Our gardening expert, Karen Murphy, waxes lyrical about the merry month of May
What says May in the garden to you? For me, it’s two plants – beautiful, bobbing alliums and luxurious, bearded irises. They represent this most fruitful of times in the garden – once you see them you know precisely what month it is and they bring a smile to any face. They’re also practically the official blooms of the Chelsea Flower Show. What I like about May is that there’s no holding back. All systems go and the world’s your oyster. By this I mean you don’t have to remain too cautious about your tender plants now – they’ll all be happy outside, lapping up the sunshine. Their time has come to shine! You can sow and plant out almost everything you want. Plus, it’s time to bring all your exotics, packed away for the winter and spring, outdoors for a summer of fun and exposure to the elements – it’s good for them to do this. Also getting their fill of the weather for the first time should be half-hardy annuals, such as cosmos and petunias, gently acclimatised and hardened off so they don’t feel too much environmental stress when fully planted out. Put them out in the day and take them in at night for a week or two and they’ll transplant better. It’s time for the Chelsea chop, too, the ultimate midyear rejuvenation exercise, which will control the eager growth of your plants and freshen up your garden before summer. It’s also a great thing to do if you don’t want everything to peak all at once and to delay some of your bounty of blooms for a few more weeks. Sedums, penstemons, heleniums and achillea are classics that fare well from this practice. There are two ways it works – trimming back every other stem by a third to leave some growth undeterred and to delay others (this is a less drastic measure), or to simply shear a plant wholly back by a third so it can regroup and flower a bit later. Decide what your plants may benefit the most from. Treat yourself to some new plants this month, in celebration of the upcoming summer – potted bulbs, tree peonies and rhododendrons give instant colour now and for the next few weeks, with the added promise of beautiful blooms every year. Longer, warmer days, a hive of activity and on the cusp of summer – May’s definitely the best month of them all!
may’s the month when gardens burst into colour