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The Importance of Gardening in Earnest, or the Garden in May.

The Garden in May

We are now into the gardening season in earnest: the soil is warming up, plants (& weeds!) are beginning to grow strongly and gardeners launch into their normal operations, planting, hoeing, hand weeding, edging & mowing. There’s also a little panic in the air- have we done enough for the season, too much (those frosts!) or are we not quite sure what we should be doing? Of course, I’d love to say that everything was spot-on, no problems, just ease into a smooth and effortless garden operation. But let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security, because believe you me, with temperatures rising, the sun coming out and the ground still moist be prepared for the onset of a huge amount of weed growth…and it seems, we are being warned an explosion in the slug population!

May garden

The Dining room Shrubbery is coming to life again, with big clumps of sweet rocket & rose-bay willow herb (Gilbert’s ‘French Willows’) thriving in between the shrubs. And so are the weeds, in particular cleavers. Although not mentioned by Gilbert White, An interesting weed this, which is just beginning to take off at this time of the year, it has a myriad of common names: sticky willy, kises, sweet hearts, stick-a-back, cling rascal, gripgrass, goose bumps, hairiff, claggy meggies, robin-on-the-hedge, cliders, clites, Beggar lice, Beggar-Weed, Blood-tongue, Bobby Buttons, Burweed, Burhead, Catchweed, Clapped-Pouch, Cleggers, Cletheren, … oh and about 100 other names. Whatever you call it , it needs come out. Interesting it’s a weed that germinates in spring and again in the autumn, as its germination is inhibited at temperatures above15ºC and by bright light. Which explains why it often grows under bushes at each end of the year, where it’s cooler and darker. It also is less visible there- until it becomes evident as a great mass of growth, often over a metre long and all tangled together.!

Whilst on the subject of weeds, you may recall that Darwin did an experiment at Down house where in the early spring he dug and cleared a plot 3ft by 2ft where he allowed weeds to grow naturally. Of the 357 weeds that emerged, only 62 survived until the beginning of August! 83% were destroyed by slugs, snails or insects. It’s a tough old world, nature- no wonder Gardeners have to work so hard to keep seedlings alive, and why I’m rather doubtful of the ‘sowing direct ‘ method so glibly suggested on so many seed packets!

May garden

What a difference a month makes, or actually six weeks as this is a late newsletter and last month’s was an early one… the bulb border was just beginning it’s full glory, now it’s largely over- the crown imperials are over, and will hopefully set seed- the hyacinths have faded and the tulips have nearly gone, except for the species Tulipa clusiana Cynthia which is a most striking pale yellow. It won’t be long before we start making way for the bedding plants! The raised Dianthus beds have been in a bit of a sorry state, both through fatalities during the very wet winter and through the depredations of some scratching creature. Let’s hope they pick up in the summer and become a blaze of scented colour.. and perhaps we can devise some way of defending the plants from the winter wet? Food for thought. Any ideas? In contrast the auriculas in he theatre are looking very decorative, with a good range of varieties in bloom- reds, yellows, purples etc. I usually buy a few more varieties at Chelsea each year.

The six quarters after lots of work by Rose & volunteers, is still looking very respectable. The display in the first re-vamped quarter may be somewhat sparse as the plants grow, but Rose is in filling with annuals and adding more perennials as they become available. We have a new plan for the SW (Autumn) quarter. It may mean we will have another sparsely populated bed for a while. I have grown a lot of single china asters in preparation! In fact the beauty of the six quarters this summer and autumn will be down to the combined skills of Sarah (Garden Designer) & Rose, as they dismantle the existing beds, to produce a luxuriant and colourful display. I’m sure they’re up to the daunting task! The quarter under the tulip tree (The NE) has been weeded and re-weeded many times, but doubtless still contains a lot of pernicious weeds. However, we’ve finally mulched it with leaf mould, and hope to encourage a lot of hellebores to grow here.

As I made my original notes for this newsletter in the last week of April, it began to snow quite heavily and I had to retreat. What would the swallows have thought of snow…we haven’t seen any around Selborne sadly so far this year-it has been suggested that it might be due to lack of grazing animals which encourage insects: farmer David Ashcroft no longer has cattle in the village. Up at nearby Wheatham hill house, swallows have been seen catching insects in the snow! If I could have got a picture of this the caption would have been…well of course one swallow doesn’t make a…

garden in may

In the annual garden the tulips are looking colourful- the Keizerskroon red & yellow against the wall, and the various striped varieties which were previously in pots by the shop doors how flowered well in the box-edged bed opposite. In the Rose Quarters, now nicely mulched there are pulmonaria and primroses, early monkshood with its pale green feathery leaves, about 2ft high and some spots of dark purple honesty. There’s a spot of rampant bistort in the South rose border that will need controlling., but elsewhere red campion and more monkshood are growing well. The SW quarter has quite a few weeds that need attention, and this will soon be cleared. Hopefully we can save the clumps of autumn crocus (Colchicum) whose leaves are so prominent at the moment but will soon die down completely. The Arundo (NW) quarter has had ta piece of the giant reed put back in centre (it will keep wandering!) and the silver leaved cardoons emerging strongly.