‘Ne’er cast a clout until May is out’

Ah, June at last! Now perhaps we can get down to some real business in the garden.

By Tom Pattinson
Sunday, 6th June 2021, 5:04 pm
Brightly coloured and strongly scented wallflower. Picture by Tom Pattinson
Brightly coloured and strongly scented wallflower. Picture by Tom Pattinson

Depending on your facilities and approach, the greater part of spring can be a tricky time with restrictions at every turn, some self-imposed.

Whether ‘Ne’er cast a clout until May is out’ relates to the actual month or hedge blossom, experience dictates that savvy gardeners do not introduce tender plants to the great outdoors until the former is past for fear of late frost. So, greenhouse space is at a premium in the resulting build-up, but now is the time for a clear-out. If you haven’t grown your own, visit the garden centre, buy and plant those dazzling summer favourites for beds and containers.

Whereas decorative half-hardy annuals will not tolerate frost or chilly winds, young vegetable plants raised in the greenhouse vary in their hardiness. Peas, broad beans, shallots, leeks, and onions are turned out in that order when space-creating decisions are made.

Early strawberries. Picture by Tom Pattinson

Now we’re into June, the sweet corn can be planted in block formation and runner beans introduced to the wigwam supports. Source young plants of winter greens; cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and introduce them to the vegetable bed now or you’ll miss the boat. They need a long growing period.

If you belong to the no-mow-May movement, which we have since well before it became popular, there’s a satisfaction comes with the increased presence of bird species and pollinating insects. They’re attracted by the sudden burst of lawn weed growth, previously suppressed by constant grass cutting. Along with the regular seed eaters we’ve recently enjoyed the company of various finches; green, gold, bull, and chaff. Their favourite food choice being dandelion ‘clocks’.

Those with lawns representing a high-profile ornamental feature of bowling green standard, might find such practice difficult to follow, seeing any sign of weed growth as anathema. But this is the beauty of grassed areas. They can serve so many different purposes yet remain ideal for the situation. Restoring our lawns to their pre-May state of tidiness will take more than one cut but they’ll return to form in supporting summer border displays.

A long, evergreen privet hedge (Ligustrum ovalifolium) borders two parts of the garden and is currently looking ragged with new growth. However, we can’t trim it until bird nesting is completed. A blackbird and dunnock are still carrying food into its depth. Feeding second broods, I guess!

Form and colour to last all summer

Variety in form and colour that will stay the distance of summer, is what we hope to achieve in our beds and containers.

In this respect, there are bound to be favourites that emerge, as we play our part in constantly watering, feeding and removing spent blooms.

Consequently, the pots and trays of cosmos currently en route from our greenhouse to garden, denotes this plant’s reliability in delivering a non-stop display at different levels.

It’s important not to become so wrapped up in current activities that steps toward medium and long-term target crops are missed.

For example, strawberry plants (pictured) potted in January are well advanced in the unheated greenhouse.

Salad crops such as lettuce and radish can provide micro leaves within three weeks of sowing but will not last all summer. However, continuity can be achieved by remembering to sow more, at monthly intervals. The same principle applies to ornamental plants.

Planning for next spring begins now. It’s time to dig up spent polyanthus plants, divide large clumps in half and double the number you’ll have for autumn planting. Mine spend summer growing in a spare patch of vegetable garden.

I’m also about to sow short drills of wallflower (Erysimum cherei) alongside them. Do so thinly to avoid overcrowding because they need space for development.

These plants are classed as biennial, germinating and growing one year, flowering the next. Subsequently some are consigned for composting after one display.

Not mine, they’re pruned rather severely and transferred to a spare piece of land to regenerate.

The DNA of those residing in a drystone wall is linked directly to the wallflower of medieval times and require the same pruning treatment!