Watch out for May snapping back

Despite record-breaking weather Dr Jonathan Holliday advises caution for this month’s gardening schedule

Don’t be tricked by the warm April into thinking  we are fully into summer — there may still be frost about. So when buying bedding plants consider the adage ‘don’t throw your clout until May is out’. It is really disheartening to plant  bedding plants only to see them caught by frost.

I have just recently laid a path of paving slabs, which went a lot more smoothly than I had dared to expect. If you think your back can cope, here’s what to do. First you need some broken up hardcore to ram into the ground. I used rubble and broken bricks from around the garden and tamped them down into the ground with a piece of 3ft x 6in timber. Next brush some builders’ sand over the rubble for a smooth surface and then cover with ‘slab mortar’ carefully levelled. Then you can lay the paving slabs, tamping down into place with the timber. Using slab mortar is a dry process, thereby avoiding the problem of mixing cement.

Along the side of the path is a bank I have levelled and sown with a mix of grass and wild flowers. Stopping the bank from sliding on to the path are some large stones which will become a makeshift rockery. I am thinking of planting it with dwarf iris.

Broadleigh Gardens in Taunton, Somerset, has a range of 23 dwarf iris. Something ‘very vigorous and free flowering’, sounds good so perhaps I will go for Dunlin with its white flowers and purple fathering.

Writing in April I see the flower buds of the Montana Clematis bulging with promise, the first flowers already opening. These early flowering varieties need pruning into shape after flowering. This is quite different from the large-flowered varieties, such as The President, Nellie Moser or Jackmanii, which flower in spring and should therefore be pruned early.

Pieris seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but it has much to offer the May garden.

The poinsettia-red tips of the new young leaves, bright pink and glossy, over racemes of waxy, Lily of the Valley-like flowers are very exciting. I thought the larger Pieris Forrestii got its name through forest growth. Actually, it was discovered in the Yunnan province of China by George Forest.

In the vegetable garden those lucky enough to have an established asparagus bed will be cutting spears this month.

Traditionally it is recommended that you cut the spear below ground level, but I fear damaging the plant or neighbouring spears so advocate cutting level with the ground. This month it is important to keep ‘successional’ sowing going: radish, peas, lettuce every week or two if you are going to get vegetables over a period longer than five days. I am never very good at this and it does not fit well with the busy GP life, but that is what we should all aspire to.

French beans too can be sown in succession and while no doubt you will be planting out the plants you have brought on in the greenhouse, you can also extend the season with sowing the beans directly into the ground this month.

I am trying some ‘plug’ grown mini-plants of brassicas this year, which should be arriving ready for planting this month. All mouth-watering stuff!

Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

This month’s tasks

  • Hold fire on bedding plants — just in case there is a final frost.
  • Prune early Clematis after flowering.
  • Cut asparagus.
  • Plant out greenhouse vegetables.
  • Start successional sowing of vegetables (www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk).

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