The bitter cold spell last month did lots of damage to a number of shrubs, especially Camellias and Magnolias, turning all the flowers to brown soggy messes, which is such a shame. I had also planted out my brassicas and corn, so I am mindful of the following old saying ‘Ne’re cast a clout ‘til May is out.’ This is not referring to the month of May, but to the shrubby Hawthorn tree and it warns us not to think summer has arrived or to put our vests away just yet! Hawthorn is often referred to as May because it flowers this month and with the blossom come the stunning Bullfinches, lovers of buds, especially those of the Hawthorn (inset). They are really lovely birds – apart from their appetite for buds – so do look out for them when gardening and out in fields and hedges.
I heard a very useful tip the other day regarding the purchase of herbs. It is much cheaper to buy pots of herbs in supermarkets and then split the plants into 3 – 4 separate plants and replant in other pots – they will grow stronger, last longer and some such as thyme, parsley and coriander can be replanted outside – a bargain especially as the lack of imports from the EU is causing problems with stock. Also, more people are gardening, so veggie seedlings and compost are becoming harder to find – darn it!
The increase in gardening activity means that now home gardens are the biggest source of food for pollinating insects such as bees and wasps in towns and cities, accounting for 85% of the nectar produced in urban areas, according to recent research. Three gardens can generate up to a teaspoon a day of the sugar-rich liquid found in flowers that pollinators drink for energy. This is the equivalent of more than a ton of food for an adult human being and is enough to fuel thousands of bees! So, get out there sowing seeds of poppies, wildflowers to many other species marked with the bee symbol in garden centres. I heard another amazing snippet on the radio today about foxgloves being introduced into the US. Apparently they grow really tall over there because of the warmer climate. Charles Darwin noted that the flowers in the UK are pollinated by bees but in the US, because of their height, these flowers are pollinated by humming bees!
I love this month because the bright yellows of the daffodils are replaced by a softer palette of blues and pinks and the range of plants is almost overpowering and SO tempting. I am introducing some more varieties of geraniums – which incidently bees love – such as the smaller G. ‘Purple Pillow’ and the taller G. ‘Summer Skies’; also my favourite Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’ and ‘Crimson Star’, in clumps of 3 to give strength to the flower borders.
I am trying out a new way of growing runner beans that I saw in Kirdford a few years ago and I have drawn a picture of it (opposite) and it might be worth trying this year too, if you are pressed for space to grow veggies!
Firstly you will need to really enrich the soil in your raised be, with peat free compost and add slow releasing food granules. Then choose 12 – 15 sturdy canes or poles and arrange them in a circle, pushing them as far down as possible into the soil, so they are secure and angled outwards as shown. Then secure the canes together by winding string or willow prunings, in and out of the canes and then tying them to make a sturdy structure. It is also useful if you put in a central pole to use as an anchor for the rest of the structure. Then plant one or two bean plants next to each cane and tie them gently onto it with string. The advantages of this structure, rather than using the normal wigwam, are as follows:
- It takes up much less space in your veggie patch, so you can grow lots of other crops.
- The plants have much more light and space.
- The beans are more visible and easier to pick.
- It looks more unusual and fun!
I will let you know how it works! Do enjoy your time gardening, no matter how big or small and I find it so relaxing watching nature springing back to life.
Main Photo: A beautiful Bullfinch