Chris Bearshaw's May Column
PUBLISHED: 15:53 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013
The garden in May, for me, heralds the return of warmth and sunlight and with tantalising hints of the full summer to come as Delphiniums and Roses start to make an appearance.
The garden in May, for me, heralds the return of warmth and sunlight and with tantalising hints of the full summer to come as Delphiniums and Roses start to make an appearance. Hedgerows abound with blossom and fresh, vibrant leaves and the whole garden and landscape portrays an optimistic air. Be cautious though as late frosts may still bite, so vigilance is wise. Act promptly to catch any pest and disease problems also exploiting the improving conditions but above all relish the garden and its delights this month as some of our favourite flowering garden plants such as Foxgloves, Clematis, Alliums and Aquilegias' come into their prime.
Clear Spring Bedding
Borders of spring bedding, such as Pansies and Wallflowers, are now looking tired so remove them and prepare the areas for splashes of intense summer colour. Once cleared, fork the ground over, remove weed seedlings and incorporate plenty of organic matter to help the growth of new plants. Add garden compost, chicken pellets or well rotten farmyard manure for a steady release of nutrients. When the danger of frosts has passed plant out tender exotics like Cannas and Dahlias or summer bedding plants such as Pelargoniums, Osteospurnum, Penstemon and Artemisia. For best results harden new bedding off fully before planting out, do this by placing outside during the day and returning to a frost free glasshouse or shed at night for at least ten days.
Container grown plants require feeding once a week with an appropriate fertilizer through the growing season. Check the packet for the ratio of nutrients in a product which are indicated by the letters N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus, and K for potassium. Each letter will have a number next to it for instance N 6: P 6: K 6, which indicates an even supply of nutrients. Plants grown for their foliage thrive on high levels of nitrogen, such as Box, Hosta, and most herbs - so these can be treated with a high nitrogen fertilizer say N14: P5 : K 3. But plants grown for fruit and flower should be treated to a low N but high P and K fertilizer as this encourages the production of flowers and fruit.
Protect crops such as Carrot, Chervil, Parsley and Parsnip from the Carrot fly that will now be looking for a prime laying site. Wrapping nets of fleece 60cm high around rows of plants, alternatively growing them under fleece cloches. Also try to avoid sowing seed in dense rows as thinning the crop later attracts the fly. Try inter-planting onions with carrots as the scent of onion disguises crops from the carrot fly.
Take softwood cuttings now of sub shrubs likes Lavender, Sage, Thyme and Artemisia as rooting is prompt at his time of the year. Young, non-flowering, hormone rich stem tips can be harvested in 5cm lengths - once cut, dip in rooting hormone, and insert into small pots of cutting compost. Water well and cover each pot with small polythene bag to retain moisture and increase humidity. Place in a propagator for best results.
The elegant and statuesque Cynara scolymus, Globe Artichoke, can be planted outside now in well drained soils enriched with organic manure. These giant thistle-like plants can reach the dizzy heights of 1.8m and perform best when grown in sunny, sheltered positions. Try to keep nitrogen levels down so that they are not encouraged to put on to much leaf. If you are growing as a perennials place them around 90cm apart. Remember that you won't be harvesting artichokes in their first season, but once established you should have a good five year's of cropping. The cultivars 'Green Globe' is great for flavour whilst 'Vert de Laon' is both reliable and heavy cropping.
Flushes of flowers
Flowering bedding in pots and baskets should be regularly checked to remove faded flowers. This reduces resources employed in seed production and encourages improved growth and flowering throughout the summer months. Look over your herbs too and remove any yellow or mouldy leaves that might result from damp, humid conditions. It's a job that children can easily help with and keeping on top of it ensures fresh and vibrant displays all summer long.
Espalier trained fruit trees are perfect for compact spaces in the garden. Grown flat against an upright support this training style give maximum yield for minimum space. A favourite of mine is the Pyrus Williams as its fruits are juicy, sweet and have a true pear fragrance but espalier training works for Apples trees too. Espalier is a system where one vertical shoot is clothed in horizontal side shoots at about 40cm spacing's. These trees are in flower now and their compact habit makes them great specimens for training on walls fences and screens across the garden. The habit also encourages the plant to produce plenty of fruiting spurs ensuring you get the maximum crop. Before planting ensure you have a warm sunny location, to help fruit ripen, then fix horizontal wires along your wall or fence at a spacing to match that of the branches on the tree. Always use galvanised wires and fixings, with the wire being at least 3mm diameter to support the weight of the plant. Plant the tree as normal, adding a sprinkling of organic fertiliser around the root-ball, and then tie the trained branches onto the wires. Remember that most fruiting trees require pollen from a second tree to produce a satisfactory crop, so if you are unsure if there are any in your neighbourhood, plant two cultivars of each fruit type in the garden.
May is an exceptionally busy month for me. I start off in Japan where I will be unveiling a show garden as part of the World Garden Competition, I then get back to work with my scholarship team - The Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship, sponsored by Bradstone is in its first year and a new batch of applicants are going head to head this month - and have the difficult task of choosing a new scholar. The new scholar and I head straight down to Chelsea Flower Show to create the Dawn Chorus Garden, sponsored by Bradstone and I will then film all week for the BBC. Look out for further details on all these projects on www.chrisbeardshaw.com. If you want to ask gardening questions then I'm frequently found on www.gardenersclick.com so do visit and meet our other members.