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Gardening in May 2009

by Pam Pickard


Welcome to this column, it is designed to help to encourage and inspire you in your gardening endeavours.

Now that we’re getting more sunny days, make sure that you take the opportunity to keep on top of those jobs to do in the garden such as weeding. Keep an eye on watering and be careful of late frosts if you’re planting up tender annuals. This is the ideal time to work on the lawn; just follow the steps in the guide to the perfect lawn. Look forward to the summer by introducing herbs in the border and get the best from your hanging baskets from tips to planting hanging baskets.

It’s the ideal time to visit gardens that show late spring flowering shrubs and trees at their best like Rhododendron, Azalea, Camelia, Magnolia and Lilac; places to go gives you some ideas.

Jobs to do
In the flower border; feed spring bulbs with sulphate of potash or tomato feed to improve next year’s display. Cut back dead stems in borders, tie in climbers to support such as sweet peas and clematis and stack perennials. Harden off tender bedding plants by placing them outside during the daytime and return under glass at night. Sow annuals outdoors, making sure that you remove the weeds to reduce competition. Deadhead tulips but let leaves die down naturally. Trim topiary before new shoots get out of hand.

In the greenhouse be aware of changing temperatures; shade with white shading paint and ensure air is circulated during the warm weather. Thin out seedlings to reduce competition and to produce best-sized crops.

The vegetable plot should be bustling with activity. Earth up potatoes to prevent tubers near the surface turning green. Remove excess raspberry suckers and net soft fruit to stop becoming bird food when fruit ripens. At the end of the month tender vegetables such as tomatoes and courgettes can be planted outdoors.

Vegetables to grow outdoors;

French Beans
Runner Beans
Spring Onion
Sprouting Broccoli

Guide to the perfect lawn
There does seem to be a national obsession with lawns. However simple growing a section of grass appears to be, the lawn brings gardeners more problems than the rest of the average garden in total! Here we look at common problems and solutions. Putting effort into your lawn now will reap rewards in the future.

Aerating helps to reduce the compaction resulting from daily use of the lawn. By punching holes with a garden fork at regular intervals; air is let into the roots. Leave the soil to expand into the holes or fill the holes with a top dressing.
Scarifying removes the layer of moss or dead grass or thatch that builds up on the soil surface which impairs drainage and prevents air getting to the roots. Use a spring-tine rake. If moss is a big problem apply lawn sand to kill it before scarifying.
Weed and feed will improve a starved or weed invested lawn. Use a liquid treatment for a small area and a granular product with a lawn spreader for a larger lawn. If you prefer not to use chemicals, dig out weeds by hand and use other methods here to improve the condition.
Top dress by spreading a mixture of soil, organic matter and sand to the lawn surface. Aerating first will help to improve the soil composition and use a plank to draw the mix across the hollows. Top dressing is available at garden centres but it is costly, to make your own mix six parts sharp sand, three parts sieved soil and one part sieved compost. On a sandy soil increase the organic matter.
Over-seed to thicken up the turf or if the grass is sparse or patchy. Use a general-purpose ryegrass or a fine ornamental lawn seed mix to match existing grass. Prick the lawn surface lightly with a garden fork and scatter the seeds evenly. Work the seed in with a stiff broom. This is best done when the grass is dry but when rain is forecast. Keep the birds off until it germinates.

Mowing regularly at least once a week in summer will keep the grass thick and deter weeds in spring. Remove lawn clippings which help weeds to spread.

The case against lawns: ‘green’ gardeners are concerned about the amount of chemicals used to keep golf greens and football pitches in perfect condition. Lawns require frequent watering and mowing lawns can contribute to CO2 emissions through using electric and petrol mowers. Well kept lawns are also not wildlife friendly.
The case for lawns: managed lawns can absorb CO2 up to 1,000kg of arbon per hectare a year. In theory lawns can remove four times more carbon than is produced by mowing. Lawns support more wildlife than hard landscaping. By leaving a part of the lawn uncut until July, wild flowers will set seed and above ground insects will be encouraged. Lawns trap pollutants from the air and help to reduce noise, turf absorbs rain efficiently. On a hot summer’s day a lawn will be 15 degrees centigrade cooler than asphalt and 7 degrees cooler than bare earth. Green has a calming effect and can improve mental wellbeing.

Apple Blossom

Herbs in the border
The traditional cottage garden intermixed flowers, vegetables and herbs to provide an interesting, fragrant and useful outdoor space. Herbs when grown in the border with herbaceous perennials can provide a focal point, fill gaps, add an edible edge and create some unusual plant combinations.

Used at the back of the border lofty herbs such as Angelica reaches up to 2m in its second year. In winter its skeleton continues to provide a focal point. Fennel grows up to 1.5m and has a see through habit with feathery foliage. Bronze fennel has a brown-purple filigree form is a good mixer. A formal centrepiece for a border could be Laurus nobilis or Bay, to provide an evergreen focus.

Medium-sized shrubby herbs make useful border fillers; Sage, Salvia officinalis, has soft grey foliage with blue-purple lipped flowers in summer; a favourite with bees. Lavender and Rosemary also fit nicely in this middle of the border, shrubby set. As well as the usual blue, rosemary comes in pink; ‘Majorca Pink’, and white R. officinalis var. albiflorus. Lavender, a commonly used border plant, comes in a variety of colours from deep purple to pinks and white.

The curry plant, Helchrysum italicum, ia a useful source if finely cut, grey foliage and forms a solid year-round mass with yellow flowers in summer. Hyssop has the same delicate foliage in dark green and grows to around 60cm. This semi-evergreen, shrubby herb has a pungent minty flavour. The common variety has blue flowers but white or pink varieties are available. Annual herbs such as Basil and Dill are also worth adding totheborder.

At the edge of the border plant herbs that can be easily picked for cooking. Curly-leafed Parsley adds a refreshing, bright green edging to set off colourful bedding plants. Chives look very effectives under purple-leafed shrubs and can cope with a small degree of shade. By contrast a edging of Thyme will be happiest in poor, dry soil. Upright forms are best used in the border rather than creeping forms which get lost easily. Oregano or Marjoram can also be used to fill the same front-row niche, golden-leafed forms are just as good in the kitchen as green forms and some have blue flowers.

Top tips to planting hanging baskets

  1. Use a recommended basket liner – polythene-backed brown sisal and jute, coir or coconut fibre or hessian-backed green moss substitute.
  2. Use a large basket; 35cm at least.
  3. Use good quality compost but don’t overfill the basket – leave enough space at the top for watering.
  4. Sit the basket on a bucket or flowerpot when planting to keep it stable.
  5. Sink small flowerpots into compost in the centre – when you water fill up the pot so water drains through to the roots.
  6. Use slow release fertilizer pellets and water-retention crystals mixed into the compost.
  7. Think symmetrical when deciding what to plant where.
  8. Water on a daily basis in summer.
  9. Single subject baskets are easiest to get right as vigorous species may swamp more restrained ones.
  10. Don’t put baskets outside until frosts are unlikely – at least at the end of May.
  11. Avoid wetting the leaves as this can cause mildew and nip off dead flowers.

Places to go

Gardens to visit to see spring flowering shrubs and trees;
Muncaster Castle; Ravenglass, Cumbria, CA18 1RQ

Gresgarth Hall, Caton 01424 770313

Gardens to visit for the use of herbs;
Leighton Hall, Carnforth, LA5 9ST
Walled garden, ornamental vegetable plot, herb garden and woodland walk.

Pendle Heritage Centre
Grade ii listed building with walled garden dating from 1780, parterre full of medicinal and culinary herbs and vegetable plot.


Holker Garden Festival – 29-31 May – 015395 58838
Holker Hall, Nr Grange-over-sands, Cumbria LA11 7PL

Plant Hunters Fairs:
24 May 10:30am – 4:00pm
Adlington Hall, Mill Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK10 4LF – 01625 827 595

25 May 10:00am – 4:00pm
Stonyford Cottage Gardens, Cuddington, Northwich, Cheshire, CW8 2TF – 01606 888 970

31 May 12:00pm – 4:00pm
Norton Priory Museum & Gardens, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 1SX – 01928 569 895

All items mentioned are available in most garden centres or look on the Internet. Information provided accurate at time of writing. Photographs are taken by Pam Pickard

© Pam Pickard 09.05.09




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