The unseasonably warm weather in April brought early and spectacular displays of spring flowering trees and shrubs. But at the start of May winds turned north easterly bringing much lower temperatures and heavy showers; the first rain for many weeks, writes Jackie Power…
May is an exhilarating month – the gateway to summer – and full of blossom and vibrant growth. Now it is the turn of Elder, Hawthorn, Peonies and summer Jasmine (with its heady scent) to join the early flowering Lilac, Mexican orange (Choisya), Roses, Wisteria and Californian lilac.
The elegant and symmetrical Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seems to flower earlier each year, and by mid-month the large candle-like blooms had started to fade. This quick growing giant can reach over a hundred feet in a few decades and so they tend to be a feature in parks and large open spaces. There are compact varieties of Chestnut more suited to (large) gardens – Aesculus pavia with deep red flowers in June/July and Aesculus parviflora (white flowers); either variety are attractive trees.
Another traditional May-time shrub is Lilac (Syringa) but was in full bloom by the end of April. It is a small tree making it ideal for a town garden. The flowering season is fairly short, but Lilac is worth having for the exquisite perfume. Grow seasonal plants around the base (autumn/winter bulbs and summer annuals) so there are other flowers before and after Lilac time. There are several varieties including Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’ which grows to six feet and has pink flowers (suitable for large containers). Syringa chinensis reaches about nine feet and has lavender flowers.
May is a busy month in the garden; weeds are making a bid to take over and need to be removed quickly. With no rain since the beginning of the month regular watering is vital – especially for containers and window boxes. Increase stocks of the shrubby herbs – cuttings can be taken of Rosemary, Sage and Marjoram; prepare sections of plant material four to six inches long, remove the bottom sets of leaves. Using rooting compound can speed up the process; place cuttings into potting compost in containers. Once the roots are established, plant out and water well during the first weeks.
The birds have been very active through April and May – with busy bursts of nest building and foraging – and glorious tuneful singing in part designed to defend their territory. During the dry weather ensure water is available; wash and refresh containers regularly – birds get diseases from stagnant/dirty water.