Temperatures are all over the place in May, with a clear blue sky the sunshine has heat in it nearly as good high summer. But there are still chilly days and night frosts to catch gardeners out. As ever, the garden centres are loaded with tantalizing young plants, all colourful gems begging to find homes in our gardens. Temptation suggests buy early for the best choice and to plant so the plants get established and enjoy a long growing season. Caution would remind us that the soil is still cold and a frost will play havoc with tender leaves and flowers.
Perhaps the best solution is buy and plant but be prepared to either bring tubs and baskets into your conservatory or greenhouse or cover the plants with horticultural fleece to shield them from frost damage. Of course, in many years there will not be a frost and the impatient planters with ‘get away with it’. If you need reminding of what frost can do you need look no further than the flowers of camellias and magnolias we have enjoyed this year but sometimes ruined by sub-zero temperatures.
At this time of year I am tempted to wonder why garden? The countryside looks so fabulous bathed in fresh green leaves and the blossomy trees in every garden is asking to be shared. It is a glorious time to ‘be’, for country walks, for walking or driving through countryside and our villages soaking it all up.
But, of course, there are jobs to do. The vegetable gardener and greenhouse owner will be way ahead with sowing, propagating and planting out in full spring but the two bank holidays are perfectly timed for the rest of us to catch up.
We now have a decent clump of Lily-of-the-valley. I feel like it struggled to get established but now it spreads under an overhanging shrub. I adore them, fresh green leaves yielding a little cluster of perfect white bells and a scent to send you. Great for picking; a small bunch for the house, to give away or make a perfect romantic gesture.
Tulips and Peonies are at the other end of the spectrum. Great bright, cheerful and loud flowers yearning for attention. The Old Rectory, Farnborough, high up on the Ridgeway has a fabulous peony border generously long and showing the full range of flowers. Reds, pinks and whites abound, there are simple single flowers with a boss of golden stamens and blousy doubles stuffed with petals. This gem of a garden is packed with treasures including rare magnolias and, in my imagination, must be the perfect garden for a child (or adult) to safely get lost exploring under shrubs and amongst trees. It is open again as part of the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday May 19.
Happy Gardening, Giles Derry
Dates for your diary
Sunday 12 May. The Plant and Produce Sale returns to Chieveley House this spring. It is a gem of an event in a gem of a garden, and the sun (usually) shines. You can enjoy a glass of wine before departing with bags full of plants, cakes and jams. So, my annual plea – please pot up any spare seedlings, divisions, rooted cuttings or other spare plants, keep them safe, grow them on, make them look impressive and generally be generous so we can sell them to raise money. Contact me via the MyChieveley website to arrange collection or delivery for the sale on Sunday 12 May.
Tuesday 21 May 7.30pm in Chieveley Village Hall. A spoonful of herbs. Linda Warren will talk about the fascinating herbs we can grow and use in the kitchen and home. Parsley and mint are fine but there are so many more to try, grow and use. Come and find out more. Guests and non-members (both £2) are always welcome.
Saturday 29 June. Trip to West Dean Gardens, Chichester.
Join our trip to West Dean Gardens – a gem of a garden with a theme of education and demonstration. Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain have transformed it over the last 27 years with walled gardens, greenhouse, vegetable gardens, virtuoso trained fruit trees and a 100-metre pergola to covet. Their recent coffee table book, At West Dean: The Creation of an Exemplary Garden, tells all and is an inspiration. A coach will collect us from the village hall at 8.30am and return by around 5.00pm. All for £20. Contact Michael Pocock.