In these uncertain times, there is one thing you can be sure of: seasons come and seasons go. The days are longer, as is the grass, and our gardens have burst right back into life, giving us plenty to do. For many of us, this is a very good thing, as we have more time on our hands and it does us good to focus on something positive.
This month, I was going to talk all about creating a cottage garden look, using plants like Astrantia, Geum, Salvia and Digitalis (foxgloves). Cottage gardens have an informality about them, a mass of colour and scent provided by relaxed planting schemes (no straight lines here) and different plants often intermingling. However, as we’re unsure of how much access you may have to new plants in May, let’s focus on the jobs you can do with the plants you already have.
Let’s start with pruning any spring flowering shrubs, like Forsythia, Ribes, Spiraea arguta and broom, whose blooms have faded. Cut back the flowered growth to strong, young shoots lower down, and remove any dead or damaged stems. If the plant is quite congested, you can remove up to a third of the oldest flowering stems, which will rejuvenate the plant and help it to perform well again next year. If you cut back the flowered shoots of Choisya, you may get a second flush of flowers in autumn.
Your climbing plants will be putting on lots of growth, so you need to set about training and tying in this new growth. As well as supporting the new stems, this enables you to guide the plant to grow where you want it to, rather than wherever it wants to go. Training it to grow up a wall or over trellis is ideal and far preferable to the plant invading the space of smaller, neighbouring plants, whose growth could be restricted by the vigorous shoots of the climber.
Your spring bulbs will probably have finished by now, so you should deadhead them to ensure that all the plant’s energy is returned to the bulb. Leave the foliage to die down naturally, though, as this will also help to strengthen the bulb for next year. Divide any congested clumps, moving some to different parts of the garden, so you’ll have more flowers to look forward to next year.
If you’re lucky enough to have young bedding plants in your greenhouse already, or you’ve managed to buy some, this is the month to start putting together your container displays. If using large pots, remember to plant them up in their final positions, as they can be too heavy to move when full. Add moisture-retaining crystals to the compost to help reduce the amount of watering needed, and use a balanced liquid feed every two to four weeks to promote healthy growth. Towards the end of May, you can start to plant summer bedding out in the borders too.
Weeds will be growing strongly now. Regular hoeing will keep smaller weeds at bay, but you’ll need to dig out the roots of perennials like dandelions. It really is satisfying when know you’ve got the whole lot out! Paths, drives and patios can be kept weed-free by spraying with a path weedkiller, which should prevent weeds returning for several months.
Stay safe in your gardens and enjoy the peace!