May must be just about the busiest month in the garden. Now is the time for planting out all the summer vegetables and salads, the tender annuals and putting out the hanging baskets – or at least it would be in a normal year. Traditionally no geraniums are put out in our village until after May 14th. This is because May 11th, 12th and 13th are the days of Les Saintes Glaces, the saints that bring frosts. After that everyone can safely put out the tender plants.
Some years I have had to empty the conservatory and greenhouse of the tender plants simply because the temperatures inside have been high enough to stop the plants growing. However, they can also be rushed back inside if necessary. We are holding fire on putting tomatoes etc in the garden – last year our neighbour got carried away by enthusiasm and planted his veg plot before the middle of May and lost all his tomato, aubergine, pepper and courgette plants in one night of low temperature. It is galling to lose plants when you have spent out to buy them, but even worse when you have spent weeks nurturing seedlings.
So, as ridiculous as the advice sounds this year – beware of late frosts!
For several years now we have planted our tomatoes etc through black plastic. It doesn’t look overly attractive, but it stops the weeds growing and cuts down the need to water so much. Water the ground well first, cover with the plastic, make slits and plant.
When planting up baskets and tubs try to get hold of ‘water crystals’ or ‘swell jell’. This is a water-retaining product that is mixed in to the compost and certainly cuts down the need for quite so much watering. I have to admit that an English friend brought mine down, but I feel sure that it can be bought here, however I don’t know the trade name.
It is also time for sowing tender annuals straight in to the garden. At the moment the ground is too dry, so either water well first or wait for rain, as you need a fine tilth for seed sowing. Everything is early this year, including the first greenfly infestation on the roses. Start a regular spraying programme – I try to be eco friendly and drown the little perishers in soap solution, as long as there are no ladybirds about, but I will admit that I will use chemicals if it gets really bad. By starting early spraying I hope that it won’t happen. The forsythias are over and now is the time for trimming them back and tidying them. If you have a bush that has put out long vigorous shoots, cut them back and try taking cuttings from them. It is not the recognised time to do it, but I had about a 70% success rate late year and now have enough young plants to fill gaps in a hedge. It is also a good time to take tip cuttings if you wish to increase your stock of hardy fuchsias.
As for the lawns… we are cutting twice a week and the cut grass is being used as mulch – anything to retain water and slow weeds down.
As a final thing, on a personal note I learnt a salutary lesson recently. I had spent part of the afternoon grubbing under bushes – as one does – came in and had a shower. On shampooing my hair I found a very sore hard lump on the crown of my head and asked my husband to look at it. He found a tick – it must have fallen from a bush on to my head. Luckily he got it off easily, but the result has been a very swollen gland in my neck and huge doses of antibiotics from the doctor. He said that this year is very bad for them. So, the lesson learnt – I shall wear a hat the next time I go under the bushes!
•With thanks to Mamiaj