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Saturday, June 22, 2024
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GardeningMay in the Garden

May in the Garden

Last month we had just entered the ‘lockdown period’ and it was all a bit of a strange new world. As I write, we are still locked down, for good reason, and my heart really goes out to anyone who doesn’t have a garden to potter around in. In these unsettling times, it’s interesting to note just how many of us are finding solace in good, old-fashioned, practices like gardening and cooking.
In an ironic twist of events, it is the thoroughly modern availability of internet access, home deliveries and online trading which is supporting these traditional activities. Last month I passed on my fears that only buying from remote, online, traders was killing the local, often specialist, small nursery and therefore it’s worth checking with local nurseryman to see if they are still able to supply plants while maintaining social distancing.
May would normally see the grand gardenfest of all things horticulturally excessive; the ‘RHS Chelsea Flower Show’. For the first time in its long history, originally the ‘Great Spring Show’, there is no physical show but the RHS has created a virtual, online, version instead – a pleasant distraction to beat the lockdown blues.
Of more practical help, echoing my plea to carry on supporting nurserymen, they have a section listing those nurseries that would have been exhibiting: rhs.org.uk/supportournurseries. A useful resource but it doesn’t seem to separate out those nurseries that are able to supply plants under the existing social distancing rules from those that can’t. It may be better to use their usual ‘Nursery Finder’, to locate local nurseries, and contact those first.
If you know your budget, and just need a few plants to add to your garden, then a telephone chat with the nursery owner, explaining what sort of garden you have, may yield a box of selected plants, maybe a bit random, which could be left for you to collect without having to enter the nursery at all. Card payments over the phone, or cash in an envelope (remember them?), left in a safe place are still allowed; flexibility is the key in these testing times.
Back to real-world gardening matters; it should now be safe to plant out those tender bedding plants which have been kept protected under glass. Keep some horticultural fleece, or old net curtains, handy just in case overnight temperatures take a tumble. This unnaturally dry, sunny, April may have lulled us into a false sense of security but cloudless daytime skies lead to plummeting temperatures, maybe even a frost, overnight.
If you have tender perennials, such as the woody types of salvia and the indispensable pelargonium, they should have put on a fair amount of growth in the last few months and it’s a good idea to shorten these before planting the parent plants back outside. Try propagating new plants from those cuttings. The hormone levels might make this more tricky now, compared to taking them during high summer, but, with virus-time on your hands, it’s always worth a try.
Shrubs which flowered early in the spring, Forsythia being the most obvious candidate, can be pruned now that their flowers have faded; use the standard ‘one in three’ method. Prune out the oldest wood and flowered stems so that established shrubs never get the chance to become senile but are comprised only of one, two and three-year-old wood which maintains the best balance between vigour, flowering capability and youth. You can roll out this pruning regime, as each shrub finishes flowering because every ornamental shrub benefits from being continuously reinvigorated once it’s filled its allotted space.
Continuing feeding plants that are now in active growth. A gentle, balanced, fertiliser, such as my favourite ‘fish, blood and bone’, is good for beds and borders. A slow-release, pelleted, fertiliser should be added to any plants potted in containers. High maintenance plants, with a greater hunger for nutrients, typically showy plants in bedding schemes, hanging baskets etc., should be watered with a propriety liquid feed according to the instructions on the packet.
I’ve always used ‘Miracle Gro’, the powder form that needs dissolving in a watering can is the most cost-effective, but other brands are available. Most large supermarkets have a gardening aisle so it’s still possible to obtain most gardening sundries while doing your essential shopping.
As things warm up, ponds and water gardens can be spruced up by removing overgrown aquatic plants and re-establishing the balance between the amount of plant cover and the area of open water. Vigorous water plants, irises, reeds, rushes and the like, may need reducing to practically nothing, every now and again, in order to keep them in check. Do not dump these in the wild, where they may become a pest of natural water courses, but chop them up and compost them—or burn them once they’ve dried.
Pests and diseases will be increasing exponentially now that temperatures are rising. Prevention is better than cure, so keep your eyes peeled and squash any pests, of the insect variety before their numbers can reach damaging levels. Lily beetles are well and truly up and about, busy copulating and laying eggs, so pay special attention to any lilies you may have. Lily beetles (they are bright red with black underbellies) can totally wipe out established lilies, Fritillarias are susceptible too, so keeping them in check is essential.
A final mention must go to the lawn. If you are finding that you’ve more time at home than usual then perhaps the lawn could really benefit? Often it’s pretty neglected, not cut regularly enough, never scarified, full of weeds. Lawncare is time-consuming so, if ever there was a time when you could perfect your lawn, now may be that time. Mow it at every opportunity; use a ‘feed and weed’ if you can get hold of some; order ‘lawn repair seed’ to get rid of any bald patches. That’s all assuming you don’t have kids at home—in which case your lawn may be suffering even more than usual!
Wherever you are, whatever kind of gardener you are, stay safe and stay sane. Your garden may prove to be even more of a comfort than usual.

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