and were talking about the garden- after bidding them good morning they were very complimentary about the garden, which is always nice to hear.

Elsewhere in the garden I’m just about up to speed on the food front. Broad beans are podding up nicely, I’ve some Calabrese, Cabbage and onions bulking up. The potatoes are up above ground (I’ll earth these up next week), and I’ve just put out some squash (interplanted with the onions) and Sweet Corn. I don’t know if you watch the gardening programme ‘Beechwood Garden’ (shown early Sunday mornings on BBC 1), but they are trialling different approaches to growing tomatoes in a greenhouse. I was very interested to see the use of as specially designed ‘aquaponic’ system where the plants sit in pots with a wick in then that is dipped in a reservoir underneath in which you out the diluted feed. I’ve decided to buy the ‘Quadgrow’ system which I think is the one the TV programme is using, and can;t wait to get this set up next week. I’ve got 8 good looking tomato plants from my friend Steve to put in as well as the usual cucumber and peppers he’s kindly given me.

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So, Old School Garden, in spite of me being away for much of the month, seems to be shaping up nicely. Oh, I almost forgot, I finally cut back the Melianthus having had a couple fo flower spikes go over. It’s interesting seeing how small the new growth is compared to last year when I cut it back much earlier. I wonder if it will catch up!

As I’ve been away a lot I haven’t been in to Gressenhall or Blickling much. you may have seen my post about my latest sessions at Blickling earlier in the week. I also spent a couple fo hours at Gressenhall, doing a bit of tidying up and planting out a few annuals in the gaps in one of the borders there as well as the entrance border, which I was pleased to see looking good, with purple Alliums contrasting well with the newly maroon red foliage of the Cotinus. The grasses in this border have done really well, in fact they might be in danger of unbalancing the design, so a bit of ‘editing’ might be required here.


Well, as you read this we shall be back in Devon once more, hopefully finally sorting out a flat for my mother-in Law and getting some bulky items moved across so that she can move in once she’s out of hospital. Oh, and no doubt there’ll be a bit of lawn cutting and weeding to be done in her current garden, to prepare the way for selling the place.

I do hope that you and Lise are enjoying the lovely Spring weather and managing to get out and enjoy your garden, especially now that you’ve got a gardener in to help you manage it. All the best for this month old friend.

Old School Gardener





This is the life- our cat enjoying a bask in the sun...
This is the life- our cat enjoying a bask in the sun…

 To Walter Degrasse

28th May 2014

Dear Walter

It’s been a busy May, Walter- ‘as usual’ I suppose you  might say! The last couple of days have seen heavy rain, but thankfully I managed to get out for a full day in Old School Garden on Monday, anticipating the rain by planting out lots of seedlings. This stage of the year also coincides with the cleaning of the (now empty) greenhouse and getting in the 12 different varieties of tomato and chillies my friend Steve has given me – plus a cucumber.

Today, as the weather is clearing up I’ll be out putting in a cane framework up which to train them. Or rather, most of them, as this year Steve has given me two varieties of tomato which don’t require tying in and training as cordons. Roma is a ‘determinate’ variety so should be grown as a bush (it doesn’t need it’s side shoots pinching out), and Marmande is ‘semi determinate’ which means limited pinching out is required. He’s also given me a ‘ridge’ cucumber which I’m going to try to grow outside in a pot.

I’m also feeling quite pleased that I managed to find a good use for the old compost I removed from the greenhouse. I grow my tomatoes in bottomless pots sunk into the ground (the so-called ‘ring culture’ method), so a dozen holes need to be dug to make way for the pots which are then filled with growbag and other compost. I’ve used the old compost in a plastic bin that once ‘graced’  the courtyard – you may remember I’d bought some rather nice large terracotta pots to replace the utilitarian plastic dustbin and pots that previously contained the peach and an olive bush? Any way, I thought I’d have a go at growing some carrots in the dustbin and the old compost. This is very friable and lacks any stones, so seems the perfect medium for this. So the bin is full and I’ll hopefully get round to sowing the carrots later today – they’re a variety called ‘Nigel’ given to me at Christmas by Steve and his wife!

The rest of the kitchen garden is also looking pretty full- potatoes have been earthed up a couple of times and the first flowers are forming on the first earlies. The Brassica cage is also looking increasingly full with Cauliflowers, Calabrese, Spinach and Broccoli. Rainbow Chard and Leeks are bulking up and the first Broad Beans look like they’ll be ready to pick very soon. My sowings of Parsnip, Carrot and Beetroot are also coming along nicely. We’ve had plenty of Lettuce in the last couple of weeks. The Strawberry bed has been mulched with straw and as a bit of fun I’ve bought a plastic owl with a swiveling head to see if I can deter pigeons and other birds from the swelling fruit and other goodies in the garden (they usually go for my raspberries which are also looking promising this year)!

I’ve just about managed to catch up with the major weeding- just one area of the woodland edge to do and then I think I’ll mulch this with wood chippings to try to keep the weeds down. I’m hoping to do the same in the fruit cage once I’ve been through with the hoe later today. Oh, and some good news. You remember we had that extension put on about ten years ago that created Deborah’s Study? Well, I had to move a rather old Philadelphus bush and so put it in the main mixed border as a back drop to other things. It’s never flowered since, despite some careful successive pruning out of old wood, and encouragement of new growth. Well, it may be weather-related, but its covered with flower buds this year – I’ll post a pic when it comes out!

I’ve still got some half-hardy annuals coming through (I spent a couple of hours inside the shed potting these up while it poured down outside, yesterday). However,  I’ve managed to plant out most of these and especially the front bed which is my ‘homage’ to Victorian bedding and one or two other spots to add complementary colour or texture to perennials that will flower later- e.g. putting some golden-yellow looking Amaranthus in with the blue Agapanthus.

Several things are looking good here, including the rapidly filling mixed borders, so here’s a slide show of some of the highlights.

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Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get the number of takers necessary to run the various gardening courses I’d planned for May and June, but I’ll try again the autumn, which seems the time most people do an evening class, especially if it’s garden -related. My work in other gardens has also been rather hectic. The sessions at Fakenham Academy have really begun to take off. The children seem more focused and interested and are starting to ‘own’ their plots, which are fast filling up with all sorts of food crops and some annual flowers to add colour and scent as well as attracting the pollinators of course. Unfortunately an assortment of pests is also posing a challenge- rabbits, mice and pigeons in the main. So remedial action has been necessary to try to prevent further damage- we had great fun last week trying to erect a pigeon-proof cage over the brassicas!

We’ve also got some tomatoes, cucumber and aubergines growing in the greenhouse. Also in Fakenham the project at the Community Centre to clear and plant a border next to the two hundred year old ‘crinkle crankle’ wall, has gone well. I, together with volunteers and children from the local primary school, planted this up last week. Now we wait for the plants – which I’ve positioned in repeating drifts of different colours, textures and forms to reflect the wave of the wall -to get hold and push on to do their stuff. I’ll post some pictures of this next week.

Another pest controller- I hope!

Another pest controller- I hope!

I was also pleased to be positively mentioned by one of the Inspectors at a recent Ofsted Inspection at the local primary school, where I was showing the children how to weed and earth up potatoes and explaining why we do this. This school (which now has level 5 of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening award), is shortly to host a training session for other local schools interested in school gardening activities. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How is your garden looking, Walter? I expect your orchard has  finished flowering by now, but I have fond memories of visiting you and Lise one spring and seeing all the beautiful blossom there. From my own garden, it looks like we’ll have another good year for fruit- there certainly seem to be a lot of plums forming on the tree and I can even seen some (and cherries) on the young fan- trained plants in the kitchen garden.

So, I think its getting to that time of year when we can take the foot off the accelerator a little and begin to enjoy the fruits of our labours! Hopefully that last major bit of weeding will be done by the end of the week and I can then get the remaining flowers planted out, as well as hoeing here and there to keep the weeds down. And maybe then a bit more sitting in the sun!

Having said that, I do think there’s something very satisfying about forking into a light, damp soil and pulling whole strands of Ground Elder root out (and of course trying not to breaking any of it off in the ground)!

Old School Gardener





Stockholm-lilac‘The bright and busy days of May are here;

The countryside’s ablaze with colours rare

In sun and shower. There’s cricket on the green,

And lilies in the wood, and now are seen

Laburnums pouring gold, tall chestnuts decked

With spires of pink and white, where bees collect

A precious harvest, then away go winging

Past lovely lilacs where a blackbird’s singing.

Old gardeners now their long experience bring

To battle with the weeds; the lawns are neat.

A worried thrush scolds by the garden seat

Her wandering, gaping brood. House-martins cling,

Pied master-builders, on the weathered walls,

And from the woods all day the cuckoo calls.’

John (Jack) Kett

from ‘A Late Lark Singing’ (Minerva press 1997)

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