Weather WATCH

May is here and sum­mer is on its way. Sue Bradley gets ready for ac­tion in the gar­den

Living France - - À La Maison -

The gar­den comes into sharp fo­cus for many peo­ple in May. The month be­gins with the Fête du Muguet on 1 May, or In­ter­na­tional Labour Day, when it’s the tra­di­tion to pre­sent friends and rel­a­tives with posies or pots of lily of the val­ley (Con­va­l­laria ma­jalis) as a sym­bol of good luck.

This sweet-scented, but very poi­sonous plant, grows well in cooler parts of France and pots re­ceived as presents can be planted out in par­tial or full shade in soil that’s rich in leaf mould.

In just un­der a fort­night later, gar­den­ers and farm­ers will be ob­serv­ing the so-called ‘ice saints’, or les saints de glace, the saint days be­tween 11-13 May – and Saint Urbain on 25 May in the cold­est re­gions – af­ter which it’s usu­ally safe to as­sume that the last night frosts have oc­curred and the time has come to start re­mov­ing ten­der veg­eta­bles, such as toma­toes, aubergines and cour­gettes, Pe­largo­ni­ums (also known as gera­ni­ums) and an­nual bed­ding from the green­house to plant out­side. The same goes for hang­ing bas­kets, which can be planted up within a frost-free en­vi­ron­ment ear­lier in the month.

Of course, tem­per­a­tures vary be­tween re­gions and ev­ery year is dif­fer­ent, so it’s al­ways wise to lis­ten to weather fore­casts and be pre­pared to bring in bas­kets and wrap ten­der plants in hor­ti­cul­tural fleece if the mer­cury drops. At the same time, it’s es­sen­tial to wa­ter new ad­di­tions to the gar­den reg­u­larly, es­pe­cially when they’re sink­ing their roots deep into the ground. Along with plant­ing out, it’s also a good time to sow seeds straight into well­pre­pared soil.

Sum­mer salad crops such as let­tuce and rocket grow es­pe­cially well in tem­per­ate ar­eas and can be put in at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to en­sure a suc­ces­sion of leaves through­out the sum­mer.

Other seeds that can be sown now in­clude beet­root, French and run­ner beans and bras­sica such as broc­coli and cab­bage.

Else­where in the veg­etable gar­den it’s time to earth up pota­toes, which in­volves pulling soil around the stems to pro­tect them against frost and pre­vent light from turn­ing emerging tu­bers green.

Reg­u­larly hoe off weeds to stop them from rob­bing other plants of nu­tri­ents and mois­ture. Do­ing this on a sunny day causes these un­wanted spec­i­mens to die quickly while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­vid­ing a mois­ture- re­tain­ing mulch to the ben­e­fit of other plants.

Pests are an­other cause for vig­i­lance, es­pe­cially lily and vibur­num bee­tles, green­fly and mol­luscs such as slugs and snails, and it’s well worth tak­ing early ac­tion – whether phys­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal or or­ganic – to keep num­bers as low as pos­si­ble.

Lawns will be grow­ing at full pelt at this time of the year, which makes weekly mow­ing a ne­ces­sity to main­tain a neat sward.

Make the most of the clip­pings as a mulch around shrubs, herba­ceous plants and fruit bushes, some­thing that es­pe­cially pays div­i­dends in ar­eas that be­come par­tic­u­larly hot and dry dur­ing the sum­mer months.

Hedges will also be putting on plenty of growth, lead­ing many peo­ple to reach for their clip­pers and shears, although check any nest­ing birds have de­parted be­fore get­ting stuck in.

All in all, May is a busy month, but also a beau­ti­ful time of year, so don’t for­get to make the most of op­por­tu­ni­ties to sit and en­joy the lush growth and gor­geous blooms. Lift and split over­crowded clumps of daf­fodils and other spring bulbs.

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