Firstly I would like to extend a warm welcome to all those new to gardening and of course our loyal green-fingered readers, it’s great to be back and to share my knowledge and experiences with you all.
They say every cloud has a silver lining and there is no doubt that the stresses and uncertainty of the past year have resulted in many turning to gardening as a means of occupying time and enjoying the great outdoors. It is my sincere hope that you all continue to enjoy gardening and create your own special space for relaxation.
My first rule about gardening is to take it one step at a time, gradually build up your skills and slowly transform your outdoor space. There is nothing more demoralising than spending countless hours grafting intensely, exhausted after a prolonged period of hard work, only to find the area you have cleared rapidly taken over by weeds, it’s not supposed to be like that.
Think of the task as if you were faced with a giant pumpkin, now you wouldn’t try to eat it all at once, but take a slice at a time, and maybe think of different ways to cook it to make it more enjoyable. Likewise take the same approach to your garden, working on different elements an hour or so at a time stopping for regular cups of tea or coffee in order to enjoy your achievements and work out what to do next. I always have a number of favourite jobs I like doing, sowing seeds, potting plants, wandering around the garden to see what’s in flower or looking good, so with bigger physical jobs like digging over a new bed or weeding an area that has got out of control I will spend a maximum of an hour working hard then take a break, go and do something else or just go for a walk, then later in the day or even the next day do another hour. You will be surprised what you can achieve in a few days.
I believe the reason why we are considered a nation of gardeners is that we love talking about the weather, and if there is one thing that is ruled by the weather it’s gardening. I have just been out in the garden trying to remember what was in flower this time last year and there is no doubt the season is later this year, cold winds and repeated frosty nights have really held things back. The only consolation is that plants will adjust and not be put off, and maybe one plant that didn’t do well last year does better this year. The key is to enjoy your achievements and blame the weather for the rest.
May, is an exciting time for the garden, everything is growing and towards the end of the month many of our less hardy plants can be moved out into their summer quarters. Summer bedding and container plants can add a splash of colour and with careful selection can look great in and amongst mixed borders of shrubs. In Yorkshire we are normally safe from heavy frosts after the second week of May, but do keep an eye on the weather forecast and if a frost looks likely cover your planted containers and tender plants with a little horticultural fleece.
It’s not too late to sow salads and other vegetables from seed, usually directly into a prepared area where the soil has been cleared of weeds and ideally in an open sunny spot. Sweetcorn sown in pots and germinated on a warm windowsill will be ready to plant out in early June.
Half hardy legumes, French and runner beans can be sown directly in the garden, but make sure to provide suitable supports. Runner beans will need a frame of canes or sticks that will allow the plants to grow up to 1.8 metres (6 feet).
Nurseries and garden centres will be chocked full of plants, especially things like tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and courgettes. If you don’t have a greenhouse try growing in a grow-bag close to the house in a sunny spot. If you are not into growing your own vegetables then take a look around your garden to see where there are gaps. A monthly trip to your local nursery or garden centre to see what is looking good can help in choosing plants that will flower each month extending the interest and colour in your garden display.
It’s a busy time in the garden and we often miss key jobs, such as providing supports for floppy perennials, put in place now they will make sure the plant gives the best display. It is impossible to straighten the stems of a plant that has collapsed and the worst thing is your eye is drawn to them straight away. Many of the more vigorous herbaceous perennials can be cut back by half and will recover to flower a little later than usual.
If you have spring flowering shrubs such as Forsythia and winter flowering Jasmine, these can be cut back and thinned now, they will put on new growth throughout the rest of the year ready to flower next spring.
Next month, (keep an eye on your soft fruit, climber care, taking cuttings.)