May in the Garden

May in the Garden main image May in the Garden image

For us, May is the month where the lines are drawn between maintaining the now and making preparations for the future. The gardens beauty is to found in the subtle changes taking place as the garden prepares to retire for the winter.





  Jack frost arrived early this season draining some of the colour in the borders tipping the garden into its autumnal guise a few weeks earlier than usual. As soon as the garden closes to visitors we  .....


  • Dig up any clumps of  tender perennials from which we wish to propagate and  take them  into one of the glasshouses where cuttings can be taken at our leisure
  •  Dig up any plants which over the summer have been marked for removal in our notes  and replant them in the stock beds.
  • Start digging and  dividing perennials which have filled their allotted space.


  • Park our ' pick bins' filled with compost near to where it will be used , this saves a huge amount of toing and froing later on. If the weather turns they will be covered with sheets of black plastic to keep the compost from becoming sodden.



  • Lifting Dahlias is a major activity for May. Congested clumps tend to fall out from the centre at flowering time and consequently need  more staking. Any jobs that can be done now to reduce the workload in summer helps us to spread  our workload over the year.





Our shrubs are one of the loveliest aspects of our autumn garden so little is done to interfere with their autumn display, there is plenty of time for that over winter.


  • Autumn is by far the best time to plant both deciduous and evergreen shrubs and whilst our mass shrub planting days are behind us, we always find a few extras that need a home in either the garden or the stock beds. Large holes filled to the brim with compost, blood and bone and rock dust get them off to a good start.
  • We try to always follow the maxim of 'Plant a $5.00 dollar plant in a $50.00 hole'




  • Our hedges have managed to put on growth all summer and are looking scruffy again but there is little point in trimming them now , They will be left until the deciduous  hedges have defoliated and be dealt with all together. Feeding them is a different matter. Blood and bone is our preferred food for them and that needs to be thrown down now so that it can break down over winter.



  • This year we are making a big push to restore a few  of our larger  lawns which have taken a battering over years of winter flooding and summer drought. Couch has managed to make a bulwark in some areas which needs dealing with and late autumn is the time to get this done.
  • Areas will be selectively killed off  followed by a rough breaking up of the ground and we will add a liberal dusting of compost and gypsum. By the time all this is done it will probably be too cold to sow seed so this  will be left until spring, this will give us plenty of time to deal the  weed-bank which is invariably there lying dormant.
  • Clover seedlings are beginning to appear - now is the time to deal with them toxically or otherwise.
  • The autumn break will be late this year so when it does arrive  we will be using  a lawn food high in potash,(Muriate of Potash) so we don't end up with too much soft growth going into winter.




The last of the preparations for spring bedding will be done by the end of this month.


  • Removal of our summer  bedding started towards the end of last month


  • We aim to have all of our Tulips in  by the middle of May but invariably delays of some kind will mean it is the end of the month before they are all in position. A dusting of blood and bone, lime and rock dust will follow on top before a layer of  composted stable manure.
  • We delay planting companion bedding plants for a few weeks after the bulb planting  so that we can make sure the bed is clear of any winter weed seedlings. Much easier to blanket spray young weed seedlings with vinegar now than hand-weed  between young annuals later.
  • Iceland poppy seedlings jump away once the weather cools but  as  we  prefer to plant out strong plants that will survive our winter wet we leave them in their 10cm pots until early June. A few grains of Snail bait around them avoids disaster.
  • Foxgloves seedlings which were raised over the summer are still being planted in spots that are being opened up as we cut down the most forlorn looking perennials. We are  also planting them in areas where we have lifted the lower limbs of shrubs and  young trees in the hope of establishing small colonies of self sowers for future seasons. We make sure there is plenty of distance between the different types to  ensure they self-seed true to type.




A  succession of elegant flowering pots in spring needs planning . Much can be done this month.

  • Our pots of Zinnia Profusion Double Fire in the nursery are still going strong after three months but will soon be replaced with pots of the evergreen Euonymous japonicus for the winter, this plant  makes a more relaxed and rather less self-conscious pot specimens than the ubiquitous English Box ball and is just as tough.
  •  We have been growing on sets of  potted evergreens to plunge into our display pots for the winter, They include Bay, Euonymous and Dwarf Cherry Laurel, all three  provide handsome shapes of lustrous green when the garden is at its lowest ebb.
  • May is the month to start potting up Lilium into pots, a good job for a wet day towards the end of the month.
  • Our pots of Parma Violets will be bought under cover this month so that they continue to grow  away and fill their pots ready for August.
  • Our pots of Kahili Ginger ( Hedychium gardnerianum) are always late to flower so we bring them in close to the nursery sheds both to enjoy their perfume and to protect them from any early frosts.


Cutting Garden


 Always something to look forward  to in May - the bounty of the Chrysanthemum beds.


  • This autumn in lining up to dry and so we think that maybe we won't need to move any Chrysanthemums under shelter but in a normal season moving a number of clumps into protection means we can enjoy their  flowers well into June.
  • Digging and dividing herbaceous Peonies is a job for May, not that it should be necessary in most gardens. If only a few extra plants are required  prizing off a few roots from the side of established clumps is the best method, that way there is no set back in the flowering of the parent clump.
  • After months of surface dryness autumnal dew encourages weeds to germinate quickly and it is always a battle to keep them at bay whilst tackling the many other pressing autumn  jobs but it does save a great deal of time later in winter if it can be managed now.
  • The autumn cut down continues this month and whilst the weather remains open transplanting divisions of favourite flowers into new beds is easier now than when all is wet and cold.


  • There are often a number of basal shoots showing on chrysanthemums even as they are still flowering and whilst the weather is still warm they can be potted up and put on a  hot bed to strike for next season.
  • A good many hardy self-sowing annuals are starting to get going this month - an eagle eye is necessary to preserve them and keep weedy aggressors at bay.
  • Autumn roses are the best for us and the dry conditions this year have been perfect for them. The mid-summer pruning, feeding and watering they received has meant a bumper crop. It doesn't take a lot of attention during the worst of summer to reap the benefits now. For cutting at this time of year  the bush rose 'Elina' can't be beaten as it is so fast to re-bloom with good strong stems after a light prune.
  • We have a number beds which we have left fallow for the summer, as the weather cools weeds are being dealt with the hoe and a few sheets of black plastic held down with bricks to solarize any further germinators. If the plastic is left on they are good to go later in winter when new plants arrive in the post.



Kit and Composting


We aim to have the  following at the ready for autumn jobs.


  • Potting mix
  • Lime, Iron-sulphate, Potassium-sulphate,
  • Blood and Bone
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Snail bait
  • Stakes for tree planting
  • Bamboo canes  in various sizes
  • Copper-sulphate  to deal with mossy lawns
  • Slow release fertilizer


With so much moving, cutting and replacing going on in the borders we always make sure we have a good supply of  joiners and goof plugs at hand to repair injuries made by errant forks etc.

Autumn is also the most pleasant time to add to irrigation systtems , winter is too cold to manipulate the pipe and in spring  too much damage is done in the borders.


With a surfeit of other jobs to do this month , we send off our hedging equipment for servicing in May so that all is sharp and reliable for June and July.



  • Keeping the compost bin well watered over autumn means  improved decomposition with hopefully everything ready for use in early winter.
  • We keep a good quantity aside to inoculate the piles we will be making later in autumn and winter.
  • Keeping a balance of fine and coarse ingredients  is  important all year  to make sure plenty of air gets into the heap.

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