Maia, the Greek Goddess of Fertility, Land and Growth seems to have inspired the name for the month of May and is certainly appropriate. The Romans celebrated the beginning of May with the Festival of Floralia or the Festival of Flora to celebrate the Roman Goddess of Flowers, marked by dancing, gathering of flowers and wearing bright clothes, just like more modern May Day celebrations and Maypole dancing. And with the Garden transforming this month, voluptuous and rich with the trees and hedges turning verdant green, I think there is much to celebrate. Flowers race ahead in dry warm weather or leaves are lush and full if it’s wet. We mark May Day by continuing the ancient tradition of leaving surprise diminutive posies in jam jars on our neighbours doorsteps, celebrating the day and marking the beginning of Summer.
We are cutting the Tulips, Ranunculus, Anemones and other spring bulbs. The first big flush of flowers brings full busy days for us again, cutting and conditioning, weeding as the soil has warmed up and still sowing new seeds for later in the summer together with hardening off seedlings to plant out. It can still freeze even after dry warm days so protect your young plants. May feels pivotal in the gardening year, we will certainly reap the rewards across the summer for all the work we have done thus far.
By the end of the month, we will be sowing Biennials, in preparation for next Springs flowers – a whole year ahead! They fill a flower gap in May between the spring flush and the first summer annuals and perennials so you can feel really pleased with yourself if you manage to squeeze those in. Think wallflowers, silvery pods of honesty, sweet rocket and foxgloves. They are some of the loveliest spring flowers.
After carefully nurturing seedlings, the last thing you want to do is plant them out and have them destroyed by slugs. There is no easy fix, so we have several weapons in our arsenal. Unless we have a terrible attack, we avoid slug pellets as they affect the soil composition with Iron-Phosphates. We first make sure our soil is well prepared so the plants grow strong and can sustain some damage but by far the best way to deal with slugs in our experience is to catch them! Night time raids with a torch is highly successful coupled with jam jars of beer sunk into the soil next to vulnerable plants. Slugs are drawn to the beer, slip in and drown. Its horrid but even with a pond of frogs, chickens and wild birds, we always have slugs attracted to our rich soil and tasty young plants. We also surround some precious plants with plastic bottle rings and once they have established over the next weeks, their leaves are tougher and unbothered by slugs. It sounds like lots of effort but well worth it.
May is a sneak preview of the summer, warmer long bright days, the final push, sowing, tending and planting before the big performance of our flower beds and borders.
This article was written for and published in May's Cambridge Edition Magazine