What To Do In The Garden In May

Inspecting Deer Damage of the Carrot and Parnsnip trial at Mr Fothergill's

Do you remember what we said at the end of March? “Surely we are in for some better weather in April? Let’s hope so. A little sunshine and accompanying warmth makes us all feel much more like getting out into the garden”.

Well, if that was April we are really glad to see the back of it! We cannot remember a worse one. We experienced lots of frosts, several hailstorms, dreary, overcast days and very little sunshine. It is not an exaggeration to say April was actually worse than the whole of the winter.

We also had a disaster with our carrot and parsnip trial late in the month. We had spent a few days preparing the ground, sowed the seeds and covered them with fleece for a bit of protection.

Calamity struck when we seem to have been invaded by a herd of, probably, roe deer which must have had a party on the fleece. The fleece is now shredded and there are hoof marks and signs of deer rolling on the ground all over the area.

Unfortunately as we now don’t know which seed has ended up where, we’re going to have to abandon this area and start the trial all over again. We don’t know what attracted the deer; one view is that they thought it might be snow and fancied a roll around in it, but we daren’t fleece it again in case they do the same thing. Taller deer fencing is obviously called for in future!


Ponds and Plants

Pond plants & pond care from Mr Fothergill's

We must mention our newly published, 32-page Viresco® and Aquatic Plant Catalogue 2016 includes not only the range of Viresco® pond water improvement products, but also a greatly extended selection of choice aquatic, marginal, damp ground and shade-loving plants to tempt the most discerning gardeners.

Pond plants, oxygenators from Mr Fothergill'sOxygenators and floating plants are essential for providing a natural control of unsightly blanketweed and algae, plus affording protection for fish. Additions to the range for 2016 include Lilaeopsis brasilensis (micro sword) and Ranunculus aquatilis (water crowsfoot).

Water lilies from Mr Fothergill'sWater lilies are the most majestic and beautiful of aquatic plants and with 23 varieties on offer any pond keeper is spoilt for choice. Scented and richly coloured blooms sit above shade-creating foliage. The lilies are offered in one, two- or three-litre pots, with those in three-litre pots blooming in the year of planting, and the range also includes dwarf varieties for small ponds.

Our selection of moisture- and shade-loving plants is ideal for bog gardens and close to a pond’s edge to create a more natural look; it includes elegant ferns, dwarf and giant gunneras, and native primulas. Marginal and damp ground plants on offer include Carex elata Aurea (golden sedge), Cyperus longus (sweet galingale) and beautiful lilies such as Ann Chowning, Her Highness and the native yellow flag. The plant range is completed by several attractive, native wild flowers, which attract butterflies and beneficial insects. All potted aquatic plants are supplied in mesh baskets, so there is no need to re-pot before placing in the pond. The catalogue also offers wildlife-attracting flowers from our RSPB seed range, pond equipment and even the opportunity to have a hive of bumblebees in the garden.



Tender bedding and container plants can be brought out of the greenhouse on milder days to get them acclimatised to outdoor life before they are set out to their flowering positions later in the month. To begin with, take them back under cover at night, especially when frost threatens, but as May progresses and, hopefully, the weather improves they can start to be left outdoors on milder nights. You may even consider investing in a cold frame for this process of ‘hardening off’, as it provides the ideal halfway-house between greenhouse and garden.

Heleniums from Mr FothergillsSpring bedding and bulb displays are fast ‘going over’ and can be removed in readiness for summer displays. Once bulbs have died back a little, they can be heeled in elsewhere if you have a spare corner. When plants have been taken out, it’s a good idea to remove and replace the top three or four inches of compost with fresh medium in readiness for summer-blooming plants.

Echinacea from Mr Fothergill'sOne of the traditional practices in May is to give some perennials the ‘Chelsea chop’, which involves cutting them back in late May, around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, in order to extend the flowering season. Species such as heleniums and echinaceas can be cut back with secateurs to about half their height to delay flowering. If you have just a single clump, cut back half the stems, whereas if you have two or more of the same plant you may prefer to cut back all the stems on one or more plants. The uncut stems will flower first, followed by those which have undergone the Chelsea chop.

Lupin Festival Mixed from Mr Fothergill'sLupins have long been favourites in herbaceous borders and cottage garden settings. The classic Russell Hybrids, developed in the 1930s, are rather tall at three to four feet tall whereas our new 2016 introduction Festival Mixed has all the rich, jewel-like colours of ‘Russells’, but the flower spikes are produced on plants which reach just two feet tall, making them the perfect choice for modern, smaller gardens and large containers. Seed sown in May will produce plants for setting out in autumn for flowering early next summer.

If you can’t wait till next year for some colour, our new Calendula Funky Stuff can be sown now in its flowering position, where it will bloom in just a few weeks’ time. We love the double rows of petals it produces in golden yellow, dark in the centre and lightening to the outside. It too grows to around two feet tall and also makes a delightful cut flower.


As direct-sown vegetable seedlings emerge, carefully and gradually over a period of weeks thin them out to the distance stated on the seed packet to allow the remaining ones to develop. Take care when removing seedlings that you do not damage those remaining. Once you have done this, it is worthwhile watering the row to help them settle back in and carry on growing. Discard all those you have removed, especially carrots; if left near the row from which they have been taken they may attract carrot fly.

Runner Beans from Mr Fothergill'sLater in the month, when the danger of frost should have all but passed, greenhouse-raised sweet corn, runner bean and courgette seedlings can be planted to their cropping positions. Alternatively, seed of all of these, plus dwarf beans, squashes and pumpkins can be sown in the garden. When sowing or planting runner beans, make sure their support system is in place first.

Have you come across the ‘three sisters’ method of growing summer-cropping vegetables? The native American Iroquois people saw pumpkin (squash), bean and  sweet corn as three inseparable sisters which needed to be grown together. It is actually quite sound advice, as this technique makes best use of your plot and improves soil fertility. Beans climb up the sweet corn plants, stabilising them as they do so. Shallow-rooted courgettes and pumpkins offer a living mulch, suppressing weeds and minimising water evaporation from the soil. Beans fix nitrogen, improving soil fertility, while the bulky vegetation all three produce can be composted for further soil improvement. Not a bad idea, eh?

Tomato Sunlemon from Mr Fothergill'sIt used to be said that French marigolds (Tagetes patula) could be grown near tomato plants in an attempt to ward off whitefly. We have never been sure of the efficacy of this practice, but now we hear some gardeners plant basil close to tomatoes for the same purpose. This wonderful herb certainly has a strong fragrance and taste, and it also enjoys the same conditions as tomatoes, so it may be worth a try.

Even if you do not wish to grow basil as a pest deterrent, it is easy and satisfying to grow what is often called the ‘king of herbs’. For best results, sow a pinch of seeds per 9cm pot of compost in May. Pots can be left in the greenhouse or placed outside in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot. Seed will soon germinate and the resulting plants can either be left in these pots or transferred to larger ones or planted in a warm spot in the garden. Pinch out the growing tips when plants are three or four inches high to produce bushy growth. Within a few weeks, you will be picking this wonderfully fragrant herb with so many uses.

If you have been raising vegetable plants in modules, these can now be hardened off outside before planting them later in the month. As with tender flowers, this toughening-up should be a gradual process. Stand them outside for a few hours a day to begin with before extending the time before eventually leaving them out all the time for the last few days before setting to their cropping positions.

Little Gem Seeds from Mr Fothergill'sSeed of quick-growing salad crops such as lettuce, rocket and mixed leaves are best sown ‘little and often’ to produce a succession of delicious leaves throughout the summer. A sowing made every two weeks is just about right. We have to admit, it’s still difficult to find a lettuce with a better flavour than the marvellous Little Gem. It seems to be everyone’s favourite. We would be interested to know if you grow a variety you consider to be tastier.

Nairobi pea from Mr Fothergill'sPeas are surely the epitome of flavour when it comes to growing vegetables in the garden. Nothing, but nothing, beats the taste of freshly picked peas. There is still plenty of time to sow seed to ensure a crop this summer. We can recommend our new and exclusive variety called Nairobi, which is a top quality ‘sugar snap’, the whole pod of which can be eaten. The succulent, sweet pods remain stringless and are produce in abundance on plants which show excellent tolerance of powdery mildew. Do try it!

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