May flowers follow April showers, or so the saying goes…
As the driest April on record gave way to the sunniest May, I’ve had to start watering the garden a month earlier than usual. So, I’m hoping that my ministrations will prove enough to sustain my plants and seedlings and that they reward my efforts with beautiful blooms and copious crops across the summer months… fingers crossed.
For me May is the herald of summer and, even outside of these days of “lockdown”, with its two Bank Holiday weekends provides plenty of opportunities to be in the garden. May Day, the first of these, has its roots in the Celtic festival of Beltane which is positioned halfway between the summer and winter equinoxes. Traditionally we celebrate this on the first Monday in May. This year the holiday was moved to the Friday to coincide with the celebrations for the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. (The date has only ever been moved once before, for the 50th anniversary of VE day). The TV coverage stimulated contemplation of my own family’s history and the effect the war had on them. Both of my Grandfathers fought in the conflict and both returned home with the ending of the war in Europe, as did each of their 10 brothers which was not the case for many a family. By happy co-incidence, I have a carpet of self-seeded forget-me-nots weaving their way through the wallflowers in the “shrubby border”. My thoughts turn to Fred and Stan every time they catch my gaze.
The Late Spring Bank Holiday, marking Whitsun, is customarily the planting out date for many gardeners and I spend the two weeks ahead of that hardening off my tender plants. It is a labour of love: I bring them out each morning to enjoy the longer, milder days and put them to bed in the potting shed each evening to protect them from the chilly nights. Finally, in the last few days of May, the bare brown patches in vegetable plots are filled with the verdant green of peas, beans, and courgettes. The green house has been cleaned and is now home to its summer occupants of tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and peppers. Salad crops are sown and the “sunny border” throngs with seedlings ready to explode with summer colour.
In the warm May sunshine the colours of nature are vibrant: the soft blush of the rhododendron flowers in the shade of the apple tree, the cobalt of the bearded irises flourishing near the pond and the alabaster lace of the ephemeral lilac clusters. The newly emerged butterflies pause to dry their wings, amid the fire of the marigolds, in the tranquillity of a garden undisturbed by mankind’s usual cacophony.
The birdsong is distinct and bright; the wren warbles atop the trellis outside my office window while the magpies and jackdaws squabble over leftovers on the lawn. The swallows, those other heralds of summer, are already here swooping and wheeling to catch their dinners and, while the sun arcs towards the horizon, the raucous rooks call out to each other as they settle down for the night in the stand of old chestnut and oak trees.
They should be safe enough up there, though May weather can be changeable:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Most likely the only impact will be making confetti of my flowers!